Yesterday, I had an enjoyable conversation with one of my friends. Not that we discussed anything profound or solved the world’s problems, but she’s a friend who understands what it’s like to live with mental illness. She knows that thinking about suicide does not mean you’re a bad person or one without faith.
I get a lot of comfort from talking to her just because I know she’s someone who gets it. She knows how stormy things can be on the inside, and she’s willing to be my friend anyway.
It made me think about how important it is to have someone in your life who gets it. But far too often, those of us with mental illness don’t have anybody to connect with on this level.
I was alone, too
When I was first diagnosed bipolar disorder, I didn’t know anyone else with the condition. The diagnosis itself was terrifying, and I did not know what my life was going to be from that moment forward.
In the nearly 30 years since, I’ve learned how to live successfully with bipolar disorder. That’s why I find it so important to keep publishing content on Speaking Bipolar. I want people to know that a full life is possible. But, even more important, I want them to know that someone else gets it.
I get you. I know the dark and twisty things you feel, and I know you’re a good person no matter how you might feel.Bipolar Disorder Symptom Checklist
In the enhancements I’m making on the Speaking Bipolar blog, one thing I’m toying with is the idea of starting a community.
A community is a serious investment. Not necessarily in terms of money, but in terms of time. It’s not something I would want to do unless I knew I could give my members what they needed from me.
The truth is, we all need a community. Having a mental illness is isolating. Knowing that you belong and that someone understands gives you the strength you need to keep going. It’s the power to make it through the worst days.
As my friend and I talked this morning, we both mentioned how comforting it was to know that the other understood. Even when neither of us says anything, we both know what the other person is going through. There’s something special about sharing a look with someone who knows what’s on the inside.
But, you may be asking, how do I find those people? Here are three ways you can explore.
1. Open Up
One of the easiest ways to find people who get it is by opening up about your struggles, but I have to caution there’s a need for restraint here. Let me tell you how I did this the wrong way.
Some years ago, I was invited to go hiking with a group of new friends. After the hike, we had a cookout.
At one point, the conversation turned to things I have been through, and one of my new friends asked about mental health struggles. As those of us with bipolar often do, I went on to over-share to the point I made everyone uncomfortable. Even when I could read the discomfort in the room, I couldn’t stop myself from talking. I went on to describe suicide attempts and my experiences with being committed.
Needless to say, that group never invited me back again, but they taught me a valuable lesson.
My friend from this morning and I connected on a much calmer platform. During a dinner at a mutual friend’s house, she made a comment about being so depressed that she couldn’t get out of bed for weeks. All I said was I understood, but we immediately formed a bond. That bond has given us many chances to share struggles without filters.
Open up in a small way to people you know. Watch how they respond, and share more if they seem to get it. If they don’t, try not to be upset. Remember that the only people who truly understand mental illness are the ones who live with it.
2. Google It
The second way to find people who get it is to find a group. This could be an in-person or an online group.
I live in a rural community, so there are not any bipolar groups in my town. There is at least one in Chattanooga, which is only an hour’s drive away.
3. Ask Your Care Team
The third way to find people who get it is to ask your professional care team. Many hospitals and psychiatric centers have groups that are not publicized. Your doctor may help you find a group that would be a good fit for you.
A doctor or therapist might have been considering starting a group, but wasn’t sure there would be enough interest. Your asking may be enough for them to start a new group.
Be a good member
If you find a group of people who get it, be a meaningful member. Share your struggles openly when it’s your turn. Listen carefully when others speak. Most of all, try to always build up your group mates. You are stronger together.
Until I decide about starting a community on Speaking Bipolar, I hope you’re able to find a group to support you. Having someone in your life who gets it, even one person, is invaluable.
I’m so grateful for you, my dear readers. I know that those of you with bipolar get it. You know the dark chaos that lives inside.
Those who don’t have a mental illness, you are seeing the same things happen with someone you love. You may not fully get what it’s like to have bipolar, but you understand the anguish it can cause.
I want you all to know that you’re not alone. And I will continue to work as hard as I can to provide the help and validation you need.
Until next time, keep fighting.