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Thank you for being a friend <3

“A friend is someone who helps you up when you’re down, and if they can’t, they lay down beside you and listen,” ~Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne).

One of the most difficult parts of having a serious mental illness is that it is so isolating. Partly because of the stigma, and partly just as a consequence of being depressed and anxious. This past year has been even harder for me than others.

If you know me, you know that I am a super extrovert. I love to chat and visit and hug and smile and laugh. And chat…did I mention that? In fact, when I am on the phone or visiting with friends I seriously have to remind myself to ask them how they are doing so that I don’t just talk the whole time. What can I say? I just love to talk!

But this year, between the bipolar, OCD, and chronic sinus infections that have lasted 11 months at this point, I was alone, in my living room, most of the time. My anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t go grocery shopping, or even into the dollar store without having a panic attack. I couldn’t drive at all, I just started sobbing when I even thought about driving. I had it in my head that if I drove I was going to imminently get into a car accident, kill 1-3 people, be convicted for manslaughter, be in jail for 20 years, and not be able to see my psychiatrist or counselors or talk to my best friend each day, and I would never be able to live with the guilt, so it would probably end up with me taking my life. Sounds rather specific? Well, that’s anxiety for you.

Most people might think, oh, I need to wear my seatbelt in case I get into an accident. Or, I have to remember to check my blind spot! I was at the point of rotting in a cell until I finally gave up.

It’s not just the anxiety, though. It’s the fact that I never have any idea how I am going to feel on any given day. I make plans two or three weeks in advance, and then I have a manic episode and stop sleeping and am not rational. Or I get into a deep depression and am not able to take a shower or brush my teeth in five days and know that no one is going to want to spend time with me because, well, to put it bluntly, I smell. Or that I’ve had a few good days in a row and then I wake up with a high fever and terrible cough, pretty sure that it is just a sinus infection, but afraid it is something contagious, and not wanting to expose my loved ones to feeling as miserable as I feel.

So, for about 10 months, I stopped trying. I felt embarrassed that I had to cancel at the last minute so often. I felt humiliated that my friends could plan weeks in advance and saved times on their schedule just for me, and then at the last minute I had to reschedule…and reschedule again…and reschedule again. I felt despondent that because of the high levels of medication I’ve needed to balance my mental and physical health, despite the fact that I starved myself, threw up, and took laxatives, my body just keeps blowing up and I just want to hide. I felt exhausted trying to put on the front that everything was fine when, well, it just wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I have an incredible support team, I am learning amazing applications of my coping skills, I am taking risks and doing things that were way too hard even a month or two ago…but I’ve still got Bipolar, OCD, and chronic sinus infections…and I always will…well hopefully not the sinus infrections, but right now it certainly feels like it!

I got to the point where I didn’t even try to go out with friends. I kept thinking, I’m going to have to cancel, then cancel, then cancel, and eventually they will stop trying. They will give up and move on to other friends that can actually DO something. And I will be alone. It feels worse to be alone because everyone gives up on me, than it would be to just not try in the first place. Or so I thought.

But the thing is, my friends, my true friends, didn’t give up on me. Several of them checked on me through facebook or text or call EVERY WEEK, even when I didn’t have any good news. I was still sick and still depressed and life was rough. I didn’t have to fake it with them. They didn’t reach out to me because they wanted encouragement, they reached out to me because I was their friend and they cared about me. That’s a hard concept to grasp when you hate yourself so much that you can’t even imagine anyone else possibly liking you.

And now, I’m starting to try some social things.

I had a friend come over for dinner. I went out to lunch with another friend. I’m going to a fancy arcade with my adopted little sister. All three of these had to be cancelled and rescheduled, but it was so worth the wait. Every time I was terrified to eat in front of them in case they were judging every bite I took. Every time I was holding my breath in case my anxiety made it so I had to abandon ship. But you know what? It’s been amazing. I missed being with my friends sooo much. It feels GOOD to get out of the house…especially because I’m starting to be able to drive myself! (Did I mention that I managed to do two miles on the expressway the other day?! What?! So now I pretty much feel like a boss that can drive to California…or at least to Aldi).

It is definitely not perfect. Today was the Crohn’s and Colitis Walk where we were supporting my middle nephew. I raised money. I got “cheering you on” and “thanks for supporting your brother” presents for the kids…I pretty much have every love language, but gifts is what I love to give most. My mom and I came 2 ½ hours to be ready to walk. I invited my entire family so that we could all come together to celebrate him. But then, everything went wrong.

My distilled water spilled in the car on the way up, so I couldn’t do my nasal rinses, and I’ve been running high fevers, so I barely slept and felt so miserable in the morning that I couldn’t go. I missed it all. I was devastated, but it just wasn’t a choice. With my physical and mental health the way it is, there are just going to be some days like that.

I was afraid everyone would be angry and hurt, especially my nephew, but they weren’t. They sent me love and encouragement. They understood that it was not the intention of my heart, it was just the realities of my life. And they love me too much to let that get in the way of giving me another chance.

And so, I’m realizing that it is worth the risk. That if I try to get together with friends I may end up alone, but if I don’t try, I definitely will. That they are not coming over to judge me, they are coming over because they love me. And I am worth the wait.

So, if you are like me, and are sitting in your room, all alone, sobbing because you feel so alone, even when you text and talk to people on the phone, I encourage you to take the risk.

Trust your friends and family to understand. Believe that you are worth waiting for. And thank you to all the people who have not given up on me, and never will. Thank you for being a friend.

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