It Gets Better: Recovering Social Ties After Mania

If I had to write an “It Gets Better” manual for recovering from bipolar mania, and maybe someday I should, I would write a chapter called “You Can Rebuild Your Relationships.” Sometimes coming down from a months-long manic episode is just like coming down from a months-long drunk (and sometimes you were drunk most of the time, too). Have you ever had one of those nights where you got blackout drunk at an office party and woke up the next day thinking, My God, what did I say or do? Coming down from mania is like that, but kind of like with everything in your life. Yeah, it’s intense.

I was convinced that I had lost everyone and everything forever. I wish someone had told me that wasn’t the case. I won’t recite the platitude that everyone who matters in your life will come back to you, because that’s just not true. Most of the people who understand, will. That was what my bipolar co-worker who came out to me after I returned to work actually said to me: “Do they understand bipolar disorder?” The understanding doesn’t give you a get out of jail free card for having been an asshole. If someone either has personal experience with or an understanding of bipolar disorder, however, what it does is give you a statistically greater likelihood that they can separate your actions from you. They’ll have a better understanding that you were hijacked by your brain chemistry and not really in the driver’s seat most of the time, and that understanding will go a long way toward empathy and forgiveness.

As for all the people who matter, people have a right to be traumatized by, well, trauma. Good people and close friends may still be hurt and hesitant to be a part of your social sphere again. You may have to earn trust over time, or it may never come back. That’s just the sad and messy nature of life and mental illness. It can be hard to accept that we’re accountable for our actions, even if we didn’t intend or even were barely aware of them at the time. However, if you had told me when I was at my lowest that at least 50 percent of my loved ones would end up coming around (and it ended up being much more than that eventually) I would have been heartened. I don’t know that people’s memories are short, but they’re malleable. For some people, I think just being around me as me again was enough to remind them of the things they liked about me, and the shitty things I had done in the past began to fade as we made new memories together. Over time people were better able to separate me from actions that sprang from my symptoms. I once had a friend tell me, true love and affection may fade but it rarely dies completely. There was still a spark there I was able to rekindle. 

I would hazard to give you the hope many, if not most, of those relationships can be rebuilt. I won’t lie, some I was never quite able to, or some I did for a time and then they died out again, mainly due to my own guilt and trauma. I would even hazard to guess most people WANT to rebuild those relationships with you. They missed you. I had a few friends tell me they mostly were so worried about me because I wasn’t myself, and it was a relief to see me as myself again. They like YOU, and when you show them you’re YOU again, there’s a good chance they’ll respond with that love and affection they have for you. 

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