When You Are Afraid to Tell Your Friend About Your Mental Illness Diagnosis
My dear friend,
You’ve been there for me before. You’ve been a great friend before. You’ve sat with me while I’ve cried and held my hand through difficult times before. You love me, and I know this. Your parents love me, and I know this. People think of us as friendship goals, and we know this.
But this is different.
I’ve changed. My identity has changed. My understanding of myself has changed. This diagnosis has changed everything.
The fun we used to have at parties and having drinks, I now see as damaging. You see, alcohol numbs my pain, and it keeps me from ever actually facing my feelings. What’s more is that alcohol interacts with my medicine, and my doctor strongly recommends against it.
Staying up all night — pushing the sun to rise as we talked about everything and nothing — is now damaging. My doctor says I need routine, and I agree. Going to sleep at a reasonable hour every night, and waking up at the same time every day are the roots of a routine that has become absolutely vital to my mental health.
But how am I supposed to tell you the fabric of our relationship is changing? The pieces are there but the thread is now different. It isn’t as elastic.
I loved those late night college adventures that I don’t even remember. I loved joking with you and forgetting all of my responsibilities. I loved eating McDonald’s chicken nuggets at 2 a.m. I loved spontaneous outings and conversations that seemed to never end.
But these aren’t things I can do anymore.
I have to focus on my health and my mind.
This doesn’t mean I’m gone forever, exiled from you or the friendship we built together. I can still hang out with you, and I want to still have fun with you. I can still do fun things, like eat dinner, go to the movies, play games or talk about everything and nothing all in the same conversation. I just have to make sure we respect my routine – taking my medicine on time, going to sleep on time, planning and scheduling things.
I know this changes us because it has changed me. I know it changes how we work because it has changed how I work. But, if I want to get better, then I have to do these things.
But how can I tell you all of this? How can I help you to understand my life turned upside down and I still want you in it?
Because I’ve heard you. Joking. You’ve called people “crazy” and called things people do “crazy.” You’ve brushed off people before and been uninterested in interacting with them because they are “crazy.”
And now, I’m “crazy.” It’s official. The doctor diagnosed me.
I’m scared you are going to reject me, brush me off just like the people you’ve joked about before. I’m scared you’re going to forget me, our friendship and all of the fun we have had. I’m scared you’re going to see the things I do – my routine, my acts of self-care, my withdrawal from old activities – and write me off too as one of those “crazy” people. I’m scared you’re going to think nothing was genuine all because I wasn’t mentally stable.
I’m scared you’re going to bring up my diagnosis anytime we disagree, saying I’m being unreasonable solely because I am mentally ill. I’m scared you’re going to forget I too am a human person, whose love and happiness you held dear.
It’s true. I view our relationship differently than before. We’ve been through things before, tough things, but I don’t know if we will get through this. I want to get through this with you, and I hope you do too.
I still love you, and I hope you still love me.
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Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem.