When You Meet A Friend Who Shares Your Illness
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Politics and Activism

When You Meet A Friend Who Shares Your Illness

Your shared burden isn’t the sole binding agent in your friendship

When You Meet A Friend Who Shares Your Illness

Shortly after getting diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder, I found a friend who understood. We just kind of happened upon each other by some chance, and immediately clicked due to our shared mental illnesses. She got me, and I got her.

But that friendship was met with some tension when we realized that after we had broken down each other’s emotional walls, we were still very different people with separate interests, friends, and goals. Once the initial “bonding over our mutual misery” phase had passed, our friendship took a turn for the awkward (and sometimes really frustrating).

I learned that while meeting a friend who understands your pain is both a refreshing and healing experience, you’re not limited to just that friendship, nor is that friendship limited to just discussing your illnesses.

I’m extremely grateful to this person for empathizing and caring. And I’m extremely grateful to my friends who can’t empathize, because they never stopped trying. I’ve been immensely blessed by meeting this friend, and here’s what I learned.

1. It’s Not A Competition

You’ll find solace in the fact that you can spill everything to someone who understands. You won’t have to go through the tedious process of trying to explain why you feel the way that you feel, because they’ll already know. But this friendship will also bring with it the temptation to “one up” the other person. We all have selfish, attention-seeking tendencies. So when we meet someone who has already endured our struggle and emotions, we often feel the need to invent something even more dramatic or compassion-inducing than what we already face, just for the sake of maintaining our role as the more oppressed one. Don’t do this. Because sooner or later, life WILL get worse- without any help or fabrication from you. And when it does, your new (and old) friends, whether they understand how you feel or not, will be there to help you until it gets better. It’s not about comparing, it’s about acknowledging that everyone hurts. Besides, even if you and your new friend share a mutual burden, chances are you’ll deal with it in very different ways. So rather than waste time one-upping the friend who has enough struggles on their own, see this new friendship as an opportunity to learn about how other people process emotions and how you can use your gifts to help others heal.

2. You Don't Always Have To Talk About It

Believe it or not, people are infinitely interesting. Running out of things to talk about should never be a thing, in my opinion. Sometimes you’ll be able to sit with this person for hours and share your strikingly similar stories. You’ll speak freely and pour yourself out without restraint to someone who completely feels your pain. But other days, once all of those stories have been told, you’ll both sit there in semi-awkwardness wondering where to go from there. This is when you have to understand that your shared mental/physical illness isn’t the sole binding agent in your friendship. Just as your illness doesn’t define you, it doesn’t define your friendship either. It’s a big part of who you are, and it plays a major role in your connection to this person, yes. But you both have lives- experiences, characteristics, and quirks that make you a rad person to be friends with apart from the fact that you “just get it”. Not every moment that you spend with this person has to be spent hashing out mutual turmoil and crying in each other’s arms- it’s okay to talk about movies and classes too.

3. But Most Importantly, Never, Ever Forget The People Who Know And Love You Best

“Make new friends but keep the old”, so they say. True that. Even though some of your friends cannot understand what you’ve been through, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care about you just as deeply, if not more, than someone who does. Your new friend will understand your personal struggle, but that doesn’t mean they understand YOU. No one understands you better than the people who have been there since day one. Think about it, they’ve stuck with you through years of hardships with compassion and understanding in spite of the fact that they have no idea what it’s like to be you. That’s hard, you know. So don’t take these beautiful, faithful people for granted. They’ve been loyal to you, so you be loyal right back.

Love them, and be thankful that you’ve found someone who feels it too- that’s rare: “Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love." - John Steinbeck

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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