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Family, Friends, and Bipolar

My brother always gives me a sound piece of advice: Don’t push away those people in your life that love you the most.

I’ve had some pretty extreme moments in my life with all the highs and lows and constant struggle for independence. My family hasn’t always done the right thing at every turn but neither have I. I have pushed my family away with violent rants or through obscure behavior. In turn, this behavior hasn’t been received well, and my parents responded the best they could. However, their response caused quite a bit of drama as they attempted to control my life, to control what meds I take, as well as, control my daily schedule, including making me move back in with them against my will. As you can imagine, I battled against this ‘control’ tooth and nail even if it meant checking myself into inpatient care two different times just to escape from their newly enforced rules.

One social worker in the psych ward heard my story and told me that I had to stop extending the olive branch with my family, namely my mom. He listened to me tell my stories and told me that it was time to cut ties. I don’t think he realized that my mom is one of the very few people that has constantly been there for me. I have to extend the olive branch, otherwise, i’ll have nothing left. I can’t push my family out of my life. It’s like my brother points out -- they love me the most. Just as in any normal relationship there is a give and take. Our relationships might just be a little more extreme than the norm. Both parties, me and the rest of my family, test each other to no end. But neither entity has given up on one another. There’s something to be said about people in your life who are always ‘there’. They keep showing up. They’re a constant.

It’s hard to keep it all together. It’s bound to change and progress on some unknown path eventually, but going through a mental breakdown truly tests more than one’s family relationship; it tests friendship as well.

Friends come and go, but after my first mental break, many if not most of my friends checked out. I missed a semester of college and spent three weeks in inpatient care. By the time I went back to school a lot had changed. A lot about me had changed. I was stuck with this new label of bipolar disorder, and didn’t know how to handle the new me; It really wasn’t an improved version of myself. I had a lot of growing to do in order to understand this stigma, how to react to it, and what exactly I was battling against. Other students in school remained friendly, but it became hard to form extensive long-lasting bonds during a period where I had so much to learn about myself. My popularity dwindled.

Picking up friends post college hasn’t been as hard. I have learned to be more comfortable talking about myself. Living in Hawaii and meeting the group of kids I hung out with down there liberated me and showed me that there was nothing I needed to hide. When friends are not aware of your diagnosis it can be really challenging telling them. It’s better to be honest about the diagnosis of bipolar disorder as early as possible. People nowadays are intrigued and very understanding about the news; many people have someone who is bipolar in their family, and they are eager to learn as they tend to ask many questions. The negative stigma affiliated with bipolar disorder is sloping in the right direction from what I can see… I think it all starts with being open about one’s disorder even though that can be a scary thing, and, as I know to well, can work against you. I do think that people appreciate the honesty now more than ever, and are much more likely to adapt in order to accommodate what ‘you’ might be going through; friends especially.

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