Social Isolation and Maintaining Friends

I have found one of the most difficult aspects of having a mental illness is the challenge in maintaining friendships. It is not that I stopped caring about other people—it is really because I got sick and was unable to maintain contact with people. It left me in a tough position with a whole bunch of connections yet few I had spoken to in years.

One could argue that people could have contacted me and that is true except my many manic episodes prompted me to change my phone number several times. Even if someone wanted to get in touch with me there’s a good chance they would not know my numbers.

I think that’s the good thing about social media. You can stay in touch as long as you don’t delete your Facebook page, Twitter account, or LinkedIn profile. Unfortunately, I’ve done that a couple of times too. But I have managed to keep most of my connections and this gives me the opportunity to keep up with old friends. It’s not like a good ole’ fashion phone conversation, but at least you know someone is thinking about you when they read your Facebook status and respond with a “like” or a “comment.”

One of the biggest problems with having a mental illness is the social isolation that comes from dealing with debilitating symptoms, like not being able to get out of bed. It could also be that you had an episode and ended up being hospitalized for a few weeks, which also equates to “falling off the face of the earth.” You just kind of disappear for a while until you get well enough to interact again. If people don’t know you’ve been sick or have an illness they wonder what happened to the friendship.

I had a friend who even knew I had bipolar disorder, but didn’t know I had been sick. He simply started thinking I didn’t value his friendship, which was not the truth. I’d gotten sick and there was know way he could know that until I was well enough to tell him. By then so much time had passed the friendship will never be the same again.

Friendships are hard to maintain even without a mental illness. Having one makes maintaining relationships a bit more challenging. I find myself more comfortable being open and honest with people and just letting them know I have bipolar disorder. Not to use it as an excuse but to let them know I might not always be well. I hope my friends understand and if they don’t I’ll have to deal with it.

There are times when I wish I could reach out and talk to someone from my past and explain to him or her why I stopped contacting them. The truth is to many years have passed and I am not sure I can overcome that amount of lost time. Instead I’ll keep focusing on the interaction I do have with social media and look forward to meeting new friends in the future. Hopefully I can stay healthy and not become so socially isolated.

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17 thoughts on “Social Isolation and Maintaining Friends

  1. I can relate with this. I have generalized anxiety and depression and often I will make plans with my friends, but wake up to not even wanting to get out of bed. It’s not that I don’t want to see my friends, it’s just that I want to be alone since I don’t feel well.

    I have gotten better but I get the occasional anxiety wave where I won’t go…but I FORCE myself to get out there. I think it’s important for people to realize if a friend cancels on you or doesn’t speak to you for awhile, it’s not because of them, but because you’re going through something. =)

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    1. Christina,
      Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you are feeling better and are interacting with your friends, even though it can be challenging sometimes. I agree with you that if people could understand a little more about depression and anxiety they would know if you say you don’t feel well it’s not about them, it’s not as if you stopped liking them either. Thanks again for your comment.

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    2. I find myself often in the same situation with friends. I’ve learned not to force myself into situations when I am having great periods of anxiety because I truly want to be alone until I can take care of the anxiety and present myself in a so called “normal way.”

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  2. I’ve found myself having to cancel many appointments because I did not feel comfortable leaving the house that particular day. So I don’t.

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  3. Great post! I have a serious problem with making plans and saying yes! I want to go here and there. Then all of a sudden the day of my plans I cancel and have no energy or drive to leave the house, my bed. I feel like my friendship circle has diminished after my most recent manic episode which lead me to the hospital and all of my close friends were around to witness it. Now I feel ashamed and embarrassed to face them. I also agree with you and wish I could talk to someone from my past and tell them why I removed them from my life and stopped contacting them. Isolation is my biggest weakness with my depression. I am so immersed in my depression that I tend to forget I am isolating myself from my family and friends.

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    1. Phoenix42013,
      I’m sorry you have had a tough go of it. I completely understand where you are coming from. The one thing you might want to try is focus on one friend who you were really close too and explain to them (if you feel comfortable) what happened. Also make sure to let them know you need them now more than ever as a friend. It’s a hard thing to do but you may be surprised that some people might actually give you the benefit of the doubt. The truth is if others don’t understand they aren’t going to be capable of making the journey with you. But you’ll find new friends and people will understand. Depression and the natural tendency to isolate is really common. When I’m depressed I don’t feel like getting out of bed let alone socializing with people. All I ask for from my friends and family is that they try to understand how difficult it is to fight depression. Usually the people who love you will always stand beside you. Do check out the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) page. Also, the International Bipolar Foundation has a free book on bipolar disorder. It might help you! DBSA also has support groups and they can be a tremendous value in the road to recovery.

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      1. Hi Amy,

        I really do appreciate your response to all of my comments on your blog. I look at DBSA almost everyday and read and re-read the recovery stories from several people of different races and ages. And it is very comforting. You have definitely encouraged me to understand that everything will get better. Thank you!

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  4. Yes, the isolation. Whether you want it or not, the life is going on as you are either hospitalized or in a bad state.
    I have lost, and that’s a fact, almost all of my friends. All.
    I have turned from extroverted, friendly, and funny person into someone who didn’t want to pick up a phone, answer a text message or an FB message. So, as the time passed by, I had lost contact.

    There were so many changes in their lives, I couldn’t track it anymore. And I felt like I don’t belong with them anymore.
    I closed myself into the house, and that was it.
    No one called me. And I didn’t call them.

    Also, I think, when they have found out what kind of an illness I have, a mental and not a physical, they have detached even more.

    Do I feel lonely, or do I miss the old times?

    Sometimes. And that’s pretty often.

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    1. Tina,
      I completely understand where you are coming from. I too have found myself lonely and missing the old times, I think that’s really natural to miss something that was good. I have gone through a lot of grieving and have picked up a book by Dr. Ken Druck on the grieving process. It’s tough to have a mental illness. As much as we are starting to talk more about these illnesses people still don’t understand. I like you have found myself thinking, “My friends lives have moved on without me in them. Now what would I say to them?” The thing that is helping me overcome a lot of my pain is to write…write…write…It doesn’t take away pain, but it helps me cope with how I’m feeling. I don’t feel so alone when I know other people have experienced exactly the same thing I have…Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for those of us with a mental illness to lose friends. Some of it is related to stigma, some to the illnesses we face, and sometimes it’s just people moving on in different ways. Hang in there…I’m grateful you are reading my post. You can also email me directly if you want– agamble162@aol.com
      Take care! Amy

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      1. Amy, thank you so much on your kind words!
        Nobody around me really understand what are we going through. It is hard.

        And yes, I have found some comfort in learning and reading other people experiences, and your blog. I am not alone.

        Thank you, again. And accept a lot of hugs from me. 🙂

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      1. Oh, thank you!

        Your site is full of resourceful information and support.

        Thank you so much for spreading the word and lightning the greyness around mental illness stigma.

        I support you. And I send you a lot of good vibes. 😀

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