Bipolar Disorder and Losing Friends
I read Meghan Camello’s “To the Friends Who Left Because of my Mental Illness” at the perfect time. I’d been thinking a lot about friends who’d faded from my life, who stopped interacting with me on social media, who never sent me a wedding invitation, who — last straw — dropped me after I made an ass out of myself by drinking too much. This is not a sympathy grab but an honest glimpse at the toll bipolar disorder takes on my friendships. Someone once said losing a friend is worse than losing a lover. I agree. What are the odds you’ll find “the one” on the first try? We expect to lose lovers. We don’t expect to lose friends. We assume friends will be around forever. We don’t expect friends to block us on Facebook or not invite us to their wedding.
I share the blame. I can be a difficult friend. I’m bipolar, but I’m responsible for managing my illness, though my brain makes it difficult. I’m a professor. Sometimes, teaching is the only reason I leave the house. Teaching forces me to perform, which means I’m exhausted at the end of the day. Off the clock or during summer, my voice changes to a whisper. My face slackens. Cashiers ask me to repeat myself. I look down. It hurts to speak. I sound like a boy. When manic or hypomanic, I can’t stop talking. I’m the life of the party. Teaching is easy. In college, people went out of their way to invite me to parties because, “Fish is so much fun.” I am no longer the whispering boy with a slackened face. I am the confident man with a sensuous voice women love. I remember one woman saying, over the phone, “Just talk.” Mania makes me magnetic. I own the room. Anything’s possible.
I don’t party much now, but two years ago at a writer’s conference, I drank liquor with my meds and embarrassed a friend of six years who’d had enough of my intense mood swings. We no longer communicate and are blocked on social media. I’ve made tremendous strides in my treatment since we fell out. I diligently take my meds, which have taken the edge off my symptoms. My psychiatrist is proud of me. I stopped drinking liquor and only drink beer, slow and steady, content with an easy, simmering buzz that doesn’t render me incoherent and unable to walk straight.
To my friends who were tired of me disappearing for long stretches when depressed or friends fed up with my erratic behavior, I’m sorry. I wish you were still around. It’s hard making new friends as an itinerant professor. I’ve moved five times since 2012 — five different states! You know I’m bipolar, but do you know I sometimes resent it? You know bipolar put me in a state mental hospital as a teen, but do you know my biggest worry was what my friends back home thought? Do you know I concocted lies to protect my secret? Do you know I wondered why my commitment was “shameful” when my health was improving? Do you know with each failed friendship, I become more paranoid I’ll fuck up the next one? Do you know I try my best to learn from my mistakes, despite my brain and stigma conspiring against me? Do you know I would give anything to take back the times I disappointed you?
Will you at least read this? I hope so. It’s proof of my existence.
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