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3 Tips for Maintaining Your Friendships When You Live With Borderline Personality Disorder

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There is no class in high school or college that teaches you how to deal with mental illness. If you’re lucky, they may tell you what depression and anxiety are, but not how to cope if you’re the one in five that will develop a mental health issue. In the past eight years that I’ve personally been struggling, I’ve had highs and lows that brought with them feelings I never expected, tribulations I didn’t think I would get through. That includes the interpersonal difficulties I’ve had trying to deal with my illness and maintain my friendships.

Friends of mine that don’t have a mental illness, and even those that do, often find it hard to cope with my ups and downs. For a long time, I was bitter and carried a lot of anger towards the people who walked away. This article is for me to say I’m sorry, and that I understand. It’s also to give you some tips if you might be going through the same thing. When I was 16 years old and first dealing with my mental illness, I was so consumed by my own struggles that I didn’t consider the people around me. I didn’t think about the fact that every time I was debilitatingly sad and texting someone about it, I was dumping my emotions onto them. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to say that bottling up your emotions is the way to go, because it certainly isn’t. But, if you’re struggling with mental illness, I recommend a couple of things:

1. Seek out a therapist or other trained professional.

Therapists are often a bit scary to deal with at first, especially that first conversation. Once you get into the office for the first time, remember, these people are trained professionals. They want to help you, and they can help you because they have the skills. It’s their job to talk to you about your struggles, and they are, more often than not, going to give you the space you need to talk through your problems and advise you on how to deal with them. Your friends will try to do the same thing, but unless they are professionally trained too, it’s gonna be a challenge for them to balance your issues along with their own.

2. Look into Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

DBT has been my saving grace in dealing with my mental health. When I learned the four tenants of DBT and their associated skills, I learned how to deal with my feelings in effective ways, and not take all my struggles out on those around me, especially when it got really heavy. DBT, in my opinion, isn’t something you should just do with a trained therapist for an hour a week and that’s it. It is skill-based and requires practice and attention as often as possible. So when it gets tough coping with your mental illness, turn to your DBT skills and use them, and you may just find it helps.

3. Don’t demonize yourself, but don’t demonize your friends either. 

This has been a tough one for me. Over these eight years of dealing with mental illness, I’ve lost countless people. It’s only now that I’m working to build bridges where I can. For example, I had a best friend four years ago that was my go-to person to message when I felt unbearably sad. Eventually, my needs became too much for her to deal with and she wanted me to seek professional help. This was her way of helping me and trying to ensure that I got better rather than worse. However, I took it personally, and considered that she was abandoning me because she simply didn’t want to deal with me. It took me until only a couple months ago to realize that wasn’t the case. I began to realize that her own needs should have obviously been her first priority, and she was trying to help me and herself in the only way she knew how. So I’ve learned to forgive her. I’ve learned to take responsibility for my actions and recognize that not everyone I’ve lost as a friend was lost because they were trying intentionally to hurt me. Reflecting on these instances has done me a lot of good in learning to accept my past and move forward, and I think it’s a key part of the mindfulness tenant of DBT. Give it a try if you’re struggling to move past grudges or a painful loss of a friendship.

Long story short, mental illness isn’t your fault, and having a support system is critical in getting through it. But remember, one in five of us deal with mental illness, but five in five have mental health. Self-care is essential for all of us, and if someone needs to take a step back from an intense friendship, that’s OK. You’re not a monster, and neither are they. These three tips will help you get through the rough times, put the emotional baggage down for a moment and see the other side.

Unsplash photo via Jorge Saavedra

Originally published: September 22, 2018
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