Friendship works a little differently when you’re not neurotypical. This thought really hit home for me the other day when I was reading an article about pursuing friendships with the same zeal that one pursues romantic relationships with. I can think of friendships that have dissolved recently that have really had a major impact on me, and I can think of people I would like to pursue friendships with in the near future. But these relationships that I’m forging are different than the ones that were recently ended. And they’re different because they won’t be as deep. Because, when you’re not neurotypical – when you have a mental health condition – there are two types of relationships you can forge. You can have your friends, and you can have your buddies. You can have people who are going to be there for you through thick and thin, who will listen to you when you are feeling suicidal or depressed. You can have people who you can call at two in the morning, no questions asked, who will offer emotional support. And then you can have people who will take you out to dinner and pick up the tab. People who are fun to be around when you’re drinking in a bar. People who you can catch up with over coffee, as long as catching up involves sticking to just the positive aspects of your life. People with whom you can debate religion, or politics, as long as you don’t slide into the murky territory of emotional or mental well-being.
It’s perfectly OK to have someone in your life who will only be there during the fun parts. It’s rare that you’ll be able to find someone who can balance between the laughter and the tears, and when you do find those people, just remember to clue them into the times when you enjoy your life as well. Some people will never be good at the serious stuff, the non-neurotypical stuff, the mental health stuff. Some people will feel they are being suffocated by you or frightened by you if you let them in. So don’t let them in. Save that special kind of relationship for the right person. It might seem disingenuous to affix a mask that blocks all your less-than-shiny parts, but just as not everyone is designed with a chemical imbalance, not everyone is designed with a heart that is big enough to pick up the pieces of yours. I can tell you with a harshly honest certainty that when someone tells you on your birthday that you’re one of their favorite people and they miss you, what they might really mean is that when you’re in a high-functioning state you’re fun to be around, but they’d prefer to distance themselves from you when you’re not. Sometimes, when you’re in tears and someone sends you a text to say hi, all they want to hear is that you’re doing fine because they don’t have the emotional space to help you cope. Hold your head high, brush your cheek dry, and shelter yourself from the people who can’t or won’t deal.
I keep going back to this post and wanting to add more. I keep wishing that reality is different, that it’s possible to have deep and lasting friendships with any type of person; that I was close to one of my siblings in a way that I could share with them my troubles. I keep thinking of the Marilyn Monroe quote, wherein she states that “…if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” I wish it was easier to let people in, but in my experience, it hasn’t been. I wish my advice to other people with mental health conditions wasn’t “hide the darker parts of yourself to gain buddies to do fun things with”… but it kind of is. And I wish it didn’t hurt so much when you try to express your feelings to someone and they can’t handle it so they walk away. Regardless of the types of friendships and buddyships you cultivate, know this: you are so, so worth it. Everyone has inherent value and worth, and sometimes someone just doesn’t have the emotional capacity or the space to help you do healing. It’s not your fault, and it’s not their fault – it just is. Try not to take it too personally, and know that there are people out there who want to be there for you.