bipolar parent

How to Make Friends During a Pandemic Even with Your Mental Illness

Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash

Friendships can be one of the toughest relationships to start, especially with mental illness gumming up the works. And the COVID-19 pandemic has created another level of difficulty for this.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can make friends during the pandemic even with your mental illness. Here’s how.

Join a Discord Server

In order to make friends, you need to go where the people are, and the people are online.

During the pandemic, meeting online has become crucial to our success, and online relationships have lost some of their stigma–which I believe is a good thing.

If you’re seeking an online relationship, you can try joining a Discord server.

Discord.com, a chatting service originally intended for gamers, has a variety of “servers”–or groups of people surrounding a theme with defined “channels” to speak in–of all types of interests.

There are over 300 million people around the world on Discord chatting about everything under the sun. If you have an internet connection, you can browse their server guides to find whatever topic interests you. There’s even an app for your phone!

The best part of Discord in my opinion is that relationships happen on your terms. You can choose to engage people or not as frequently as you wish, and you can chat with them on servers to get a bead on them before coming into their DMs, or direct messages.

This is especially helpful for people with social anxiety. I myself very much enjoy being able to think through my messages before I hit the “Enter” key to send them in the chat.

Once you enjoy talking to people on a server, you can make group DMs, too, with up to 10 specific people. If you have more friends than that that you want to chat with all at once, setting up a server of your own is easy.

I love Miraculous Fanworks, a Discord server of over 2300 people focused on producing fanart and fanfiction for the show Miraculous Ladybug. I loved the server so much, I even served as a moderator for almost two years.

And through it I met one of my best friends, whose wedding reception I’ll soon be flying across the country for along with several of our mutual friends that we also met on the server.

As a United States resident on an international Discord server, I’ve met people from:

  • Spain
  • Bulgaria
  • India
  • France
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • England
  • Germany
  • Canada
  • Poland
  • and the Philippines.

The server members speak hundreds of different languages and have taught me something new everyday about their various cultures.

A server is only as good as its people, though, and that goes double for moderators. If the server is disorganized, poorly-run, and/or the moderation team lets toxic behavior go unchecked, leave as soon as you can.

You can always take the friends you’ve made there and make group DMs or servers for yourselves before you leave. Chances are, one of your new friends will have a server made already.

So if you’re ready to make new friends during the pandemic, consider making a Discord account and joining a server based on a show you watch, a sport you like, an activity you enjoy, a mental illness you have, or even a school you attend.

Talk to Your Neighbors

One of the most interesting parts of the pandemic for me has been that my family has been more friendly with our neighbors, and our neighbors have embraced us.

Because of the pandemic, our neighbors spent more time at home outside doing yard work or walking their dogs, and we were able to connect. Going on walks around the neighborhood and opening conversations while standing six feet apart (with smiles!) has paid great dividends.

This past Thanksgiving, on the very hour I had raw bacon straws–puff pastry stripes with cheese wrapped in bacon and coated in thyme and brown sugar–sitting on their cookie sheets on my counters, ready to go, my oven broke.

Because I had an hour and a half until I was supposed to bring the bacon straws to my sister’s house, I ran over to a neighbor, whom I’d only had a casual relationship with, and begged to use his oven to bake my appetizers.

He readily agreed, and graciously and happily spent the next hour entertaining my young daughter with his granddaughter’s toys. I am deeply in his debt, and I hope that he’ll call on me with a favor next time he needs one and I can provide!

So try to overcome your social anxiety if you have it and say hello to your neighbors once in a while. There’s a large chance you can make a friend with the people who live around you, which will help if you ever need to borrow a cup of sugar–or even an oven.

Reconnect with Old Friends

Sometimes, friendships fade.

This is especially true for people who suffer from depression and other self-isolating mental illnesses. We often withdraw from all social contact when we’re feeling rotten, which is the opposite of what we should do.

If you have old friends that you have let fall by the wayside, send one of them a text today. Check up on them and see how they’re doing.

If they want to rekindle the friendship, they’ll let you know by their enthusiastic responses. If they don’t, they’ll likely be awkward and possibly ghost you. Try not to take that personally; like I said, sometimes friendships fade.

Reconnecting with old friends is a great way to reinvigorate a friendship, and though this isn’t making a new friend, not exactly, it can be a shot in the arm for you and hopefully for them, too.

Join a Support Group

This mostly applies to those of us who suffer from mental illnesses, but support groups are a fantastic resource to use when looking for new friends.

Common troubles breed closeness, and inherent in support groups is support. You could find people going through some of the same struggles you are, or people who have conquered those struggles and can help you do the same.

For some tips and resources for online support groups, click here.

Final Thoughts

Making friends during a pandemic may seem daunting, but if you put yourself out there, you will find people to call your own.

If you’re looking for friends during the pandemic, consider joining a Discord server, reaching out to your neighbors, reconnecting with old friends, and joining an online support group.

Making friends isn’t as difficult as it seems, even with a mental illness. In the future, I will post how to keep those friends, which may be of value to you.

Best of luck making new friends!

I wish you well on your journey.

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bipolar parent

How to Handle This Thanksgiving with Bipolar Disorder by Setting Healthy Boundaries

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

When my father pressured me at the last minute to host a family Thanksgiving two days before I was slated to drive 1500 miles last year, I refused.

At first I agreed. Why not cook a feast for my extended family, at least seven people in addition to my own husband and two children (11 people total)? I would have loved to have my family over and fete them with all the trappings of the Thanksgiving holiday, all of which I would be cooking by myself because my husband was finishing up tasks at work in order to prepare for our road trip.

This made sense to me at the time. I could do laundry and pack for the massive, month-long road trip after the Thanksgiving holiday was done, right?

But I realized that as a woman with bipolar I, that much stress would immediately spin me out into a dangerous manic episode. Because of my very serious psychiatric condition, I wouldn’t have been able to even enjoy the holiday or the road trip because I would be too busy preparing for both. If I had hosted Thanksgiving like my father wanted, I may have even ended up in a mental hospital.

Once I recognized that hosting a holiday was not only overwhelming but unhealthy, I then had to set a boundary, something that has been very difficult for me in the past. Girding up my strength, I texted my father back and told him my immediate family would be skipping the Thanksgiving holiday entirely that year in order to preserve my mental health.

His disappointment rang clear to me through his emoji-filled text, but he thankfully understood my reasoning, and ended up enjoying Thanksgiving with my sister. My immediate family ended up baking a small turkey breast we bought at Costco and making mashed potatoes, a very low-key holiday of our own for just the four of us.

Thanksgiving, an American feast holiday including traditional dishes like turkey and pumpkin pie typically eaten with friends and family, can be tricky when bipolar disorder is an uninvited guest.

The stress of the holiday, especially when taking on tasks like all the cooking for a large group, may tip a person you over into mania or hypomania, after which there is almost always a depressive crash.

I am here to tell you that your holidays do not have to be unhealthy.

You can stick to your guns and set healthy boundaries with your friends and family.

If you are an adult, your family absolutely cannot force you into any uncomfortable position unless you let them. Will there be consequences for asserting yourself? Yes, definitely. But those consequences may not be as awful for your and those surrounding you as damaging yourself with a manic episode.

Why Setting Boundaries is Important

When you first start to set boundaries, you will be uncomfortable, especially if you’ve never set them before. But doing so is incredibly important. If you do not express your preferences and stick to your guns about them, you invite people to ignore your needs and set them up to fail.

Set them up to fail? What? How does that make sense? It’s simple, really.

People aren’t mind readers. But how can they be good to you if you don’t tell them what your preferences are? If you don’t tell people if you’re angry or even annoyed, they can’t respond in a proper way and they’ll continue responding in the way they feel is right based on limited information, possibly angering you or annoying you further.

If you don’t tell people the truth about what you like or what your preferences are, and if you just go along with what they say or don’t say no to them about something that feels violating to you, you are setting them up to fail.

That doesn’t lead to a productive conversation or to someone knowing the real you. This is not your fault, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can express your needs and get them met.

Here’s how.

How to Set Boundaries This Holiday Season

Telling my father that my family wasn’t going to enjoy Thanksgiving with him was extremely difficult for me, someone who doesn’t set boundaries often, and especially not with him.

But having done my own research on how to set boundaries and having talked with my therapist about techniques, I was prepared.

Here are my steps to setting boundaries:

1. Find a supportive friend or partner to vent your feelings to before and after setting your boundary.

When I set boundaries with my father, I expressed my feelings of being overwhelmed to my husband, who helped me realize I could not take on the task of hosting Thanksgiving that year. My husband gave me the perspective and the courage I needed to stand up to my dad.

If you cannot find a friend or partner in your personal life offline to vent to, you may have more success online. You can also use a therapist for this. (For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)

2. Use clear, easy-to-understand language.

When expressing your needs, you do not want to be misunderstood or give anyone any leeway or wiggle room to interpret your words differently. Write down what you want to say ahead of time and read from your notes if necessary.

One of the best ways to express your feelings to others is to use “I” statements. When you say, “you made me feel…” that shifts blame onto the other person and puts them on the defensive. Plus, framing the sentence that way doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Try “I feel,” instead.

Last Thanksgiving, I communicated with my own father via phone text, the medium he chose, so I was fortunate that I could tweak my words before sending him the message until they were the most effective I could come up with.

3. Modulate your tone.

Setting boundaries with an angry tone doesn’t work. People dismiss other angry people, and may end up getting defensive themselves. Try to speak as neutrally as possible. This will be difficult, but having your needs listened to and respected is worth it.

I always try to remain calm when setting boundaries. If I find myself getting worked up, I tell the person that I’m setting the boundary with that I need to walk away momentarily and will be back when I’m calm.

4. Do not over-explain yourself, or explain yourself at all if you so choose.

When you set a boundary, expect to be listened to. If you find that people are unable or unwilling to understand what you’ve said, repeat your clear, easy-to-understand statement until they get it. There is no need to over-explain your reasonings.

When I’ve over-explained in the past, I’ve found that people do not believe that I the boundary I am trying to set is firm. Having solid reasons–which I do not have to explain at all if I so choose, and neither do you–requires me to think about them ahead of time to determine if I’m comfortable with those reasons. In the Thanksgiving example, my mental health and the health of my immediate family had to come first.

5. Set consequences if your boundaries are crossed.

The most effective boundaries have consequences. You can always, always stop speaking to your family. It’s uncomfortable, but you might find that it’s freeing as well. If they’re not going to treat you in the way you deserve, with respect and kindness, then they do not in turn deserve your attention.

When setting boundaries with my father during Thanksgiving, I was fully prepared to stop speaking to him. Thankfully he understood my set boundary and I didn’t have to, but if he hadn’t and I’d stopped speaking to him, then he wouldn’t have seen us for Thanksgiving anyway, and possibly longer, depending on how long I was willing to stick to my guns. It was a win-win for me.

Specific Examples of Boundaries You can Set

Here are some specific examples of boundaries you can set and the language you can use to set them:

  • To set a boundary with an angry family member, say something like, “You will not treat me [in the specific way they’re treating you]. If you continue, I will leave the room (or hang up the phone call).”
  • To set a boundary with someone who criticizes you, say something like, “It is not okay with me that you comment on my [specific example, like eating patterns]. Please stop.”
  • To set a boundary with someone who asks too much of you, say something like, “Although you are important to me, I must say no to your [specific request] to take care of myself and my family.”
  • To back out of a commitment, say something like, “I know I agreed to [specific task], but after looking over my schedule, I recognize that I will not be able to give [the task] my all. I want to help you find a replacement by [specific date].”

Conclusion

Setting boundaries with your family will be difficult, but the personal power you gain will be worth it. Get some perspective from a trusted friend, use clear, easy-to-understand language, modulate your tone, do not over-explain yourself, and set consequences.

When I set my own boundary, I was fortunate that my father respected me enough to understand why I set it. But I was fully prepared to stop speaking to him. I set my boundary and stuck to it, and I had a peaceful holiday with my immediate family that I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

You can handle this Thanksgiving. Remember, you get to decide what your holiday season looks like. You family cannot force you into anything you do not choose to do. Your mental health is paramount, and if you do not protect yourself, no one else will.

I wish you well.

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How to Address Behaviors of a Friend or Loved One with Bipolar Disorder

How to Address Behaviors of a Spouse with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicidal ideation. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Confronting a loved one about their recent behaviors due to their mental illness can be dicey, especially if the disease is something like bipolar disorder.

If you find yourself needing to confront a friend or loved one about, say, their manic spending spree, approach the person with compassion and empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes.

Above all, try to separate the person from their mental illness. Attempt to recognize that their unpleasant behaviors are part of the disorder and not a part of them. Most of the time, they don’t want to act out of control.

Here are some tips to help you address the behaviors of a friend or loved one with bipolar disorder.

When They’ve Been Manic

If your friend or loved one is manic and is acting out, do not hesitate in getting them the help they need. Ask them if you can call their psychiatrist or therapist. Ride the wave of their mania, but try not to contribute to their episode by agreeing to help them with wild, obsessive projects.

As tempting as it is to address their behaviors in the moment, they won’t understand you or be able to respond appropriately. The time to confront them is after the manic episode is under control and they’ve become stable again.

If your loved one has been cheating on you due to a hypersexual manic episode, explain to them how you feel about that. You may feel betrayed and unwilling to trust them. You may feel sad, as if you were not enough to satisfy their urges. You may feel a plethora of negative emotions, many of them directed at your partner and not their mental illness.

Again, try to separate your friend or loved one from their illness. It may be difficult to do at first, but do make an attempt. Unless your relationship was already failing, your partner didn’t mean to hurt you.

Dealing with hypersexual feelings can be extremely difficult, especially in the heat of the moment. People on a manic high tend to be pleasure seekers. They’re always looking for the next good feeling. Flirting and sex is just one way to feel great about yourself.

When the manic episode is over, then the remorse sets in. People coming off of a manic high usually feel terrible; the crash of depression often follows manic episodes, and for good reason. They wonder how they ever could have hurt their spouses or loved ones, and wonder how they’ll be able to make it up to them.

Usually, people suffering from bipolar disorder don’t have the tools to help them rebuild trust.

Explain to your loved one how you feel, and also tell them what they can do to help put your mind at ease. Maybe you need them to check in with you at night so you know where they are and what they’re doing. Maybe you need space to figure your feelings out. Try to set parameters that you both are comfortable with.

Similarly, if your loved one has gone on a manic spending spree and blown through their financial cushion or your joint bank account, explain how that behavior made you feel.

Manic spending sprees come from the same place that other forms of infidelity come from: the inability for the bipolar person to see the consequences to their actions when in the throes of a manic episode.

Tell them that you can’t trust them with money anymore when they’re manic, and that you will be keeping a close eye on your shared finances. If you need to carry the charge card rather than your spouse while they’re manic, then do so.

When They’ve Been Depressed

Confronting someone about the things they’ve done when they’re depressed is a difficult prospect. You want to be careful to blame the disease and not the person for their behaviors, as that might set off a wave of remorse and trigger another depressive episode.

Unlike dealing with a person in the midst of a manic episode, you can tell a person suffering from a depressive episode how you feel, but do be careful to separate your feelings about the disease from your feelings about the person.

Fortunately, depression is usually less harmful to spouses than mania. But there are still behaviors that people suffering from depression do that can be difficult to handle.

For example, people who are depressed may engage in self-harm or suicidal behaviors. You may have felt scared and helpless. Explain to your loved one that you would miss them terribly if they died, and that you felt scared for them.

This is the extreme example. Not all people who face depression hurt themselves. But depression is a very selfish disease. People who suffer from a constant barrage of negative emotions, ranging from guilt to anxiety to hopelessness–and even anger–tend to withdraw into themselves and think only of themselves.

Tell your friend or partner that you love them, if you do, but that it’s hard to love someone who doesn’t love themselves. Not that they are hard to love, but that the disease is.

Explain to your partner exactly what you need. Perhaps you need them to ask you how you’re feeling more often, and geniunely listen. Maybe you need a weekend off from their complaining about their anxieties. Perhaps you need to take some time to yourself.

Whatever you need, don’t be afraid to tell the depressed person that you need it, but be compassionate.

But do recognize that even a simple request for space might end up with your spouse feeling rejected. Reassure them that it’s not about them, but your inability to handle the disease for extended periods of time.

Final Thoughts

Telling your friend or loved one how you feel is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship. Communicating with them how you’ve been impacted by their behaviors is the first step towards their acknowledgement that they’ve hurt you. Often times, we need that acknowledgement to forgive them.

Confronting someone in the middle of a manic episode about their behaviors is generally a bad idea, as you will often be rebuffed. Similarly, confronting someone in the middle of a depressive episode may be a bad idea because it might send them on downward spiral of guilt and shame.

So try to address the undesirable behaviors after the person is back to what you consider to be normal–a stable mindset. Tell your friend or loved one how their behaviors made you feel. But do separate the person from the disease.

Communication is one of the most difficult parts of a relationship, but it is crucial for the mental health of both partners. You can support your spouse while making your feelings heard. You can forgive them, and address the disease as a team.

You can do this.

How to Address Behaviors of Friends and Loved Ones with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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Getting Support During a Bipolar Depression Episode

Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicidal ideation. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Anyone who suffers from bipolar disorder also suffers from depression. That’s just the nature of the beast. Sometimes depressive episodes can be debilitating. I’d like to share what my friends and family around me can do to help support me during an episode, and inspire you to make your own list to present to your family and friends. If you can’t bring yourself to make a list, then please feel free to print this article out and hand it to them.

Let’s dig in.

depression
A picture of a white woman holding her head. Credit to flickr.com user Amy Messere. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

1. Help Me Keep my Environment Clean

One of the major problems I have when I am suffering from depression is keeping my environment clean. During an episode, my house usually looks like a tornado hit it.

The depression-messy house cycle has been anecdotally supported for a long time. In short, the low energy and overwhelming feelings common to depressive episodes contribute to the inability to keep the house clean, and the resulting mess contributes to depression–specifically to shame. It’s a nasty cycle, one which is difficult to break.

At one point, during a very severe depressive episode years ago, I allowed dirty diapers to pile up on the floor of my living room. My mood–and subsequently my ability to keep the house clean–has improved immensely since the time my son was in diapers, largely due to appropriate medication and therapy.

One way my family and friends can support me–or any of their loved ones suffering from depression–is to encourage me to keep my environment clean. When I’m in the throes of depression, I need external motivation to pick up my space. This is best conveyed through praise and validation for my accomplishments. Please, I tell them, notice if I’ve done the dishes twice in a row, and thank me for doing so.

But if I’m in the midst of a completely soul-sucking depressive episode, I may need more help than just encouragement. When I’m that low, I need to be in a clean environment no matter how it happens. I may need my family and friends to step in and actually do the dishes rather than just thank me for them. There is a time and place for that level of help, and it’s okay to ask for that kind of support. Even hiring someone for me is useful.

I encourage you in turn to tell your family and friends what you need, be it reminders to do however much work you can handle or help tidying your space.

2. Encourage Self-Care

When I’m in the belly of the beast, I sometimes need help taking care of myself, including personal grooming. Brushing my teeth is a struggle. During my senior year of college, I suffered a suicidal depressive episode so bad and so lengthy that I didn’t eat or shower for weeks. My mom drove to my college town two hours away from her home and washed my hair for me. Then she took me to a crisis center, which helped me get back on an even keel. Neglecting myself made my depression worse.

If you are neglecting yourself, I encourage you to reach out to those around you. If you feel you have no one and are suicidal, immediately go to a crisis center. Do not wait.

3. Watch My Kids

This is a tip for the parents among us, but one of the best ways to support a parent in the midst of a depressive episode should be obvious: watch the kids. If I don’t get time to rest and recover from 24-hour parenting duty, I start to tune out my children and am not the present parent I would like to be. This is even worse when dealing with depression. I try not to neglect my children while depressed, but parenting while suffering from a depressive episode is incredibly difficult. Being able to briefly hand them off to my husband or a babysitter to recharge my batteries is crucial for my recovery during depression.

If you have children and are suffering from depression, try to arrange alternative supervision for them so that you won’t have to take on all their care by yourself. The best time to plan this is when you’re well, but if you didn’t, then call on your friends and family as much as possible during your depressive episode. If you don’t have friends and family around, google drop-in daycares in your city, or ask members of your church if they’d be willing to babysit. I know internet research and making calls is the last thing you want to do during an episode, but getting some time to yourself is crucial for healing.

4. Listen While Maintaining Healthy Boundaries

One of the stressors on me when I’m depressed is the fear that I’m overburdening my friends and family with my negative feelings. Thankfully, my sister is very good at taking care of herself by letting me know when she needs a break from my negativity. She is a great listener, and often provides me a space to feel vulnerable without being judged.

If you can find people who can listen to you while taking care of themselves, they can be an invaluable resource to you. There’s a certain give and take between a person suffering depression and his or her supporters, and the ultimate goal is for everyone to be healthy.

Final Thoughts

The best ways to support me while I’m in a depressive episode is to help me take care of my environment and myself, watch my kids for me, and to listen while maintaining healthy boundaries. This is what works for me. I encourage you to figure out what you need from your loved ones and don’t be afraid to ask for those things. Certain people will better be able to support you than others, and in different ways. Identify these people and lean on them for support.

I wish you well.

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