Bipolar Disorder & the End of Friendships

Last Updated: 21 Jun 2021

Bipolar can damage, even ruin, a friendship. If it ends badly, both people are hurt, and the one with bipolar risks a mood episode. Freely discussing this with others and acknowledging imperfections can help mitigate future difficulties.

friendships ending bipolar disorder communication honesty mood management relationships

Romance Fades, But Friendship Is Forever?

I’ve noticed that, in general, our attitude about and understanding of romantic relationships is quite different from our beliefs and expectations surrounding friendships. For instance, we find it natural that, sometimes, romantic relationships end, and we can usually list the reasons why:

  • We were not compatible.
  • The passion is gone.
  • We grew apart.
  • My partner was not faithful.
  • Our lives moved in different directions.

The ending of a romantic relationship or partnership might be painful and heartbreaking. But, overall, we tend to accept that many romantic relationships have a time limit or a life span.

For some reason, though, we think friendships are supposed to be different! We often have the belief that friendship is forever. When we hear stories of lifelong friends, especially online, it reinforces this ideal:

  • I have the same friends I went to school with!
  • My mates and I have gone on vacation together for the last 20 years, and now we bring our partners and kids!
  • She’s my BFF!
  • My wedding had all of my college buddies and their wives and girlfriends!

Viewing friendships this way can lead to a lot of pain and stress—and possibly trigger bipolar symptoms and/or mood episodes—when our own friendships don’t follow this anticipated lifelong path. As a society, we have created a friendship ideal that simply does not match reality.

Friendship: The Ideal Versus the Reality

In real life, friendships end just as often as romantic relationships do. I’ve left friendships, and I’ve definitely been left by friends.

It’s not always pretty.

Our inability to be honest about wanting to end a friendship can cause a lot of confusion. For some reason, when we feel that we no longer wish to be friends with someone, we NEVER seem to say what we mean.

Instead of going through a breakup, as we do when romance goes wrong or fades, we linger over the friendship’s end, worrying and wondering what happened. All this rumination and pain lingers because we usually don’t tell the truth to our former friends in the same way that we do within romantic relationships.

For example, imagine saying these thoughts to a friend:

  • You’re too sick for me, and I no longer want to hang out. You need to find someone who can handle all your health issues.
  • I can’t take the negativity anymore. Being with you is like being a teenager all over again with someone telling me what to do.
  • When we get off the phone, I feel worn out and unhappy. I can’t listen to your long list of life problems anymore! I know we have known each other since we were 12, but this is too much!
  • You’re a bit boring, and I am not really interested in being friends.
  • The manic behavior is scary for me. It’s dangerous, and I can’t listen to these stories anymore.

Instead of honesty, more often than not, what happens at the end of a friendship is that the calls stop, messages are left unanswered, and the plans that were once weekly become monthly, then stop completely.

It’s “friendship ghosting,” and it hurts!

We all do it. We just don’t talk about it.

It’s ironic that I have friends whom I’ve known for a long time and whom I have chosen to leave—without explaining why I am leaving. I am just as guilty of this behavior as anyone else.

All of us are human. And we have some learning to do when it comes to building and maintaining friendships.

Openness to Experience Allows for Growth & Bonding

My fellow bphope blogger and author Martin Baker writes about friendship in his book with Fran Houston called High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder (Rev. Ed. 2021). I read Marty’s blog posts and am amazed at his insight into the up-and-down nature of friendship in general.

Friends go through everything romantic partners go through—we just don’t have physical intimacy to gloss over the difficult times. And, in many situations, we are not as honest with friends as we are in romantic relationships. Recently, Marty wrote:

“A few days ago, I hurt one of my best friends. I’m not happy that happened, and my failure to recognize how much she was hurting only exacerbated the injury. But I’m proud that we worked it through the way we did. I do feel I’m learning.”

I agree with him.

We do need to be open to hurting each other, as this is a part of being human. Maybe it could even help us maintain more friendships.

When So-Called Friendship Causes Harm

  • But what if there’s a friend in your life who hurts you a little too much or too often?
  • What if you feel depressed or anxious after talking with her on the phone?
  • What if she continually says things that put you down, but does so in a way that leaves you confused and wondering if she really meant what she said?
  • What if he used to call, but—once he got a girlfriend—you became an afterthought?
  • What if you approach them and say what you are feeling, and they discount your needs?

These are all warning signs that maybe it’s time to let the friendship go!

My “Bipolar Brain” Reaction

Bipolar always lets me know if I’m having friendship problems. It’s a triggered mental health condition. If my bipolar is sent flying and I can’t sleep due to worry and stress that my friend is no longer acting as they did in the past, it doesn’t matter why they are acting the way they are. I am the one who has to deal with the bipolar fallout.

Stable people can handle some pretty rough friendship behavior that my bipolar doesn’t allow me to handle. I can lose sleep and get sick very quickly if a friendship is upsetting or confusing. I know this is not a regular reaction, but it is what happens in my “bipolar brain.”

I can start out with regular thoughts of loss and upset, but then my bipolar, OCD, and paranoia kick in and I begin to ruminate:

  • What is wrong with me? Is this a pattern I can’t see that means I’ll be lonely forever?
  • Why do I always lose my friends?
  • NO one likes me. I am a failure at friendships.
  • Should I tell this person what I feel?
  • Why are people so cruel!?
  • Why is he being mean to me?
  • What have I done?!
  • I can’t sleep. I need to sleep!

On and on it goes in a looping sound wave in my brain, especially as I try to sleep.

This isn’t healthy, and it’s not even very real. Many of my thoughts are “bipolar-generated” and are a way over-the-top response to a situation in which a friend simply doesn’t want to be with me anymore.

A Hard Decision: When Is It Time to Leave?

What is neither normal nor healthy is staying in a relationship that consistently causes this kind of worry.

For example, one Saturday, a friend with bipolar wrote after midnight and accused me of stealing from her. It was not only shocking and untrue but also dangerous for me. It was late, and I couldn’t get to sleep for hours, which often makes me manic.

That night, I turned off my text notifications and changed my phone behavior to help support my sleep.

Our friendship ended.

I can’t be with someone who is unable to control their symptoms. Just as others would not want to be around me if I could not control my symptoms!

One of the columns I wrote for bp Magazine was on this topic, the relationship “trap,” and it has clearly struck a chord, with over 200,000 views to date. Friendship and bipolar is obviously something we need to talk about more.

Please know that there is no judgment here. My goal is for us to see the natural flow of friendships and be ready for when they end, for whatever reason.

Talking openly and honestly about losing friends is my way of accepting my lack of perfection and of acknowledging that I sometimes want to move on, and sometimes others want to move on from me. This happens with romantic relationships all the time! Let’s make it normal for friendships as well.

Let’s be honest with ourselves.

Let’s be willing to cherish the friendships that support us and enhance our lives—and to honestly and gently leave those who make us sick by triggering our bipolar.

There is no wrong person. There is no right person. It’s simply being human.


Originally posted March 30, 2021.

About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of the bestselling mental health books Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, Getting It Done When You’re Depressed, OMG, That’s Me! (vol. 2), and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a longtime bp Magazine writer and the top blog contributor, with over 5 million blog views. Julie is also a researcher and educator who focuses on bipolar disorder prevention and ways to recognize mood swings from the beginning—before they go too far and take over a person’s life. She works as a parent and partner coach and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, pharmacists, general practitioners, therapists, and social workers, on bipolar disorder and psychotic disorder management. She has a Facebook group for parents, The Stable Table, and for partners, The Stable Bed. Julie is the recipient of the Mental Health America excellence in journalism award and was the original consultant for Claire Danes’s character on the TV show Homeland. Julie had the first bipolar disorder blog and was instrumental in teaching the world about bipolar disorder triggers, the importance of circadian rhythm sleep, and the physical signs of bipolar disorder, such as recognizing mania in the eyes. Julie lives with bipolar disorder, a psychotic disorder, anxiety, and ADD.
  1. This article is so helpful. The impermanence of friendships being part of a natural occurrence hits home with me. I have believed that friendships wouldn’t die. My talking too much may have caused most of mine to fade, except for one. My best friend wasn’t responding to me any more. After a few years, I decided to drop by. She turned me away at her door. Then I waited 3 years, and one day I had an inner blowout and I wrote her the most awful letter about my anger and pain. I added my worst thoughts about her cruel way of dropping me so that she wouldn’t contact me again. Kind of funny since she had been trying to stay away from me for about six years. Of course, I’ve never heard from her again. And now, when I don’t have friends anymore, this article makes it seem possible to try again, because it is not necessarily a lifelong commitment to make a friend; we can let go of people, naturally, and they can let go of us.

  2. Whenever I am starting a new relationship with someone it’s usually when I’m manic. But when my depression comes around I become disgusted by them and cut them off very harshly. Is this because of my bipolar or is it just me getting tired of them?

  3. I like the article. I am more interested in myself and 2 others who are friends with a bipolar individual. How would we approach the ending of a friendship with them based on there communications with us. We 3 are having a difficult time understanding what to do. Again, great insight into bi-polar. We are looking for articles of in regards to individuals who really like this person, don’t want to shut her out, yet tired of the mood swings and being unreliable towards us. Thanks.

  4. We always want unconditional love and friendship, but we always have conditions for the love we dole out. If we want to be forgiven for what we do to our loved ones, we have to be willing to do the same even when we get triggered ourselves. If I’m not willing to give it, I shouldn’t ever dare ask for it myself.

  5. I have been diagnosed bipolar after having behavioral problems, insomnia and anger issues since age 7.
    Mental illness and what has been for me the lack of viable and effective medications, have made me just about resigned to the permanence of this illness.
    Every family relationship and career has ended very painfully.
    I’ve been mocked, made fun of and beaten up because my behavior was out of control and misunderstood.
    I ended up with Tardive dyskenesia after taking ziprasidone for 15 years.

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