Having a mental illness can be isolating, particularly if it can change you personality or social skills. However, I am lucky in the fact that I have an amazing support system with my friends and family.
There is a cliche phrase 'if you can't handle me at my worst you don't deserve me at my best'. At face value it has good intention but in reality, to me it comes across manipulative. A lot of the time I can't handle me at my worst, so I don't expect other people to either. My emotions are not anyone else responsibility, I'm not saying you can't help me, but your mental health is equally as valid as mine and you need to take care of you, if my mental health is impacting yours, it's okay to need a break.
I can talk a lot about what my experience is with Bipolar Disorder but there is a very important perspective that I cannot give. That of those who are supporting and spending time with me. So, I asked a group of my friends and family to complete an anonymous survey asking a number of questions about what it is like to spend time with me so that I could include their perspective.
I found the results amazingly touching, I realised that my friends first and foremost see me for me and love me despite my Bipolar Disorder, all they want to do is to help me. So, before I get into the answers, I want to thank everyone who completed the survey, and also everyone who has been supportive of me... I love you all! x
My first question was mostly to gage how long people may have observed my mental health for. 66.7% of people who answered had known me for more than 5 years and therefore had quite an in depth knowledge of me, 8.3% of people had known me fore between 3 and 5 years, the other 25% had known me for less than a year, a good range of people who have known me for a while time and those who have a fresher perspective of me.
I also asked whether other people had noticed my symptoms before they knew about my diagnoses, this was an interesting question for me as I expected that anyone who had known for more than 5 years would answer yes and anyone who'd known me less than a year may or may not have noticed however, 50% of people said that they had noticed symptoms and this was spread fairly evenly across the people who'd known me for a long time and those who'd not known me as long and 8.3% were not sure whether they had observed symptoms or not. This meant that the other 41.7% who hadn't noticed my symptoms was also a pretty even spread of people who had known me for a long time and those who have gotten to know me more recently.
After these initial multiple choice questions I asked for some more in depth answers which I feel really highlight the response of people around me to my Bipolar Disorder.
What has been your experience of me being depressed?
The response to this question I found interesting, a lot of people noticed that I seemed low, struggled with attending school, struggled with self harm and withdrew from the people around me. People have found it harder to relate to me or understand how I have been feeling. It was clear that this concerned people and they felt like they wanted to help but didn't know how.
"During later years of secondary school you went through a period of time being really down and not meeting people as much"
"It's hard to watch when you just wish you could make them happy"
Those who had not noticed me being symptomatic said that I was smiley and that although perhaps they had noticed some off comments that that wasn't how they thought of me.
"Not explicitly - have noticed a few comments and actions. It's not how I think of you"
What's your experience of me being hypomanic?
It's clear that to a lot of my friends hypomania felt like a relief from the depression, something that I recognise in myself. They observed me being happy and excitable and chatty. However, as it is in reality, hypomania isn't all fun and games, my friends knew that the hypomania would end in a crash, the also saw some of the more intense symptoms such as rapid and loud speech that they didn't alway understand. In addition to this some of them had noticed that I was making decisions that seemed strange to them. (Including getting a gallery of tattoos)
"Tend to talk loudly and very fast, buoyant mood and lots of activity"
"Talking loud and not making a lot of sense"
It was nice to see that someone of these symptoms were perhaps less isolating than when I am depressed. People viewed me as a happy and excitable person who is fun to spend time with.
"Being happy and exited is what I think when I think of you"
What have you found difficult about being friends with someone who suffers from Bipolar Disorder?
Out of all the responses, those to this question were the ones that I found the most touching. Where I expected people to perhaps find my depressive episodes difficult as I am not as good at contributing to social situations or may rely on them more than usual, or my hypomanic episodes, where I may be too intense, rapid talking and loud often to the point of being obnoxious. The thing that universally people found challenging was not knowing how to help. In fact, every single answer was along the lines of It's hard, because I just want to help you and I don't know how. Clearly, I have some amazing friends, and what they don't know is that they have being doing the right thing all along. All I have ever needed from them was to know they were there and to spend time with them. If you ever feel unsure of what to do it's okay to ask me. For those of you who said they didn't know what to say or how to help in a difficult moment... for me a hug usually helps!
What has been fun about being friends with someone who suffers with Bipolar Disorder?
Again the response to this question was pretty universal. People enjoyed spending time with me especially when they could see that I was happy, they felt that they could have good conversation with me and apparently when I am hypomanic I'm super fun to spend time around, which is nice, I'm glad that people don't feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the intensity of my emotions and I am glad that I have some amazing understanding friends who can see positives even in the dark times.
I have alway been insecure in my friendships, I never felt like I deserved the amazing people that I have had the opportunities to spend time with. The biggest fear was always that at some point my mental health would be too much for them or get boring and they would leave.
They show me everyday by their amazing kindness that they Love me and will not abandon me. It's clear to me that they want to help and they also get something out of our friendships that they value. I am so grateful for my supports system. I honestly would not be here without them.
Thank you, you amazing, wonderful, kind, caring humans beings. I love you with everything that I have.