From the time I was young, I always knew that I had certain strengths and weaknesses. This is true for everyone. Personally, I’m no good at math, but I’m very strong in the creative arts. I am a born procrastinator, but I’ve never failed to meet a deadline without good cause. I’m always early for everything, even though I rush out the door as a disorganized mess.
However, I recognized that certain things in life were more difficult for me than for others. I would ask questions like, “Why is it so difficult for me to make and keep friends? and “Why does it seem like certain daily activities are more difficult for me and not for others?”. Some days, life was agonizing. Simple things like staying awake, paying attention, picking out an outfit, engaging in social activities, etc, were just impossible tasks. I never knew why, until I was handed a diagnosis.
Putting a name on an ailment doesn’t make the symptoms any easier to handle. And sometimes, those symptoms put people through a series of gauntlets. I call them, “The Life Olympics”.
In Part One of this series, I’d like to address certain social difficulties that may be experienced. I’ll start off with a personal anecdote to illustrate some of this.
My husband and I have been blown off by many of our friends repeatedly. They just find better plans. A date, an outing, going to the bar, a new boyfriend / girlfriend, etc. I get it. As much as it hurts sometimes, I realize that many of our single friends would rather do anything than spend the evening watching Spongebob with a toddler, and then sit around the house with a married couple. It’s not an exciting prospect.
C.S. and I made plans to hang out with a non-married couple that are very good friends of ours. When my mother-in-law offered to take our son for the night, it was definitely Date Night! So, we cancelled plans with the other couple. Can you blame us? C.S. and I just wanted to do something fun to reconnect! They apparently took great offense because when we tried to reschedule, we got the run around.
My bullshit radar is very finely tuned. It comes from years of dating sociopaths (another story for another time). And those two don’t even come close. I caught that one before the second word even came out. So, C.S. and I got to talking and he said, “We need new friends.” I replied, “To tell you the truth, I don’t really want friends.”
I have problems enough making friends. I have terrible anxiety attacks at only the thought of being in an unfamiliar situation with strangers. I have severe claustrophobia and grab for the benzos if the idea of being in a crowd comes up. (Yes, it’s claustrophobia and not agoraphobia. I don’t like small spaces).
I’ve never usually had problems keeping friends. I am very real, very friendly, and I give until it hurts. I am free with my affections. And I’m always the first to forgive. I expect the same kind of reciprocity, and I normally have it. Until recently.
I am sensitive and reactive. People who have bipolar disorder usually are. I do not take disappointment or criticism well. I will not have someone disrespect me or my family in our home. I have extreme difficulty forgiving people who intentionally hurt me or my family. And if sense that someone is intentionally alienating me, I will cut them out faster than you would believe.
I have enough attitude, bullshit, and baggage of my own. I’m not taking anyone else’s. Especially from people who call themselves “friend”.
Having bipolar disorder and anxiety makes friendships a lot more complicated for me. Meeting new people is hard. Opening up to people is tough. I only tell select people about my mental health, and that’s after I’ve known them awhile. And even then, I don’t expect them to truly understand.
So if I’m having an episode, I do everything to keep friends out of potential crossfire. Most people consider those actions as alienation and blowing them off. That’s not the goal; the goal is to prevent anyone from being harmed by action or inaction that I may not be aware of or in control of! I have attempted to explain this to friends that are aware, and they really don’t get it. Either way, I’m still hurting everyone involved.
Worse, I’ve had “friends kick me to the curb due to symptoms. My own sister, who also has bipolar disorder, and I speak only once a month now. We used to talk every day and visit once a week. We were best friends growing up, we have children of the same gender and age, and we live in the same zip code. Other “best” friends couldn’t handle it. One of my best friends was my next door neighbor when we were growing up. Another, I practically lived at her house in my teens. When it was good, it was fantastic. When it was bad, it was catastrophic.
More reasons for isolation. More reasons for keeping everyone at an arm’s length. More reasons to hide my true feelings and my true self. More reasons to drudge through mundane, superficial, exhausting friendships. Why even bother?
I’m not giving up hope just yet though. There are still two friends that I’ve managed to keep, Jay and HB. Jay and HB know the real deal. They’ve seen me shine and they’ve seen me fall. They’ve taken calls and made visits in the middle of the night. They know how to encourage me, console me, and very kindly throw down the flag when I’m considering something irrational.
Maybe these friends are few and far in between. And maybe I have to have a shell. It might be more difficult, but hey, it’s probably worth it!
So tell me, what are your difficulties?
© Tallulah “Lulu” Stark and A Canvas Of The Minds 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tallulah “Lulu” Stark and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Oh yes, check out your copyright, I’ve returned. 😉
I am so sorry that you have been through this. Because I have, too. I have so many people with whom I “reconnected” via a certain social networking site, and it was great – until we really got down to talking about getting together (and by then, they knew about me and my – special peculiarities, let’s say). Suddenly they had a million things going on in their lives! Some I brushed off, some I deleted, one I actually blocked, because she seemed to almost like the car wreck effect of watching me. I say almost, because I really don’t believe it of her. I just don’t think she knew how to deal with me, and I was sick of trying to hold her hand through it. I wish I’d had it in me, but I’m too busy trying to hold my own damned hand through things most of the time. You know.
I do have some friends that I’ve kept close with, and I discovered this week that I have family with whom I can be closer than I ever knew. But I have lost a great many things to being bipolar, and unfortunately, people are some of them.
I guess the one good thing that we can take from this, Lulu my dear, is that we know our close friends are that much closer. And that our good friends are that much better. And that the people who love us love us that much more. It doesn’t always make it hurt less in the moment, but I think that long term it can help.
Love to you.
Don’t be sorry! It’s better than having people pitying me and pretending to care. I’d rather be hated than pitied.
It’s such a trial by fire. At some point, there is always a burn. And sometimes, it’s enough to leave a scar. And as Papa Roach put it, “The scars remind me that the past is real.”
I have a ton of superficial friends. They consist of people I was in high school band and chorus with, people I went to college with, ex’s of old friends, mine and C.S.’S co-workers, etc. That is the precise reason I don’t put anything too personal on social networking sites. Mostly, my statuses and links are usually humorous and irrelevant. I have nothing to hide. If someone directly asked me, I’d be honest – I have bipolar disorder, I’m heavily medicated, T.D. Is in early intervention, T.D. Was diagnosed with PDD-NOS on “the spectrum”, I have precancer, and yes, I need a surgery. But do you know what? No one ever does.
Ok, that last statement wasn’t entirely true. Sometimes, when I tell things to select people, it gets through the grapevine and people come out of the woodwork. My sister was all of a sudden very interested when she heard about T.D. One of my old best girlfriends from my childhood actually called to yell at me because I didn’t tell her about my precancer and my surgery. Another texted me because my husband told her mother, who told her sister, who told her. I hadn’t talked to that one in over six months. I have seen her face to face in the last 4 years about 4 times.
Is it concern? Or is it really just interest? When someone dies, the news spreads like wildfire. And dozens of people who hardly knew that person’s name come in herds to gawk at the corpse. Is it fear and guilt because they thought I could be dying? Or is it just interesting information that’ll be passed down the chain? “Remember Lulu from…? Yeah, well she’s possibly dying from cervical cancer!” And then, I’ll become a cautionary tale because I got HPV from being such a whore. *Sigh*
I keep my guard up. It’s sad that I would have to, but it’s even more important when it deals with my emotional health. Kind of like how a diabetic monitors sugar levels throughout the day and knows what foods to avoid.
I’ve been very fortunate in that I have friends who were/are supportive when I told them of my illness but I’ve also been burned by many. Even the friends that I have, that know, I don’t trouble them when I am in crisis because they have families of their own, and really, who wants to deal with that crap when it’s not your own? During my “reveal” time – coming out of the closet, so to speak; I had some friends that said, “Oh my God, I am too!” and another that said, “I don’t know if we can be friends now. I lost one of my best friends to bipolar suicide and I don’t know if I could risk it again.” At least she was honest about it. We are still friends, but not to the degree that we used to be. But most people just fade into the background. I don’t really have a support network because as soon as I start to establish one, we end up moving. (It’s the nature of my career path.) NO ONE is willing to support you from a time zone away. And I’m terrified to tell my friends around here because I made them through work and in one case, I don’t think I could risk losing her if she should turn her back to me. (I don’t think she would, but it’s fear that’s stopping me.)
Maybe I’m just overly cautious, and fearful of being hurt again because of my illness, but I don’t feel as though I can trust many people. But that’s my baggage.
I guess one thing to keep in mind is this: If they can’t be bothered to be our friend when we are at our worst, then they don’t deserve to be our friend when we are at our best.
I swear I replied to this.
“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
— Marilyn Monroe
She said it the best. And she was right.
The fade, oh yes, the fade. I went through the same reveal period. Most people who knew me as a teen were not surprised in the least. I was out of control, then. But when I was in my teens, people were eager to surround themselves with those outrageous, outspoken, quirky people. It changed a lot when we got older. I was just drama to the same people who were marching after my freak flag.
I’m sorry your IRL support system is lacking. I feel that. But thankfully, we have each other, right?
Lulu, you, Monday and I had a conversation about the Marilyn quote on my blog. No, you aren’t going crazy. 😉
I completely agree that “Putting a name on an ailment doesn’t make the symptoms any easier to handle.” Me being me, I never really questioned why I was the way I was anyway, and neither did anyone I knew. It was just, “Always being Always.” I think many people were more surprised to find out that part of what made me the way I was actually had a name other than my own!
My situation is sort of the inverse of yours. I’m the lone single woman amongst a crowd of married-with-childrens. This doesn’t usually cause much difficulty, though, because since I spend my time with kids, I get it. If the only way to see my married friends is to come over to their home and watch “SpongeBob” or whatever, and spend the beginning of the night conversing with their mini-mes before their bedtimes – I actually enjoy that. But I also put a higher premium on the fact that I’m actually spending time with my friends than how we’re spending it.
I like your “bullshit radar.” I think that everyone in this world, even those without bipolar, really needs to focus on tuning theirs. I’ll be honest, there are some people in my life whom I love dearly, but still want to strangle when they cry to me because someone they swore they could trust or knew well has betrayed them – someone I have usually warned them about on a few occasions. And more often than not, they open themselves back up to these assholes again and again. It’s almost a mild form of self-abuse, and you can only comfort your friends so many times before you have to just tell them you will not discuss these ridiculous cycles with them any longer.
My friends have a right to maintain relationships with false friends, but I also have a right not to deal with the fallout after a certain point.
Honing a bullshit radar is more important for those like us who share certain life and emotional challenges because of our mental differences. But that doesn’t mean the “norms” shouldn’t focus on it either.
“And more often than not, they open themselves back up to these assholes again and again.”
I wish I could post a graphic from my phone! That could illustrate this better than I could with words. I have had several lovely, dear friends of mine who I have had to watch do this. Two, I lost because I tried too hard to help. I gave them opinions they didn’t want to hear and they turned it into “you’re judging me!” Fine, be an idiot. I have a hands off policy now. So I’m watching another close friend go through absolute hell. She’s dated my husband’s BFF and he broke her heart in the worst way. A month later, he came crawling back. I know this guy is an amoral loser. He’s using her. And all she wants the most is for him to love her when he is a loveless abomination. *sigh* I warned her.
It’s too true. I can’t deal with the fallout. I was just talking with C.S. About this yesterday. I’ll be there in a snap when there is a crisis. But I can’t deal with it every day. I’m hardly even stable enough to deal with me and my own.