Can You Trust Your Friends?

Because of more and more celebrities being open and sharing their struggles with mental illness, the stigma is perhaps slightly less severe than in the past. However the misunderstanding of mental illnesses and their symptoms endures. When well-known figures talk about their illness, they do so when they’re well. Their stylists have carefully done their hair and make up, and helped them select their clothes, so they look their absolute best. No unwashed hair, sweat pants and pajama tops for them. Every detail is carefully orchestrated so that as they announce their illness, everything about them screams, “But don’t worry about me. See how fine I am. I’m still the star you’ve known. Don’t stop worshiping me, because I can’t afford to lose my status as a box office star.”

So, perhaps, people won’t fear us quite as much when they learn of our diagnosis, but they will still hold us to the same standards as any well person: smiles on our faces, cheerful attitudes, perfect attendance at work and full participation in social activities. We should be excellent housekeepers, good cooks, fit and, above all, disciplined.

We are held to the standards of healthy people with no allowance for our illness. Consider an individual with cancer. If he or she chooses to stay in bed and sleep to attempt to escape the pain awhile longer, housemates tiptoe around to ensure no one disturbs him or her. However, when someone with clinical depression is simply unable to get out of bed, we’re considered lazy and undisciplined. Why? Because mental illness is still seen as “all in the head,” no pun intended. In other words, if we would just make better choices, we could lead perfectly normal lives. The paradox is that people tend to be afraid of us if we let them know we have bipolar disorder or DID, but if we don’t run around leaping around the room and screeching like chimpanzees, we’re considered healthy. The general public doesn’t get the “illness” part of mental illness.

Some people with bipolar disorder, DID, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic disorder and other disorders are able to function pretty normally most of the time. They can hold down jobs and be active socially. Many others simply cannot no matter how hard they try. They wish they could. Most of them have tried and were either forced to quit or were fired. Either way, their self esteem undoubtedly took a serious nose dive, and they had to use every bit of energy they possessed to claw their way out of the depressive hole they fell into as a result.

Understanding friends are few. Most adults have, at some point in their lives, had a bad case of the blues, so they think they understand what it means to be truly depressed. Thus, they wonder why we can’t pull ourselves out if it as they did. You may have talked, explained, shown, shared books, even taken them to your therapist with you. But most still refuse to accept the reality of the severity of the symptoms we live with every day. Loneliness ensues, compounding our feelings of isolation and unworthiness. We begin to doubt ourselves. Are we really just lazy and undisciplined? We may set more goals and promise ourselves that this time, we’ll carry through. This time we’ll be like other people who can follow through and consistently discipline themselves to reach their goals. And again, depression, dissociation or a manic phase steal our physical, mental and emotional strength, and, in our eyes, we fail again.

The truth is, however, that we haven’t failed. We have simply been unable to live up to unrealistic expectations – our own and those of others. We have to accept that most of the people we love and who we thought loved us don’t understand; they just don’t get it. We must be careful to cherish those who get it and offer support when we need it, who encourage us when we’re down and who hold us accountable when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. Very few people earn that kind of trust, and they must earn it. We can accept the input of people who have proven, over time, that they love us no matter what. They love us whether we get out of bed or stay there with the covers pulled over our head. They love us whether our house is clean or the place is a wreck. They understand that when our minds are disorganized, so are our surroundings. They don’t criticize when we miss church yet again. They understand the difference between what we want to be and what we’re able to be. They listen when we’re hurting and celebrate with us when we get back to the selves we want to be, the selves that can reciprocate their friendship.

I have learned to expect criticism. That doesn’t mean it hurts any less, but at least it’s not a surprise. Still, sometimes, I let my guard down and start to trust someone who I think has proven him/herself worthy, and my heart takes a blow when they let me down. Those occasions make me wonder why I bothered to trust. That’s when my self-talk says, “Haven’t you learned? Don’t you know better than to trust? How could you be so stupid?” And my self-esteem takes another blow. Then I have to take a deep breath and remind myself of the truth about myself and the person who let me down. Perhaps he/she is a real friend in some ways but not others. I have learned over time that few people get “me” – that is all of me. I have friends who I have lots of fun with, but I know they don’t want to share any of the burdens with me. I have friends who are understanding to a point, but they don’t get my illness. Then I have friends who love me with all my stuff. Those people understand me and love me just the same. Those are the ones with whom I trust my heart. They have earned it. We just have to use our wisdom to know when it’s safe to share our hearts.

We have to know what we are capable of achieving and what we are not. We must always strive to be our best but not beat ourselves up and accuse ourselves of laziness when our goals were simply out of reach – at least for now. We have to learn how to have thick skin, while keeping our hearts tender. We must understand that most people cannot understand what they have not experienced. And, most of all, we must, when possible, be faithful friends to them and give them the love and understanding we wish they could offer us.

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5 responses to “Can You Trust Your Friends?

  • Charity~HealingFromBroken

    This article is perfect. You said everything I’ve been needing and trying to say, and could not articulate. Oh Jessica. I’m so sorry you have had this deep ego-blasting hurt, over and over and over again. Like me. Just like me.

    On July 11 my husband had surgery. It was a fairly minor procedure, but because he has had 2 heart attacks, going under anesthesia is risky. He is my best friend, truly the ONLY one in my world who completely “gets” and accepts me, all of me, just as I am. Because he also has PTSD, from Vietnam combat.

    His surgery took place in a Veterans Hospital. Two other Vietnam Veterans, who go to the weekily Combat PTSD support group that my husband belongs to, each drove approx. 300 miles round trip just to be there in the waiting room while he was having surgery. How lucky my husband is, to have a group of friends who all have the same mental health issue that he has! He deserves that, they all deserve that, they sacrificed for our country and they have earned that. But OH how I wish I had a group of like-minded friends, too! I’ve tried and tried to find that, but it just isn’t out there.

    One of the men who came to be with us during my husband’s surgery, is our next-door neighbor. We met when we moved here 2 years ago, and my husband and the neighbor quickly became the best of friends. His wife and I have become friends too, and we seem to have some things in common. She was also there, with her husband, waiting with me during his surgery.

    Recently, this neighbor woman had shared a very personal secret with me, about her grown son being in prison for life, after raping his own little daughter. The fact that she would finally come to trust me enough to share this most horrible secret, made me think that I could trust her with mine. Especially since her husband, and my husband, are very open about their Combat PTSD, and she accepts that it is a normal result of being in war.

    While we were waiting for my husband’s surgery to be over, I was feeling very anxious, afraid, and vulnerable, so worried about my husband. With my husband’s 2 combat veteran friends there, and our neighbor’s wife, my friend, as the men got to talking about their PTSD, I decided to tell them that I have PTSD, too, from child abuse. I told them about how that came about, that it happened after my dad came so close to murdering my mother that I had thought she was dead, and after he was arrested, and then taken to a psych ward where he was diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder – and he there got involved with the head nurse whom he married as soon as my parents’ divorce was final – my traumatized and narcissistic mother tried to gas us to death. These events took place when I was 12, and they were the ultimate culmination of an entire childhood of multiple abuses going back to my earliest memories. I held it together by staying numb for about 2 years, and then at age 14 I began to unravel emotionally from what we know today as PTSD.

    But this happened to me in 1967, and PTSD wasn’t known until 1980. Even after 1980, it was a long time before PTSD was understood to come from other traumas besides war.

    So, what did my hateful jealously competitive narcissistic mother do when I began to come apart emotionally? She had just remarried and had told me to stay away from her new husband – I was a shy very modest 14-year-old GIRL, and my mother kept telling me that “no house is big enough for 2 women,” and saying that she could not wait until I was old enough to leave home! My stepfather was always a perfect fatherly gentleman around me. But my own dad had been sexually abusive to me when I was 12, and I had told my mother, and she apparently thought it was my fault, she kept complaining about my big breasts, which I always kept covered up, but it was like she hated the fact that I was becoming a woman. I mean, I’m not THAT chesty. This is the stuff that was going on with my mother, BEFORE I began to unravel emotionally with my PTSD.

    SO then, when I began to fall apart emotionally, although I did not harm nor threaten to harm either myself or anyone else, not in any way, I did not break any laws, I was not out of control, i did not get angry, throw fits, break things, not was I walking around talking to invisible people, nothing like that – but I was very emotional and having lots of nightmares, waking up screaming in the middle of the night – my mother jumped at the chance to put me in the same pych hospital where she had put my dad. She told me, “mental illness is inherited, you got this from your father!” When after 1 month my stepdad’s health insurance for my hospital stay ran out, the doctor wanted to release me and just keep me on meds and see me for counseling, but OH NO, that wasn’t good enough, my mother took me to a state insane asylum, instead. Which, for a 14-year-old girl especially, was a horrendouw trauma all its own.

    On July 11, while waiting with our friends during my husband’s surgery, with no one else but the 3 of them in the waiting area, I told this story. I thought I was finally among friends who would accept and maybe even understand. But immediately, the moment the words were out of my mouth about my mother locking me in a mental asylum when I was 14, my neighbor friend of 2 years, who was sitting close beside me, and had been sitting close beside me all that morning, she immediately moved to the far side of her chair, and angled away from me. I mean it was instant, unmistakeable.

    My God, I am 59 years old, and the neighbor woman is 60! How long must I “pay” for being put in a mental hospital at the age of 14 by a narcissitic mother who just wanted to get rid of me! I had PTSD, and the year was 1967, long before PTSD was known. Back in those days, you were either sane or you were crazy, and if you were crazy, the answer was to lock you up and throw away the key. I was told, at age 14, by the psychiatrist in the state mental hospital, that 97% of the people committed there were never permanently released! I asked the other patients on my ward how long they had been there, and the shortest answer was 8 years! I was 14 and my life was over. My mother had given me a book called “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” just before she drove me up to the insane asylum (which was closed in 1991, and torn down in 199!) My mother told me the book was about a teenage girl with mental illness symptoms like mine, and the book said that there was “no known cause and no known cure” for her condition. “So you see, there is no known cause, that means it is not my fault that you have this!” ALL MY MOTHER CARED ABOUT was exonerating herself! She didn’t seem to give any thought at all to what it would make me feel like to hear the second half of that sentence: “NO KNOW CURE.”

    I was in that place for 2 years, until a new, progressive-thinking psychiatrist took over for the one who got caught the 3rd time he drugged and raped me, because that time he overdosed me on the sodium amytal and I almost died, and a nurse heard me screaming, and reported to the police. The new doctor said I should never have been put there. I was 16 when I got out of there.

    43 years later, and people STILL turn away from me when I tell them this story! Even after 2 years as neighbors and good friends!

    After I told my story in the hospital waiting room, everyone was silent. And the neighbor “friend” did not sit near me and barely spoke to me after that. I came home that night, after they made me leave my recovering husband in the ICU, and lay in bed all by myself and I wanted to die. I kept berrating myself for trusting yet again, telling myself I am stupid for thinking I can ever trust anyone with my secret. We moved here 2 years ago and no one here knew a thing about my history, and they would never have known, if I hadn’t been STUPID AGAIN, and opened my big mouth.

    Thank you for writing this, Jessica. I know it must have been hard for you to put yourself out there like you did. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I needed this.

    Charity

    • Jessica

      Charity,

      Please forgive me for taking so long to respond to you. PLEASE, don’t think it was because I didn’t want to hear your story or you. I was hospitalized for two and a half weeks in a psych hospital, because of a deep depression that I couldn’t pull myself out of. I’m just now getting back to catching up here.

      I’m so sorry this happened to you! After a lifetime of secret-keeping, we should be free to share the horrors of what happened with those whom we trust. However, this is rarely the case. There are so few people who get it or want to get it. In the case of your neighbor, it may have been too much for her to hear the kind of future her little granddaughter might face because of her son. Yes, she had shared a painful secret with you, but yours may have hit too close to home and have been too painful for her. Men often are at a loss for words as they feel guilty by association simply because they are men. WE don’t feel that way, but many times they feel as if we’re telling them, because we’re blaming them. These are not excuses, just some things I have learned over the years.

      Are you in therapy? I’ve found that is the best and safest place to bare my secrets. My friends love me, but, as I said in the blog, most of them just don’t “get” it. Maybe it’s not possible; they haven’t lived the almost unbelievable events and pain that we have lived. And maybe we’re doomed to keep trying to reach out due to some optimism inside ourselves.

      It was such a relief when I was in the hospital to talk to the psychiatrist and see his reaction and acceptance when I told him my story. It felt incredibly good. As I mentioned in my introduction to the blog, I am a Christian. That means that, in spite of others’ lack of understanding, my only real, stable support is God. My favorite passage of the Bible is the one the name of this blog is taken from, which is Psalm 40: “I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. . . .”

      So, often, with tears, I cry out to God in my pain. I did this last night even. What He guided me to do was go back to my List of Gratitude. This is a list I’ve put together regarding the good things in my life, including even the most basic elements, such as a place to live with heat and air conditioning. One of the thing I was hurting over last night is my daughter whose life is threatened with a terrible illness. I cried over her, and then thanked God that I have her, that she was born to me and that I have been privileged to be her mother for 33 years now. I cried over the excruciating pain the abuse has caused me, and then thanked God that it is over, and I have, in spite of my past, been a good mother to my own kids, loving them and not abusing them.

      I can’t stress enough, though, the importance of therapy. I had let therapy lapse, not because I thought I didn’t need it, but because of financial issues. However, after my stay in the hospital, I have learned that it is something I cannot afford to go without. Perhaps, if I had been in therapy, I would have been able to avoid the hospital stay in spite of friends who don’t understand.

      I have this nagging feeling that I have not written anything to help you, but I thank you for writing and that, perhaps, you will find one person with whom you can share.

  • healingfrombroken

    Thank you so much for being your wonderful, giving, caring self, even in the midst of your own deeply painful time. I am both amazed and humbled by you.

    Your words have helped me so much, that I have bookmarked this url so I can easily come back here and reread your reply to my comment, again and again.

    You are Grace in Action, dear one.

    HUG,
    Charity

  • Sam Ruck

    My wife and I are trying to learn to accept the level of support that people are able to give us. it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” That doesn’t mean I’m still not disappointed or hurt when my family refuses or is unable to be empathetic, but in the end this is my wife and my journey and they have their own lives, and even imperfect support is better than none at all. Plus I’ve found family and relatives who span the spectrum of support: some are fully and completely supportive and others who used the knowledge of my wife’s disorder to justify their rude treatment of her over the years.

    I’m terribly sorry about your experiences. I’m pretty protective of my wife and would be irrate if someone EVER treated her like she was “crazy” just because she has d.i.d. I think I understand it even better than she does which still amazes her and the little girls.

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