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Blog: Removing the Shrapnel

How I've learned to identify and remove toxic relationships from my life and why it's so important to those of us with mental illness to do so.

"Don't you dare, for one second, surround yourself with people who are not aware of the greatness that you are."

- Jo Blackwell-Preston

I knew there was a problem when this quote made me cry.

. . .

My friends and family knew I was bipolar. They knew I'd need help when I got pregnant. I warned them, but many of them had never experienced me sick and they certainly hadn't experienced me asking for help without being able to give anything in return.

Postpartum psychosis, OCD and mania proved to be too much for some very close friends and family.

After the dust settled, I saw this quote on Facebook. It was a wake up call. I didn't blame the friends who went away. I've faded out of friendships when unable to give the support that person needed. I fully understand that we all have our own lives and can only do so much.

It was the friends who came nowhere close to being "aware of my greatness." It was the friends who judged me for being mentally ill. It was the friends who condemned me and criticized me while I was doing everything I could to manage my illness that had me by the horns.

It was the friends who weren't friends.

My long illness gave me so many gifts, and one of the greatest ones was shining a light on and removing a few relationships that had become quite toxic. They were shrapnel just under my skin. I could feel the cold steel whenever I touched anything. The pain nagged me to take care of the problem, but surgery seemed too dramatic.

Once it got infected, I was forced to have it removed from my body.

Toxic relationships are deadly for bipolar people. I've had to step away from people who trigger me several times and had to actually sit down a few people and explain to them why I couldn't be friends with them anymore. I'm not a fan of confrontation, but my illness has forced me into aggressive self-care. Especially now that I have a child to care for - my baby needs his mother and she needs to be well.

People pleasing almost killed me 7 years ago, so it's always surprising that I still default to "please like me" behavior.

How I remove a toxic friendship

I first need to identify it as such by writing an inventory on that specific friendship.

What are my resentments?

What would I do differently?

Why didn't I do that then?

Why did I get into this friendship in the first place? Convenience? Selfish desires? Lack of self-worth?

I realized that I turned frontal attacks into "they're just pulling my covers." Ends up there's a fine line between a friend being honest and cruel. Just like there's a fine line between being worried about someone and gossiping about that someone.

I'm not a victim; I'm a grownup. I'm a volunteer. So why do I continually place myself in a position to be harmed? What is my fear behind letting this person go?

Generally I'm scared of confrontation or scared that person won't like me - even though I don't like the person in question which makes about as much sense as being mad at someone rifling through my garbage after I threw it away.

My other fears are that I'll lose something I think I have or won't get what I want or think I need.

I reevaluated all my close friendships with a non-biased spiritual advisor, who then asked me if I wanted to work on each relationship or let it go.

I was only willing to let go of one of them. Soon after, I was willing to let go of another. And then another.

How do I actually let go of a friendship?

The first thing I do is stop squeezing juice on the wound. Let it heal. Stay away. Take a break. If they're pestering me, then I have to tell them that I can't see them right now and I leave it at that.

I stay out of the drama and avoid asking friends-in-common about them. I was a cutter as a teen and digging for details about a person no longer in my life gives me a similar morbid high and depression.

I also ask my friends and family to not tell me about that person. I explain that it's still too painful and I'm healing. I can't control other people, but it doesn't hurt to ask. I don't think my mother will ever stop talking about my sister in front of me and it feels like I'm being stabbed in the stomach. But I digress...

If a sit down talk needs to be had - and I've had them - my three rules for what will come out of my mouth are:

1. Is it kind?

2. Is it true?

3. Is it necessary?

And I stay out of blame and keep to my feelings. Once I point a finger, I'll lose them completely. Nothing closes ears and minds quicker than blame because we become too busy to listen to each other when we're figuring out what we're going to say next. It becomes about winning, not growing and learning.

If it goes there, I leave. I walk away. I stay true to myself and stay away from people pleasing or making light of a heavy situation.

I've had some amazing experiences letting go of toxic relationships. We've both learned and grown and left with big hugs. Just because the relationship has become toxic doesn't mean the person is toxic. It means we're toxic together. And maybe we won't always be  toxic together. People change. They get better. They grow. I get better. I grow. Maybe in time we'll reunite - at least I stay open to it.

And some haven't gone so well. Once a voice raises, I leave. I don't get into screaming matches because they are completely unproductive and make me sick. Because of my childhood, an argument that gets to the point of yelling can throw me off-balance for weeks. And I'm a domino. My whole family gets sick when I'm sick, slack has to be picked up and it's not pretty.

Why bother?

When I'm going through it, I really do want to lock myself in my house and never talk to another human again. I think that's natural. But as annoying as human relationships can be, they are more magical, wonderful and healing than detrimental. If I can see God in everyone, I live in a peaceful world. I can love them even if I really don't like them.

I don't have to like everyone and everyone doesn't have to like me for me to live in peace. In stability. In love.

I heal through human interaction. Through sharing this human experience with another. Through relating. Relationships are a gift, they just get sick sometimes. And sometimes they get so sick they die. And that's ok. Life is cyclical. Nature is in constant change.

I get to decide who I want in my life. Today, I want people who lift me up, not people who tear me down. It's as simple as that.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Danielle Directo-Meston November 19, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Courtney - this is such great insight that all of us (illnesses or not) can learn from. Thanks for writing about this sensitive topic...I am close with someone who is bipolar and I wish more people understood what they were going through.
COURTNEY RUNDELL November 23, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Thanks, Danielle, for the comment and support. We need more people like you in our corner! xoxo

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