No Friends and Can’t Overcome Loneliness

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

In 2003, I sought treatment for what was the latest of several major depressions. It was a different kind of depression, as if I had been visited by every type of bad mood I had ever had, along with a sharp spike in my chronic insomnia. My primary care doctor prescribed Lexapro, but I did not improve. At six months, I was worse, and it was as if some irrational, bitchy, sleepless, weepy, hyperactive, anxiety-ridden woman had taken over my body.

After a year of this, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It took almost another two years to get stable. My life was so awful, I found it almost unbearable, but the doctor, the therapist, and my husband all told me to be patient–the results would come. I got through it. My friends were not so resilient; they ALL bailed out as if they were embarrassed to know me. I was hurting, I was frightened, I was frustrated, but I was not badly behaved nor had I done anything to embarrass anyone except myself. Long before I got well, I realized I had been abandoned.

Overall, my life is better, but I still have no friends. I have acquaintances, I have an Internet friend who lives 800 miles away, and I have a lovely husband. My life is very busy and I work with people in a “helping profession” all day long, so I’m not isolated or withdrawn. I am terribly lonely, though, but I don’t know how to get past it. I can never, ever divulge that I have this illness. I know first-hand how well tolerated that information is. Having seen how quickly I was left alone by people who had known me for 20 or more years, I can’t see leaving myself open to that kind of betrayal again. It’s quite a conundrum. I am already exhausted from leading a life where I diligently manage an illness that can be unpredictable under the best of circumstances, so I can’t imagine how much trickier it would be to do that with someone who is new in my life.

How can I find a way to be more content with my situation? It’s really on my mind right now because I had a birthday this week and as is the way now, there were no greetings from anyone other than my husband, my mother, and my brother. Then again, that’s more than a lot of people get, right?

A. With regard to your friends leaving you after learning of your bipolar disorder, you did not specify the nature of those relationships. Were you all very close? Did you talk every day or only on special occasions? Did they live close by? Knowing the answers to these questions (and others likes these) might have provided some insight about what type of friends you were.

There may be several reasons to explain why they left. Maybe they weren’t your “real” friends. Sometimes people misjudge the quality of their relationships. It may be that you never really had a true friendship with them. If they were never “real” friends then the fact that they abandoned you isn’t surprising.

There may be other reasons to explain the behavior of your friends. It’s possible that you acted in a manner that drove your friends away. You mentioned that early on in your treatment you were “irrational” and “bitchy.” I am wondering how “irrational” and “bitchy” you were and in what ways? Perhaps it was partly your behavior that led them to end the friendship.

Another explanation is because you have bipolar disorder. I remember receiving a question from a mother a few years ago with regard to her daughter befriending an individual with a mental health disorder. The way in which the question was worded was essentially “how can I stop my child from being friends with this individual who has a particular mental health disorder?” I mention this because it was an example of stigmatization at its worst.

Unfortunately there continues to be a stigma attached to individuals diagnosed with mental health disorders. It’s a large part of the reason why some people never seek help for their mental health problems. You may have experienced this firsthand with your ex-friends.

Without knowing all of what happened, the nature of the relationships with your friends, exactly how you behaved towards those individuals, etc. my ideas about why your friends stopped contact are speculative.

With regard to making new friends, my general advice is not to reveal a mental health diagnosis early on in a new relationship. That’s because, as you may have experienced, it can be difficult for people unfamiliar with mental illnesses to fully understand mental illness. Unfortunately people still believe in myths regarding mental illness.

You desire more friends and are disappointed because you feel you do not have enough. Instead of being down on yourself for not having enough friends why not use this opportunity to find new friends? Are you engaged in social activities? This might be a good way to make new friends.

You also asked how you could be content with your current life as it is. Here is one way: Appreciate the reality of your life. I am not sure if you realize it but you have much to be thankful for.

You finally have the bipolar disorder under control. That took years. Now you’re stable. This is something to be happy about.

You are a physically healthy woman. Don’t take your health for granted. Realize that many people live with painful and horrific illnesses for which they’d give almost anything to live a day disease- or pain- free.

You have a loving husband. Many women cannot say the same. You’re very fortunate. You also have a career in a helping profession. This gives you an opportunity to help and be kind to others.

There seem to be many positive aspects about your life. Appreciating the personal richness of your life hopefully will help you feel content with what you have and stop you from focusing on what you believe you don’t have.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 May 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). No Friends and Can’t Overcome Loneliness. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/05/18/no-friends-and-cant-overcome-loneliness/