A few years ago, my best friend, Cait, was diagnosed with manic depression (also known as bipolar disorder). Prior to knowing her, I didn’t know much about manic depression. I assumed (incorrectly) that it meant that a person was just hyper-depressed. Or just mentally unstable. Which, in my mind, was a polite way of saying they were just kind of crazy.
I was really, really wrong.
People who are manic depressive experience periods of mania, during which they are flying high, productive, creative, unstoppable…followed by equally severe periods of all-consuming, all-encompassing, paralyzing, debilitating depression. With medication and therapy, these episodes can be lessened, but they’ll never truly go away.
Cait's really been struggling lately with her bipolar disorder. Her moods have been fluctuating wildly and unpredictably, and she (and her doctors) are trying to find the right medicine combinations to better get them under control.
But it's been hard.
I can walk into a room and feel if Cait's crushed with depression. Similarly, I can tell just by looking at her if she's hypomanic. Depending on her moods, I tiptoe carefully around her, or curl up next to her. Once, during an incredibly awful period back in November, I had to physically lift her out of bed — she couldn't get out on her own. And one night, she took a really long shower, and when I went to check on her, I found her curled on the bottom of the bathtub, water raining over her. She couldn't get out. She just couldn't. I pulled the curtain aside, hooked my arms under hers, and pulled her up.
There are also times where she's flying so high she can't stop talking. She talks at lightning speed, jumping from one topic to another. Sometimes she can't sit still, she has to get out of wherever she is — like tonight. Sometimes she has the urge to do potentially harmful and dangerous things. Most of the time, she resists. Sometimes she doesn't.
My best friend has manic depression. But that doesn’t mean she’s crazy. Yes, she goes through period of mania (which is a word with enormously weighted negative associations). Yes, she goes through periods of depression. But she’s also empathetic, loyal, intelligent, and a brilliant writer and photographer. And she produces incredible work because of, and not in spite of, her manic depression.
Sometimes being best friends with Cait feels like I'm on a roller coaster. She goes so high, and I try to fly with her, and then she crashes, and I sink too. It's hard. But it's a part of who she is. Just like I have complete anxiety-ridden breakdowns from time to time (okay, let's be honest, pretty frequently). That, and my own depression, are part of me. And Cait loves me and takes care of me regardless.
That's what we do. We take care of each other, no matter what. My best friend has manic depression, and she's struggling. It's been really hard. But I'd never for one second consider not being by her side.
(FYI — I asked Cait before I posted this. She graciously was completely supportive of my need to just write this out.)