Having a mental health condition adds a very interesting dimension to friendship: what do they know? What do they not know? What do they not want to know or acknowledge? The last one is the most essential. I write a blog, tweet, post, etc about my life with cyclothymia and I'm actually not particularly shy in talking about it, so it's not uncommon for people to know I have a condition. To me, though, the key to someone being a close friend is not them knowing. It's them accepting it, trying to understand, loving me just as much for my differences instead of despite them, and being there when I need them.
I have high standards of friendship. I know this. Quite honestly, I don't think it should be any other way. I feel that, in part, my condition demands this be the case. While I'm open about my condition, I do have some secrets, believe it or not - or at least things I haven't broadcasted to the world via blog post. If I trust someone with this information, I want to know that it's "safe". By which I mean they won't go telling other people, write some cryptic Facebook post or tweet, use it against me if we argue or ever are less close than we are at the present moment. This is particularly important if the friend is involved with other aspects of my life - part of an industry organization, a coworker, part of a group or club I'm involved in, etc. The bottom line is, there are still a lot of closed minded, ignorant people out there who don't or won't understand the truth about mental health, and I don't need any friends of mine adding fuel to the fire, either intentionally or unintentionally. Luckily, knock on wood, I've yet to encounter this, and I hope it stays that way.
In addition to the ability to trust people with whatever I tell them, I need to be able to trust people to be there for me and to understand. I get socially anxious, depressed, hypomanic, panic attacks, etc. I need friends who get this and the ramifications that go along with it. If I randomly burst into tears, ask me how you can help, and don't judge me. If my anxiety is too much for me to go to that social function, please understand - I am not trying to be dull or ruin your time, to isolate myself or be aloof. I physically am unable to go. Please get that. And maybe, occasionally, say "screw that big gathering" and offer to come over and have a glass of wine with me and talk in the comfort of my own home instead. Understand that I get hypomanic, and while it may draw attention, it's not intended to. I cannot help my energy and all that goes along with it - it is what it is.
So given all of this, what is a friend to me? A friend is someone who will reach out, instead of you having to always make the effort. They'll reach out for good as well as bad... they're not always asking something of you. They'll listen/be there for you when you reach out back. If they're local, they'll invite you to things without your being attached to anyone or anything else. If someone only reaches out in group form, I don't consider them a good friend. EXCEPTION: People who deal with serious depression and anxiety have a very tough time reaching out. Sometimes, if they get the courage to do it, they reach out to several at people at once because it takes all of their energy and courage to do just that. I get this, and appreciate anything you can muster.
A friend is someone who notices when something's off. It might be the glazed over look in your eye that says "I'm turning inward because the anxiety in this setting is overwhelming". It could be the tone of a post or tweet that just doesn't feel quite right - "she didn't say anything was wrong, but I know her well enough...". A friend is someone who knows the right way to include you. If groups make you anxious, they suggest smaller settings. If they know certain topics are tough, they stay away from them. For me, a big one is including me actively without putting the spotlight on me... you all know by now how being the center of attention makes me feel. But, friends also understand that, because I think and see the world differently, it's very easy for me to feel like an outsider. Friends make sure that I don't, or do their best to.
I do want to be clear on one thing a friend is not: they do not have to be someone I see in person. In fact, I have a friend that I consider a good friend that I've never actually met. We've gotten to know each other through twitter, FB, mental health groups, blogs, etc, and we now text, via app because we're not in the same country. She's one of the first people I reach out to when my condition gets really bad and I need someone who understands. Yet because of our logistics, we haven't had the chance to meet. To me, that doesn't make a bit of distance, she's still an amazing person and a great friend.
I know I have a lot of requirements for friends. But I think I'm worth it, and I deserve it. In fact, I think everyone deserves it. Life is too short to surround yourself with people who don't understand, support, cherish, and love the real you, and all of you. It's just that simple. I am so very lucky for the friends I have. You keep me going. You're wonderful. I love you.