This first appeared as a guest post on Julie A. Fast's blog, 7 September, 2014. Thanks Julie!
Like many of the friends I’ve met on the internet, Marty charmed me with his commitment to helping those with bipolar disorder, especially his friend Fran. I asked him to write about his experiences as a friend of someone who has bipolar disorder and how it has changed his life.
~Julie A. Fast
“You’re stuck with me now, Frannie.”
“Like gum on my shoe!”
People are always interested when I say I’m writing a book called Gum on My Shoe. “What’s it about,” they ask? I say, “It describes my friendship with Fran who lives 3000 miles away. Fran has bipolar disorder. She gets depressed, manic sometimes and is frequently suicidal. Despite the distance, I’m her main support.”
I wonder if you can guess some of the responses I get:
“Gee that’s rough on you!”
“I couldn’t do that!”
“She’s lucky to have you!”
I always reply in the same way: It’s not rough on me at all, our friendship is a giving, loving and very rewarding two way street. You might find yourself in a similar situation one day, don’t sell yourself – or your friends – short! And yes, Fran is lucky. And so am I, to have her in my life.
Recently someone asked a different question, “What gifts does your friendship bring you?” I could tell she understood how and why I get so much from being friends with someone who has bipolar disorder. Being friends with an “ill” person is challenging. Of course it is! But it’s also powerfully rewarding, life-affirming — and joyful.
We’ve been friends now for three years, and we’ve journeyed together through mania, depression and debilitating fatigue, with suicidal thinking a more or less constant companion. Fran’s said many times she wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my support: “We live 3,000 miles apart — and I would not be alive without you.”
But our friendship has never been a burden. I’ve learned so much, and I’m still learning. I’m learning about tears, laughter, despair and the courage it takes to live an honest life. We share life’s ups and downs — and an occasional beer — like all friends do. We meditate together and I’m also exploring mindfulness and other life-skills. I’ve taken courses including Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).
I’m learning I can make a difference and that I have a voice and a reason to use it. I’m meeting some amazing people.
I’m embracing the journey. One step at a time.