After being diagnosed with Bipolar I and reaching some level of functionality, it was time to face the daunting task of rebuilding my life. I remember my therapist explaining this logically, using the circle analogy. Then single, the diagram consisted of me, then family, followed by closest friends and community. Sounds simple enough, but for me this plan set a task equivalent to detangling the double helix.
My first blog in this series depicted my family support, so check – that was covered. But the idea of conjuring up my closest friends and how that differed from everyone else in the equation was overwhelming. Knowing who to trust was immobilizing and daunting.
When you’ve been slapped in the face with a mental health diagnoses and are trying to re-enter the world with a smiling face, the challenge to set-up a clearly outlined support system often feels debilitating. Yes, I had great professional and family guidance, but creating my own life seemed insurmountable. I was anxious, nervous and afraid by the intangibles – What brand of future was in store? Would I ever be a productive member of society? Could I create my own family and was that even possible?
I recognize now that I’m a great friend who often makes poor choices when selecting relationships. I’m outgoing, gracious and generous with my time and energy, but with a mental health diagnoses that often scares the hell out of people, I found myself with many quick to start, short-lived acquaintances. These people didn’t truly care or more likely didn’t have time to earn a spot on my support list. As a result, despite knowing many people, my circle of true friends sometimes felt – even to this day — slim. And that’s okay.
Recently I learned that it’s true: one or two close friends whom you can trust and depend upon unwaveringly is a blessing.
I count my blessings regularly and Marcy is high on the totem pole. We’ve been best friends since the start of our freshman-year at college. After talking about how she’s supported me through the years, this two-decade long journey has become even clearer.
“It was your voice, but you weren’t talking”, Marcy recalled of our first manic chat.
I had contacted Marcy during my first and most dramatic episode. After hearing me, knowing something was wrong but not understanding the problem, she contacted my family and arranged for “visitation rights”. Marcy said she felt like I was a prisoner on house arrest and that the best thing she could do to support me was to visit easily and be “us” – we went to the mall, had our nails done and went out for lunch. “The privilege of being included as a part of your circle was an honor”, she said. “It was 1997 and stigma was still so prevalent”. She recently said: “We were all worried that you’d never have a life of your own”.
Looking back, Marcy set the benchmark for my dreams and life goals by living a brand of life I so deeply desired. Standing by my side, she non-judgmentally guided me; she lit my path clearly but without drama and held an open, non-judgmental space in her heart for me. Our brand of friendship was easy on the surface and its’ underpinnings were strong and true. That’s how I define support. It’s not lots of long-winded chats, but enabling an easy space for love and care.
Soon after we first reconnected, I attended Marcy’s fairytale wedding to her smart, handsome husband. She said, “You were the shell of the person you are today, but you were there”. She recalled how much my attendance meant to her. Only recently I was able to share how important my attendance was to me, too. I felt part of a real, thriving community. I was uncomfortable about the post-it note I imagined on my forehead that read, “don’t talk to her; she’s crazy”, but first steps were being taken.
When I was single, I remember calling Marcy on the way home from work. I needed to decompress; Marcy was tireless support. Thinking back on it, this must have been a burden. She was caring for her family during the infamous late afternoon “witching hour”, but she answered. She listened. When we recently spoke, she said again, “there was worry about your future”.
Helping by setting a positive, reinforcing example, I now see that Marcy stood by my side as I set my own course for a full, happy and productive life. When I met my husband Chris, she came to dinner with us to “give her approval”. She served as my Matron of Honor and sung at our wedding ceremony. When I was later on a three-month bed rest during pregnancy, Marcy would visit almost daily – watching silly romantic comedies and flipping through People magazine. Gracefully, beautifully and with humility, she sang at my Grandfather’s funeral. She’s always been there when needed, because she’s my life sister – just a short, single step away from family.
She concretely defined this sentiment by saying: “We’re not friends; you’re my sister”.
When we now visit, it’s a friendship on similar footing. We’ve reached a point of equality, having walked a similar path – maybe just a footstep or two off along the way. And we’ve both achieved the dream our 18 year old college girl selves never imagined possible. It’s this brand of friendship that helps keep my life diagram well centered and secure.
Marcy’s support has been that of both being there and setting the tone for the brand of happy life she knew I craved. I’m a better person for having our friendship in my life. Marcy offered hope; she’ll always be my grace.