How do I Stay Friends With my BFF After her Bipolar Diagnosis?
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My friend and I have been bffs since kindergarten and she was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I love her so much and I hate that she is going through this. I'm scared that it is going to change our relationship and we won't be able to stay friends. What should I do?
Dear Concerned Bestie,
I can understand and appreciate your fear, but I’m going to rip off the bandaid: your relationship will change. BUT I’m going to provide you advice to help alleviate the growing pains.
#1: Understanding Bipolar and what it means
Bipolar is a condition that affects moods which means it can be difficult to know how to support and be there for your bestie. People with bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) will experience extreme mood swings – going from depression to mania (uncontrollable highs).
During depressive episodes or lows, your bestie will very likely feel unmotivated, very depressed and lethargic. During manic episodes, the depressed feelings swing the other way to them feeling "on top of the world" and overactive. Your bestie may make poor decisions and in extreme cases may experience psychosis. BUT DON’T PANIC! I got you! Just stay with me for a hot minute...
#2: How can you be supportive?
Hopefully, your bestie will be receiving psychotherapy and medication which will help manage the symptoms of bipolar. Good news is that this helps people live normally. However, there will be good, bad and ugly days as with any mental illness. So here is how you can help her:
Learn about Bipolar. Like, beyond the crash course I gave above. Learn how it affects people and remember that it affects everyone differently.
Talk about it. Don’t pretend that nothing’s happening. While you certainly shouldn’t change the way you treat your bestie, letting them know you’ve read up on the condition and are open to talking about it whenever they feel comfortable goes a looooooooong way.
Make an action plan for manic episodes. Trust me when I say they are not fun. While everyone is different during manic episodes, it is best you learn what the warning signs or triggers are. Common triggers like stress and being overwhelmed can bring on an episode. Whenever having these conversations, be gentile and be mindful of how you approach these subjects.
Know what to do if you fear for their safety. Speak with your friend’s family and be proactive, just in case. This plan can be calling Mom or Dad, or Guardians. If they, for whatever reason a parent or guardian cannot be reached, have the community psychiatric nurse or the local mental health number programmed into your phone. This way, help can be administered quickly. And always as an ABSOLUTE last resort: call the police.
#3: Look after yourself
Please remember to look after yourself. When you are doing well emotionally, mentally and physically you will be able to support your bestie. Practice self-care and don’t be afraid to ask for help yourself, too.
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BETHANY KILLEN - RESIDENT ADVICE COLUMNIST & SEX THERAPIST
Bethany Killen (she/her), whose time spent finding ways to navigate through her own personal struggles led her to pursue a career in social work.