The following is excerpted from High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, by Martin Baker and Fran Houston (Nordland Publishing, 2016).
Why Do You Do It?
People are sometimes surprised how much time Fran and I spend together, and the degree of support I provide. One friend commented, “Realistically, who’s got the time and energy to unfalteringly provide that level of care and dedication to someone outside your immediate family?” It is a valid question, but misses the point a little. Not everyone with mental illness wants or needs the kind of caregiving relationship that works for us. What they almost certainly do want and need are friends they can rely on.
Why is that so important? We all need support and companionship, but people living with mental illness often find friends are in short supply. Changes in mood, energy, and behaviour can strain relationships and leave people isolated precisely when they need help the most. Be the friend who doesn’t walk away when things get rough. It is not always easy for us either, but what began as a private joke captures the essence of commitment.
“You’re stuck with me now, Frannie. I hope you realise that.”
“Like gum on my shoe.”
Someone wrote to us recently, “Your journey as friends reminds us that mental illness doesn’t change what friendship is all about: being there for those we love.” That meant a lot because the reciprocal nature of our relationship is not always recognised. Fran is there for me as much as I am there for her. She is neither a drain on me nor a burden—although she doubts this on occasion.
Fran said to me today, “I don’t get it. Why are you still here?” I told her no matter what is going on, whether she is having a good day or a bad day, whether I am having a good day or a bad day, I never don’t want to be here.
I am a better person for knowing Fran. I have a greater understanding of my strengths, values, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities than ever before. I have learned more about mental and invisible illness, suicidal thinking, stigma, determination, courage, and responsibility since we became friends than in the fifty years before we met. I have explored meditation, Non-violent Communication (NVC), mindfulness, and other techniques that benefit my life enormously.
I have greatly expanded my circle of friends, met people who feel safe sharing their stories in response to mine, and learned how it feels to offer my skills and experience in the service of others. I have grown—and continue to grow—as a friend and as a man. But the most important thing I have gained is our friendship itself. Why do I do it? Because Fran is my best friend and that is what best friends do.
High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available at: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.jp | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.es | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Barnes & Noble