Making Friends When You’re Mentally Ill

I think if you ask anyone, they will tell you that making friends as an adult can be extremely challenging. Unless you have coworkers or you attend church on a regular basis, there can easily be a dearth of candidates. Even when you do regularly interact with potential friends, it can still be difficult to make connections, find things in common, and spend the necessary time with them in order to develop a relationship.

On top of the innate difficulties, the process is made more difficult when we have things that we don’t want or are afraid to share with other people. Unusual lifestyle choices, insurmountable debt, illness, poverty, and other socially taboo things can be real barriers to making a good friend.

Here are some of the questions I find myself asking when faced with making a new friend:

  • When should I share my mental illness, if at all?
  • How much detail should I go into?
  • Do I keep a friend updated on the ongoing situation?
  • Should I pretend to be happy and worry-free in their company no matter what the reality?
  • How much honesty is too much?

These kinds of questions are cyclical and very difficult to answer. When I met my husband, I had the same questions with many concerns. What will he think when he finds out? Will he summarily break up with me? Will he be afraid? Will he be bogged down by all the worry and sadness? And if he decides to stay with me, will he someday get sick of dealing with me?

These are the kinds of concerns that never really go away, with friends and loved ones. When they know your secret, whether it’s mental illness, some other kind of illness, or something else altogether, you then have to repeatedly ask yourself how much to share. When will you be asking too much of your friend or loved ones?

I am lucky to have this outlet. For my friends, it allows them insight into what my inner life is like and provides a deeper level of detail than I might normally share in person or over the phone. It also gives my friends the option of knowing more, of asking questions, entering into a conversation with me about my mental illness, and also of not reading if they decide it’s too much for them. But this outlet doesn’t make it any easier to make NEW friends.

I always have to ask myself, at what point do I tell the truth about myself? At what point do I admit that the reason I work from home is because I suffer from severe anxiety that frequently involves a certain level of agoraphobia or that I am on disability because I can’t handle the stresses of a full-time job? Who wants to hear these things about someone they haven’t known very long? Who wants to hear these things about anyone?

But these are the truths we must tell about ourselves. I must endeavor to find people who will not be intimidated by my honesty, who will be open to hearing the reality of my mental illness. This is the only way I know of to take mental illness out of the taboo closet and into the light.

How honest are you with the people in your life? And I’d love to know, how do you make new friends?


2 thoughts on “Making Friends When You’re Mentally Ill

  1. I have only told people whom I feel I can deeply trust. in making new friends I don’t necessarily tell them anything about my illness at all. I’m becoming a little more open that I even have an illness, yet I keep the real details of it all to my closest of friend(s). I know lots of people who don’t even know I have a health issue let alone a mental illness. some how my objective in living and being around people was/is to live as ‘normally’ as possible letting others’ presence be enough of distraction and uplifting me from my depression that I just carry on as though it’s not happening, unless it’s so severe then I only hang out with my closest friends and let them know the illness is being a pain in the ass in the moment. not sure if I’m explaining this well enough. just basically try to let the ordinary moments of the day with or without people keep me busy enough to not think about the blues I’m in unless it is severe. most of the time it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. mostly I don’t feel the need to tell everyone although there have been a few moments I’ve wanted to make a public service announcement. I am a bit of a private person anyways so hence not talking too much about it. sometimes I don’t think some people really care if you have a health issue or not regardless of what it is. just don’t think they really want to know. other times in being open about it, it has scared the hell out of some people and they can’t handle it. so I feel people out first before telling them. I want people to know me for me not for my illness because we are not our illness. it does not define us. we are a person first who happen to have an illness as part of our experience in life. Live for you as much as possible and not the illness, although I know that is very trying & it dictates our lives sometimes. I just keep overcoming it as much as possible although I get weary sometimes nowadays since living with it so long & getting older. I do whatever I can to get thru even if it just means a nap, and I take a lot of naps. btw, a few close friends go a lot further than having a lot of friends. take care of yourself and choose wisely…..Karen Karebear

    • Karen, Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I’m of the opinion that for everyone person that is up front and out loud about their mental illness there are 100 other people suffering in silence. Talking about mental illness is hard for many reasons not the least of which is the social stigma. For me, when I am having a really hard time, talking about it usually makes it worse, especially with my anxiety. This can make it really hard for friends and loved ones to understand and relate to a mentally I’ll person. We all just have to do the bes we can and do whatever we can to cope, including taking LOTS of naps. 🙂

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