We have ALL been introduced to someone who has something in common with us and they tell us. I couldn’t count how many times I have met someone and over the course of our “getting to know” each other and I’ve heard this:
Me: (needing some Tylenol) “I’m sorry, I can’t take Ibuprofen. I can only take Tylenol.
New Friend: “Oh why? Are you allergic?”
Me: “No, it interferes with my medication.”
New Friend: “Oh, what do you take?”
Me: “I take Lithium, I have bipolar disorder.”
New Friend: (look of horror)”One of my roommates from college had bipolar, but she got over it.”
Who has been there??!! Now there is a look of horror on MY face. So here is my guide to meeting not just new mentally ill friends, but ALL friends.
- Don’t tell me you know someone who has my illness unless you have it or you want me to help someone who has it. Bipolar sufferers are as different as apples from oranges. Did you know that you only have to have had ONE manic/hypo-manic episode with depression to be diagnosed with bipolar? We are ALL different.
- Don’t tell me you know someone who has been cured or has died from it. You wouldn’t tell someone who just told you they had cancer that your aunt died of cancer last summer. Also, that is a very real reality for some of us. And if someone told you they were cured or “got over it,” they are lying to you OR they were misdiagnosed. You cannot be cured of a mental illness. You can go through a period of being stable but you cannot be cured. Everyone has quirks and everyone gets depressed. That is not mental illness.
- Unless you have talked with your friend, don’t go telling people that they have a mental illness. Before I came out of the “bipolar closet” I didn’t want anyone knowing. All you have to say is “My friend,” and your other friends who know this friend can very easily figure it out.
- Is a bar or restaurant really the place to be swapping stories about mental illness? Asking me if I ever tried to commit suicide in between shots can make others uncomfortable. If you need help text/call me personally.
- Don’t make excuses for your friends/family. Don’t tell me that someone reacted a certain way because they “aren’t in a good place.” So, how is that my fault? Don’t justify bad behavior. Encourage them instead to get help. I don’t tip toe around my mentally ill friends and I hate it when people do that to me. I’m a person just like you.
- Don’t “blow” off what I’ve told you. This is real, just like cancer. You wouldn’t question someone with a cancer diagnoses, don’t question mine.
- Don’t say you understand unless you really do. Depression is not sadness and being suicidal is not just having a bad day.
- Do not ask someone why they are depressed. It’s not like we chose to be depressed. Why would anyone choose this? Just be sympathetic and ask how you can help.
- Get educated before you go running your mouth.
- Befriend someone with a mental illness. They will open your eyes to a whole new world.