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I am my friend

25 Apr

I had a friend some time ago who had bipolar disorder. I stared at that statement for a few minutes, thinking it didn’t read correctly…my initial instinct was to write “my friend was bipolar.” But in reality, my friend was a lot of things: fantastic, loving, supportive, compassionate, funny, sweet, smart, and more. But she was not bipolar…she had bipolar disorder.

I loved my friend. I met her at a job that my hub and I worked at together. She was a wonderful woman, funny and smart, and we both enjoyed spending time with her. It was not like either of us, but we spent time with my friend outside of work. She joined family gatherings when we had them, holidays, birthday parties…and when I left the job, we maintained our friendship. We helped her move, we were with her through a relationship that was old and new again, and then old again. We were there when her mother passed, and she was there when my grandparents died (at different times).

At times during our relationship, she would disappear and we wouldn’t hear from her. I knew from our talks that meant she was struggling with a down–or depressive–episode. I’d seen her manic, both on and off medication, but I never really saw her in a severe depressive episode because she tended to hide. She knew my husband and I would do anything for her, but she didn’t or couldn’t ask during those times. We were there for her when she was in the hospital during a depressive episode, though she kept most of it from us.

My friend had a difficult time keeping a job. Getting them wasn’t difficult, but those who live with a mental health illness know that maintaining a job can be difficult. Bipolar is notoriously difficult to diagnose and equally as difficult to treat (or at least live with a treatment). I know my friend went through many different iterations of protocols trying to get on a good path for her life. There were times when her jobs went well for a long period of time, and other times when the jobs didn’t last. I feel like I really knew my friend, and could recognize her patterns.

Several years ago–turns out it was fall 2008–we had a falling out. It isn’t what you think…there was no “fight” or break-up of sorts. She was struggling with moving back to the area from a place she loved but could not afford. We had offered to help her in any way we could; her brother was housing her and helping to care for her while she sought a new job. If I think about it now, I suspect she was in a depressive episode but I did not recognize it…either it was too early or too far in, I’m not sure. I said something pretty honest and blunt that probably at another time she would have responded to in kind, but her response was to stop speaking to me altogether. Sadly, this was not the first time she’d done this. During the time I knew her, she had a similar “falling out” with a longtime friend. I heard a lot about that at the time, because although she was the one who instigated the break-up, she was also hurt by the whole thing.

I don’t cry much during therapy. With my current therapist, the first time I cried in the 3 months I’ve been going was when I spoke about the death of my dog. Today was the second time, and part of it was over this friend. I haven’t spoken to or heard from her over these five years. I’ve thought of her often and I’ve tried to keep track of her, but I’ve not reached out to her personally. I feel in my heart that although it might not have been the best thing to happen, I do feel like she needed to separate from us for some reason. It sucks for me because I love her and I miss her so much, but if it’s the right thing for her, then I have to understand that.

I feel great compassion and love for this woman. She became a part of my husband’s and my small family. She became a part of my extended family’s family. I miss the hell out of her. But I want what is best for her, no matter what it costs me.

And thus the crux of this post…

Why is it that I can be so compassionate and understanding of my friend’s needs–at a cost to me–but I cannot be that way for me? I can be empathetic and understanding of her, of my aunt (who suffers from panic and anxiety), of my family for their issues and pain and distress, but I can’t for me. I know in my head that there is nothing in my life to be ashamed of, but somewhere deep inside me I feel ashamed. I know this because the shame is keeping me from being kind to me, being compassionate and understanding to me, being tender and empathetic to me. I learned this today in therapy.

But I don’t know why. I don’t know why. And it left me in tears in my therapist’s office. And it left me confused and sad, because intellectually I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m funny and quirky and sweet, smart and kind to others, compassionate and supportive to others, loyal and patient. I’m creative and like to think outside the box. My therapist tells me I’m whimsical…not something I would hang on my own chart, but okay. So why can’t I treat me the way I would treat someone else who was just like me? Why can’t I be compassionate and understanding of my own needs, even if it costs me?

I think the shame might be connected to something other than my mental health. And I think I might be afraid to start dissecting what that is. Because what if I can’t fix it? Even if I could fix it, my therapist tells me I need to learn to live with things rather than fix them, but what if I can’t live with whatever it is that is shameful? Is that what is holding me back? I wish I knew. I want to know, because I want to move forward and I feel this is what is really holding me back.

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