How many close friends would you say that you have? Between 1 and 3? As many as 10? Are you in a romantic relationship?
I began sabotaging my personal relationships in around 2009. Although, if I’m honest with myself, I can date that behavior to as early as 2000. This is one of the most devastating effects that depression has on you. It creates a very isolated state of mind. It makes you so damn lonely, but convinces you to push others away at the same time. That’s the rock and the hard place you are stuck between: the need to be loved and the inability to accept the love you crave so much.
In the 10 years since the symptoms of my bipolar disorder started to manifest, I have learned some things that have helped me save friendships that I thought were lost, cultivate new ones, and protect my marriage. Here are 5 tips that will help you when you find yourself in a season of depression:
- Learn how to be more self-aware. This can be difficult, but it is not impossible. It is one of the greatest lessons I have learned in my nearly 25 year journey with depression. You need to be able to recognize when you’re not doing well. I truly do not believe that you can get better if you do not know you are doing poorly in the first place. You have to be able to assess your moods on a daily basis, and give yourself some kind of rating, so that if necessary, you can communicate that to others.
- Track your symptoms. In your journey to become more self-aware, it can be helpful to track your symptoms. They have a lot of great apps for this. (ex. Daylio Journal or Moodpath.) Or you can dig out a pen and paper, and draw an old school chart. Hell, put stickers on your good days if you think that will motivate you! You can even come up with a system where if you have a certain amount of good days in a row, you get some sort of reward. Our brains learn very well with positive reinforcement as psychology has proven, so give it a shot!
- Be honest with others. This one is a bit scary at first, but one of the first steps to maintaining your friendships is being able to tell your friends when you aren’t doing well. Just be honest and say, “Hey, I know you sent out that group text about a girls’ night, but I’ve been in kind of a difficult place. Go out and have fun, and count me in for next time.” Two important things to keep in mind here: This will typically lead to follow up questions about your condition. Answer them honestly! Your friends care about you and deserve to know what’s going on. If there is something you don’t yet feel comfortable sharing, be honest about that as well. The other thing to keep in mind is if you make a promise to your friends (ex. “Count me in for next time.”), you need to try your best to honor that commitment. If they want to go out to a few bars, you can even just go to one and hang out for a couple hours then call it a night. This is a good compromise that shouldn’t exacerbate your mood issues and also shows your friends that you’re still there for them.
- Put yourself out there. To expand on my last point, I think one of the steps to healing is to put yourself out there. Depression is a liar, friends. It wants you to stay home and lie on the couch. It wants you to neglect your relationships. It wants you to feel alone. Don’t let it convince you that this needs to be your reality. Your reality can be, and should be, whatever you want it to be. With proper treatment, you can live a very fulfilling life. I have bipolar disorder, and I have been able to stay with the same partner for 14 years and have 2 beautiful children with him. It is not easy; don’t make that mistake. It is unbelievably hard. But it is possible. So get off the couch. Grab coffee with a friend. Go to a wine and paint class. Take that girls’ trip. These things are good for the soul, and you will create amazing memories that you can use to counteract the negative messages your brain receives from your disease.
- Work on yourself. Take your medicine. See your therapist. Get regular exercise. Nourish your body with healthy foods. Write in a journal. Read personal development books. Do positive affirmations every day. Take steps to heal. Give yourself that gift.
The bottom line is: you can absolutely have friendships and romantic relationships when you suffer from depression. Your mind will tell you it’s not possible, but commit to not listening, and you will be surprised by the results.
About the Author
Jen (the writer behind the blog, Diffusing the Tension) lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband and two children (ages 4 and 2). She has bipolar disorder and frequently writes about her experiences with that. In her spare time, she is a bookworm, TV junkie, and fitness nut. You can follow her on:
Facebook- Diffusing the Tension
Her blog- www.diffusingthetension.com