Wednesday, 20 November 2019

How Honest Friends Helped Me Find Stability

By Julie A. Fast

Do you have bipolar, schizoaffective disorder or a different mental health disorder that affects your friendships? I have bipolar and a psychotic disorder, now called schizoaffective disorder. As you can imagine, relationships were difficult when I was undiagnosed and didn’t know how to manage my own behavior! I’d like to share how I progressively righted my often out of control relationships and found more stability and happiness in my daily life.

Paranoia and Friendships

I lived with undiagnosed psychotic paranoia for many years and it greatly affected my ability to have stable interactions with friends and coworkers. My diagnosis helped me name what was going on in my brain and I finally knew that I wasn’t thinking and acting oddly out of obstinance. I was ill! Even though I now manage my psychosis with a plan that keeps most symptoms calm, I still had to teach myself to live with the symptoms that I can’t always control. I lost friends along the way, but after almost twenty years of regular practice, I can now live with my psychosis without acting on it. Yup. I still have psychotic paranoia in certain situations involving work and time with friends.

Here are some very typical thoughts I have when interacting with friends. These thoughts are accompanied by a strong feeling that something is wrong and that I’m being ignored or used:

Why is she calling her other friends and not calling me!

Why does he only want to see me on a Monday and not a Friday? Am I not good enough for a Friday night out?

Is she upset with me? Is that why she didn’t answer my text?

To counteract these thoughts so that I won’t act out on them quickly, I first have to determine if my thoughts are attached to a real behavior by the other person — is someone trying to put me off? Or, am I simply paranoid and unreasonable? It’s not easy to live with this constant need to check my own thoughts. It affects my life in every way, but like any illness I have to get my thoughts and subsequent behaviors under control if I want strong friendships. I find that in 99% of situations where I have these thoughts, I am WRONG. It is paranoia and not real. Thank heavens I can see this now!

What a life! But it’s a much better life now that the paranoia isn’t controlling ME.

Euphoric Mania and Friendships

I think I’m so fun and lively and sexy and wonderful when I’m manic. That might be true to strangers who meet me in a bar, but for my friends? No way! I’m an annoying, loud, prideful, grandiose, narcissistic doofus!

Friends can get very upset and embarrassed by my mania. I talk so much! I have way too many boyfriends! I drink. I don’t slow down and then I crash. It’s ridiculous.

I stopped this behavior over ten years ago. I simply said no more mania in my life. I now manage it as diligently as I do my depression and psychosis. I had to choose between the wild times with strangers and healthy stability with friends.

Learning to manage paranoid thoughts and truly committing to ending mania in my life deeply affected my friendships with people who have bipolar disorder and psychotic disorders. I have lost a few friendships due to friends who like their mania more than they like stability. I ended friendships when their paranoia showed up in a text at 2 AM accusing me of something I truly had not done. It’s not my job to change anyone, but it is my job to keep myself stable, so these friendships are no longer in my life. It’s probably the same thing when a person stops drinking and friends continue to drink heavily! You have to make a choice.

Just like Marty and Fran, I work super hard on my friendships. I look inside myself before acting out of a mood swing or paranoia. I wasn’t born with this ability. I created the plan in my book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and I USED it.

Is it hard? Yes! Hard, so hard! But I did it anyway. You can do this as well. I believe in our ability to change.

We can be GREAT friends!

 

About the Author

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. Julie is a board member of The International Bipolar Foundation, a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine, and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. She is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going. You can find more about her work at www.JulieFast.com and www.BipolarHappens.com.

 

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