Some time ago, very soon after I was first diagnosed, I found out that a close friend of my brother’s had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. He had been on Lithium and didn’t like it at all, which was not hard to understand since a few short years later I was on Lithium and had similar problems. My brother’s friend said that he slowly tapered down on his medication (which I very strongly do not recommend) and then established himself a group of friends that he could call and talk to and keep himself more on an even keel. He had done well for himself, and likely had only a mild or even a mis-diagnosed form of Bipolar, but how does a person go from being house-bound due to problems handling stress, or something even more common among those of us who suffer, have simply lost a great deal of their friends because the friends couldn’t cope with our mental diversions.
This is a very difficult question, and I want to stress here that I am only able to tell what I have experienced, and that I have no clinical training other than one University course in Psychology and two more from high school, plus of course my years of dealing with the illness. What I have done in the past when I felt alone was to try and establish myself with a community. This can be something simple like a volunteer job, your community can include just your boss and the people you directly work with. I am so lucky to work in a supportive and mutually strong workplace where making each other get through the day is rewarded, not simply trying to outwork someone so they are no longer competition for you. A fair number of years back though, all I had for a ‘community’ was the three people I shared a house with and my Dad. For a while this was the perfect thing, I would sleep, get up and watch some TV with my roommate George, who liked to watch four kinds of Star Trek every day and we would casually talk about how we were coping, what our dreams were like and then I would go out for a walk with my Dad in the beautiful river valley of Edmonton and I would get just a little fresh air and exercise and slowly I was progressing towards more of a ‘life’ for want of a better term.
So, to get myself to the next level, I found out that city swim passes were free for people who were on disability, and I got myself a bus pass and would get up each day to ride the bus to the pool. I would meet a man I know only as John each morning at the bus stop, and him and I still meet in the neighborhood now and then, he is a very fascinating guy and a fan of my poetry now, and then I would head over to the pool. At first I wouldn’t say so much I was nervous, but I didn’t know really how to make friends or talk to people, I had lost a lot of ‘life skills’ while I was in the hospital and also afterwards not being around new people or even simply ‘normal’ people for some time. I remember going into the steam room and sitting alone and people would talk about different things and slowly I started to feel very at home sitting in the hot tub and the sauna and steam room and doing a few laps in the pool. After a few weeks, or perhaps even months of saying hello to the women who ran the front desk I ventured a little further and started to chat with them and once more found people who were new fans of my writing and this was where I sold some of my first books while they were still in ring binders with hole punched paper inside. Day by day, I started talking to the people at the pool and met some really amazing people. I met two older people there who had come from Denmark around the time my Dad did and became close enough to them to be invited for coffee at their houses and at McDonald’s after we went for our swim. I also met a man who was a coin dealer on the weekends and owner of a steel plant during the week. He was very wealthy but put on no airs and I would often go and see him for a very fair deal on coins that I used to collect. I met a lot of people, and one of them was a very attractive young life guard who helped me a lot with my swimming and my health in general as she was attending pre-med in school and wanted to become a chiropractor. I can’t even remember her name but I remember her pretty smile and endless kindness to me. Establish yourself, allow yourself to get comfortable, push your limits a bit and make friends. Not all that complicated, but not always easy.
Another topic I think is very relevant to address in this day’s blog is when you lose friends because of your illness. I had one friend that I used to talk to every day, often drive home and even worked with at the same restaurant while we were in grade 12 in my home town of St.Albert. He was a very, shall we say–‘solid’ person, meaning he followed the rules passed down to him from his mother and stepfather and worked very hard and did very well for himself. I was in a terrible state last time I talked to him, my mind was racing and I just couldn’t go five minutes without trying to phone someone. I ended up calling him a few times and his wife would answer and she was very nice about talking to me but when he found out about it he was upset. Add to that the fact that I was falling apart and he didn’t understand what I was going through and I lost one of the best friends I knew, certainly knew at the time. This has happened a lot, and in some ways I am numb to these things happening, but I still think about them a lot and they still hurt in a repressed sort of way. As far as trying to rekindle old friendships I don’t have any easy answers. One thing that can be done is to wait until you are sure you are in a positive frame of mind and if you really want to talk to the person again, do two things that I have found very helpful: write a brief letter explaining not only that you were having struggles but also that you have come back from that state and are now being treated properly and will likely not have problems like that again. This isn’t any hard and fast thing, but I have saved a very important friendship (with my ex-gf Caroline) that otherwise would have just been lost. The next step is to prepare to talk to the person directly which can be very difficult, but easier if you sit down and write out a script. You plan out and write out what you want to say, what the person could conceivably say to you, allowing for permutations and then write out your response. A little preparation can go a long way. If you tune in tomorrow, I will try and talk a little about romantic relationships in the life of a person suffering from a mental illness, provided everyone understands that I can only speak of my own limited experience. In some ways I feel I am very lucky because in my life I have only had one serious romantic relationship and I have stayed good friends with this person through the years, I even am still her friend now that she is married to someone else. So, Dear Readers, have a wonderful day and please take a look at some of the other parts of this website while you are here, I have some videos, some links to eBooks and paperbacks for sale and even samples of some of my best writing. Take care and keep smiling!