Making Sure Your Friendships Survive Your Diagnosis

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One of the most precious and beneficial relationships known to man is that of best friends.

The concept of “best friends” even has its own holiday, June 8, which is National Best Friends Day, although any day of the year you enjoy the pleasure of this connection is its own celebration.

When one of two good friends has depression, bipolar disorder or other mental illness, the friendship can undergo strain on both sides. It is not easy being the friend of a depressed person, and it is not easy maintaining a relationship when you are in the pits of depression.

After snooping around on the web for about 15 minutes, it becomes apparent that there are some articles available on how to be a good friend to someone who is depressed. There is, however, little to nothing on how to be a good friend if you are the one who is depressed. As a writer, counselor and person managing depression, I believe this topic deserves a few thoughts.

Three Ways to Be a Good Symptomatic Best Friend

1. Ask for His or Her Presence

Socializing when you are symptomatic is often unappealing and can even feel painful, but you know that isolating only strengthens your symptoms. So what can you do? One suggestion is to invite your friend over to be present only. For example:

Hey Beth, I haven’t got the energy to do anything, not even talk, but if you could come over and hang out here for two or three hours that would be great. You can use my computer, read, watch TV, take a nap, bring your laundry, whatever. I’m just going to stay curled up in my chair, but I’d enjoy your presence.

(Or you could go over to your friend’s place and curl up in one of his or her chairs.)

2. Communicate Your Expectations

On a day when you are feeling pretty good, it is wise to share your friendship-expectations with your friend. It is unrealistic to want a friend to continually lift your mood or calm you down, and it may relieve his or her mind to know you do not expect it. For instance, you might say:

Max, I know it's difficult to be around me when I’m exhausted, sad, and feeling hopeless, but I don’t expect you to make me feel better. That’s not your job. I like being around you. Your liveliness and sense of humor sometimes lift my spirits, but if they don’t, it’s OK. I just need you to be yourself. If it's ever too much to be around me, please tell me; I’ll understand. I have other supports.

3. See Your Diagnosis from His or Her Perspective

Ask your friend what it feels like to have you for a friend when your symptoms are at their worst. Knowing this can help you maintain the friendship. A depressed client once said:

I finally asked my good friend Jennifer why she stopped calling. She said she was afraid that if she didn’t cheer me up or spend enough time with me that I might hurt myself. It never occurred to me she would feel that way. So we talked and I assured her that keeping me safe was not her responsibility, that I just liked her company. I told her I had people to call if I ever felt I might harm myself.

It is always a mistake in any relationship to assume we know what the other person feels. We might think someone dreads being around us when he or she does not. We may assume we are not a drag to be around only to discover that we are. It is best to ask, find out and adjust.

And...

No matter how you are doing with your symptoms, let your best friend know he or she is appreciated from time to time. Speak it, text it, tweet it, email it, squeak it out over the phone, or send smoke signals. Just make sure to let your friend know.

 
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