4 Ways Mental Illness Negatively Impacts Friendships (And 4 Ways It Helps)

Mental illness often causes people to feel lonely and out of place. It can push us to isolate, or act in ways that scare and confuse our loved ones. Our moods, behaviors, and appearance can change based on our thoughts and body sensations, making us difficult to understand.

One major aspect of our lives that mental illness takes a toll on is our relationships with others, especially our friends. These important people in our lives see us at our best, and endure us at our worst. My specific condition severely hinders my ability to build and maintain healthy, stable friendships, and I often feel unlovable as a result. Thankfully, I’ve met wonderful people who continue to show me that my mental illness doesn’t just make me a royal pain, but also a decent human being and true friend.

These are 4 ways my mental illness negatively impacts my friendships (and 4 ways it makes them better):

Negative: Sometimes, my mental illness makes me seek attention.

I fear abandonment and despise being alone. Unfortunately, that sometimes makes me act in ways that I know will attract attention, especially from those I love. Sometimes, I try underplaying my dark thoughts, but hoping the hints will reel people in. Other times, I try outrageous, impulsive things to make sure everyone sees and hears me loud and clear. I’m learning that these antics often backfire or push people away instead of lure them in. Although it’s a difficult process to change these ingrained behaviors, I’m working hard to improve for my best friends and myself.

Positive: But, most times, this illness means I’m always willing to talk or listen.

I know what it’s like to feel lonely and like not a soul in the world cares… and it sucks. I don’t ever want anyone I love to feel that pain in their heart and emptiness in their chest. So, I leave my phone on, even late at night. I respond to every message, even ones that seem silly and don’t require a response. I never turn away a friend who is struggling or itching to vent, nor do I walk away when someone has exciting news to share. Everyone deserves time and attention, and luckily I have ears to listen and a voice when they’re looking for validation or advice.

Negative: Sometimes, my disorder causes me to say things I don’t mean.

I battle black-and-white thinking as well as splitting nearly all the time. So, I lash out when I’m feeling angry; I get defensive when I sense a threat. I throw out one-liners with the intent to pierce the heart, hoping that my pain will subside if I pass it to another host. These childish reactions rarely help me feel better, though. In fact, they almost always leave me feeling worse. I’m slowly finding ways to check the facts when I feel my emotions reaching that red zone, and trying to redirect my intense emotions into healthy coping skills.

Positive: But, most times, this disorder makes me show how much I genuinely care.

Just as the negative emotions overwhelm me, the positive ones consume me, too. Therefore, I love deeply and show my love and concern for my friends in everything I do. I check in on friends to make sure they’re alright, especially those who I know push themselves to seem strong for everyone. I send little cards and pick-me-ups for special occasions and just because. I give giant hugs and say “I love you” often. I travel near and far to see my closest friends and be with them in the good times and the bad. If there’s one thing I make sure of, it’s that people know how much I care.

Negative: Sometimes, my mental illness causes me to cling too closely.

Because of my history and my irrational thoughts, I worry nearly every day that my friends are going to leave. This fear of being abandoned pushes me to cling tightly and desperately to those people, in hopes that they will forever stay that close. Some people say that I come across as needy, self-centered, and just too much. Friends have asked that I refrain from reaching out to them so frequently, while some others have simply given up and say they can’t handle someone who’s as sick as me.

Positive: But, most times, this illness makes me fiercely loyal.

When I say I’ll never leave you, I mean it with every bone inside my body. I know what it’s like for loved ones to walk out on you, and I will never do the same. Not only will I stick by your side through the good times and the bad, but I’ll protect you like no other and defend you till the bitter end. My loyalty knows know limits, and my love is forever unconditional. Hope you’re in for a wild ride, because I will provide a lifetime of fun and laughs!

Negative: Sometimes, my disorder costs me friendships I thought would last.

I run on dysregulation and constant fluctuation within myself. Even when I work hard to keep my illness and its problematic symptoms under wraps, I still seem to drive everyone away. All it takes is one rough month or a few wrong choices, and people bail right and left. This leaves me constantly questioning those who do stay, anxiously awaiting when they’ll say goodbye forever, too.

Positive: But, most importantly, this disorder has shown me who my true friends really are.

Some brave and caring people have stayed with me through many troublesome moments. They’ve seen me at my worst, yet somehow I didn’t frighten them away. I’ve learned that those who judge me based on my illness and the stigma it carries aren’t the people I really need in my life, because they were just fairweather friends. I’ve learned who will see more than my scars and listed diagnosis. Most importantly, I’ve learned that mental illness has no look and knows no boundaries. Together, my friends and I can stand tall together despite our illnesses and disorders. I’m forever thankful for those true blue friends who willingly hold me when I cry and chear with me when I celebrate anniversaries in my recovery.

Life with mental illness isn’t easy, especially when it comes to making and maintaining friends. However, mentally ill people like me can actually make some of the most amazing friends. Our listening ears, caring hands, and loyal hearts will carry you through your darkest days, because we survived our own trying times.

Writer. Mental Health/Disability Advocate. Mom. Lover of All.

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