As a person with a mood disorber (Bipolar I), I find that I am drawn to or attract other people with similar conditions. It is almost like a pheromone that creates a sense of connection, an intuitive sense that this is a person with whom I have something in common.
Typically, that manifests in a hypomanic – esque exchange of ideas, big thoughts, dreams, and that feeling that YES THIS PERSON IS MY KIND OF PERSON. Rarely, do I think about the possibility that it might be what’s unhealthy in us that creates the connection rather than things like shared values, common goals, great books, or more. Until it goes awry.
One common thing that often happens is that they tell me they were misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder or their twin has it or they have a “really bad” (??) base of ADHD or some other reference that should be a red flag to me that the connection might be more about primal mood fluctuations than a conscious choice.
It is not that I can’t have solid friendships with people living with mental illness or even bipolar disorder. It is the realization that trying to manage my own specific disorder with someone who is not also trying to manage (or acknowledge) is fraught with peril. The more I talk about my disorder and how I am processing my experiences, the sooner the other person is like “exit stage left” and either gets angry with me for not meeting their expectations or tries to manage me.
This thought came to me unbidden last night when I was thinking about several relationships that used to be friendships and now are barely acquaintanceships. And I realized there was a pattern of disclosure of their dance with the disorder followed by a collision of expectations.
There are lots of ways to manage mental health and when we make a choice about how we will do it for ourselves, we have to live with the consequences of that decision. I am a big proponent of medication, talk therapy, and trauma informed therapy. I can be judgmental as fuck about people’s choices to use weed, booze, and spending 90% of their time on that creative buzz no matter the price their poor mind and body experiences. But that’s also tied up in my experiences as an adult child of generations of alcoholics and watching other victims of sexual predator in our family descend into drug addiction.
It is hard to step away from that paradigm. Rigidity has helped me to survive 50 years so I’m not going to knock it, but it is not a comfortable coping mechanism.
And I understand that a consequence of my writing about my mental health and trauma will inevitably encourage people to reach out to me. That’s not what I’m talking about.
It is more that there is an invisible thread or threads that tie us to other people on that molecular level, people whose mind and body chemistry are more akin to ours than others whether its because of mood disorders or trauma or other experiences that are not mine. Navigating that connection to respect everyone’s boundaries can be challenging, but it can also be great to share that unspoken experience and healing or coping with someone who truly understands.
But much like family ties that are familiar, but not necessarily healthy or comfortable, these friendships can be delicate or even fragile. I am sad when some folks pull away from me and unhappy when they turn my mental health against me, by critiquing my boundaries as indicators of my being symptomatic. That usually makes the sadness evaporate and relief sink in.
Perhaps dysfunction or co-dependency is more than just our own unprocessed stuff. Maybe there’s a genuine biological response drawing people together who share a neurological infrastructure that’s just not quite like a typical person?
Here’s an example – if you read this and think “hmm, that’s’ interesting” or “that’s bs” or even “why did I waste my time reading this post?” – that’s what I’m going for. If you read this and think “omg, she’s writing about me and thinks i’m mental” – that is not true. This *is* about someone specific – me, not you. If you see yourself here or something resonates with you, by all means, please do with that whatever is helpful. But if you think I’m doing anything more malevolent than talking openly about uncomfortable experience, that’s not okay – for you.
I will say this – I think everyone should go to therapy. Life in 2020 is fucking hard. Finding support and perspective and even just a listening ear is not at all the same thing as living with mental illness. Going to therapy to address problems and issues is a very healthy choice and a great example to your children. So if I suggest you try therapy that also has nothing to do with this blog post – I think everyone should try therapy. It is like suggesting people take more Vitamin C. Or try a neti pot. True believers share their beliefs.
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