Have you ever wondered what type of friend you are? The other week I was thinking about friends past and why they are not in my life anymore, and I could not remember why. I don’t know what happened. Thank you, memory gaps. There are other people who are no longer in my life because I don’t want them to be, and those encounters I remember. Like the time a friend “broke up” with me via email and used my diagnosis as part of the reason as to why we could no longer be friends and why she had been pushing me away for months. Even though that was almost two years ago, it still irks me. I never responded to that email though, because I was not about to get into an email war and explain how insulting that was, considering I tried to be in calm moods around her and not bring up my mental state most of the time when I was with her as I knew she had her own issues to deal with and I hate to burden other people.
In other posts, I have mentioned that there are people who would benefit from knowing about my diagnosis, and others who wouldn’t so I haven’t told them (or they aren’t a part of my life anymore for one reason or another). By benefit I mean gain a better understanding of me and certain behaviours, comments, tendencies etc. It benefits me as well, because I can be myself and be more at ease with these friends.
So…the title of my post? I have missed gatherings and birthdays because I have had long periods of anxiety and depression, both before and after my bipolar diagnosis. Sometimes I have avoided events because a “trigger” person was there and I was not strong enough or I did not feel equipped with the right tools to handle seeing that person. I won’t miss big events like weddings; I will dose myself with Ativan and Rivotril if I have to and my husband knows the look in my eyes that means “WE HAVE TO LEAVE NOW”.
I want my friends to know that I am not using my anxiety, my depression or my bipolar disorder as an excuse to get out of events. If any of them have ever experienced the slightest bit of anxiety or depression they would understand the difficulty these conditions cause with interpersonal relationships and interactions.
For example, I was in rough shape when my husband and I first moved out together 3 years ago (this was before we were even engaged), and I had difficulty adjusting to having someone around me ALL THE TIME. It took a long time for me to stop being angry at the thought of never being alone and having my own space and to stop being cranky and irritable. Even though he proposed two and a half months later, I wasn’t as happy as I should have been. Who wouldn’t be overjoyed and thrilled that their long-time love put a ring on their finger? ME. Thanks to my terrible moods. There were circumstances in my life that made it very hard to enjoy life and I was having difficulty coping with life. I didn’t enjoy most of the pre-wedding festivities thanks to anxiety and depression, but by some miracle, the clouds parted and I enjoyed my wedding day. It was a beautiful day, and everything went really well.
Earlier this year, I was unable to go to a friend’s going away party when she was moving back to Australia because, gasp, I was anxious again. I had seen her in November and we had planned a spa day the next day which I had to cancel because of my unwelcome friend (anxiety), but she didn’t mind. She told me there was going to be a gathering in January because she was moving back to Australia. When I got the e-vite for it and saw it was downtown and happened to be on the date of my Grandfather’s passing (which was/is something that I still have difficulty processing), I knew I couldn’t go. I told her why, and she understood, but I still felt guilty. I worried what others would think or say, but I thought that it was better not to put myself in a situation where I would be far from my home and around people I don’t know that well.
A couple weeks ago, a close friend was having her birthday and I was unable to go to that as well. We had already planned weeks before to go to the spa and dinner the following weekend to celebrate one on one. I thought I would be able to handle going to part of her birthday celebration but I had been very anxious that week. I felt guilty about not going which made the anxiety worse, but I offered to take her out for lunch the next day, and since she’s witnessed the anxiety saga since the beginning, she understood. I am lucky, because I know she was disappointed, but she didn’t hold it against me or get mad at me. She knows I would have been there if I could have pushed myself. I was also trying to stave off a hypomanic episode and was concerned I might lash out at someone there that I really didn’t want to see. We agreed it was probably better I didn’t go. She asked what she was supposed to say in the event that said person asked where I was and said should she say it was something to do with my stomach because that would be a good excuse and I said no, don’t lie, and I am not making up an excuse, I have a reason for not being able to go. I said she could be honest about it if she wanted to. I am not embarrassed or ashamed for anyone to find out that I missed a party because of my anxiety.
I will answer my own question – am I a bad friend? No. I am there for my friends when they need me, even if I can’t see them in person. My phone is always on. I will listen and text or email or Facebook message or Whatsapp if they need me to. I’ll be a shoulder to cry on, I’ll give advice and my perspective, regardless of what is going on in my own life.
Some people might think that limiting my activities because of anxiety, depression or whatever state I am in is counterproductive and unhealthy, but to them I say, no, I think it’s self-care. I trying to protect myself from going into a worse state. It is self-care because I am recognizing triggers and who or what sets me off. I may not be able to make plans too far in advance because it gives me time to ruminate. I will make it to the really important events when I have to. I am not trying to coddle myself, it’s just that at this point in my life, I don’t need any more set backs. I will not apologize for learning to take care of myself.
I’ve come so far from the days and months after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and experiencing extreme anxiety, lows, hypomania, confusion and darkness and avoiding everyone and essentially, trying to avoid life and live on autopilot. There are still dark days now but I see light and have moments of brightness thanks to my ever so patient and loving husband, family and friends. They know the real me is still in here.
About Melanie Luxenberg
My name is Melanie Luxenberg and I am finally ready to live openly with mental illness. I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2003, which I still experience. At the same time, I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety (which I also still experience), and then briefly experienced Agoraphobia. I have had depression on and off since I was 13 years old. In July 2010 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II. Shortly after it was realized that I experienced rapid cycling. I can experience multiple cycles in a week. Despite my diagnosis, I completed a university degree and then a college program. I have always held stable employment, regularly taken my medication and regularly attended my doctor’s appointments. There have been times of hopelessness, but I have always found support from my family, husband and 3 dogs. I am a law clerk, social media/content writer and of course, mental health advocate. My Twitter feed is full of mental health advocacy messages. I hope one day to see the end of stigma towards mental illness, because stigma has to stop!