Abandonment Issues—When You’re Feeling Depressed

Last Updated: 21 Aug 2019

Feeling abandoned and unloved during a bipolar depression is not reality; it’s a symptom of the illness—and it can be treated.

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When I’m in an abandonment downswing, I think, “I am a worthless ant, a speck of dirt on this huge revolving planet. I’m completely alone!” The idea that I’m the last person on earth and no one loves me is a typical depression symptom. It’s not personal, and it’s not true. It’s a sign that I’m depressed.

Three signs of abandonment depression

  1. You do have people who want to help, but you ignore their words and actions. You feel like even pets don’t want your company.
  2. The abandonment feeling encompasses home, work, and the world in general. You feel that EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is leaving you.
  3. The abandonment feelings are not attached to an event. Events (triggers) can exacerbate your feelings of abandonment, but you will NOT be able to find proof that abandonment is actually happening.

Did you know it’s normal to feel abandoned when you have bipolar depression? Just like it’s normal to feel shaky if you have diabetes and your insulin is low. We have an illness, not a personal problem.

The good news is that symptoms can be managed. There is nothing wrong with your life when you feel abandoned while depressed; there is something in your brain that needs to be treated. When you manage your depression, the feelings of abandonment can go away. Honest.

Here are my typical abandonment depression thoughts:

  • No one is calling me.
  • My friends are too busy for me.
  • My nephew is growing up and doesn’t want to be with me anymore.
  • There is something about me that people don’t like.
  • No one else has problems like this.
  • Why are all of my friends so much happier than I am?
  • What is wrong with me?!?

See how this cascades? It can be especially tough at night when I try to sleep or I wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep.

If you love someone with bipolar disorder who gets these abandonment symptoms when depressed, what can you say? Here is a script to get you started:

I hear that you feel lonely and that no one wants to be with you. I have heard this in the past when you’re depressed. I looked at the actual events around you and realized that you are not able to answer your phone or say yes to things because your brain is off track. Let’s talk about your depression and get you back into the life you care about; I know your feelings of being alone in this world will lift as well. They are a symptom of this rotten illness. How do I know this? Because I’m standing next to you and I’m not going anywhere, no matter what.

I asked Martin Baker—the coauthor along with Fran Houston (who has bipolar disorder) of the book High Tide, Low Tide: A Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder (Nordland, 2016)—how a friend can help someone thorough an abandonment episode: “Julie, I recognize the internal dialogues you’ve listed (‘No one is calling,’ etc); I have heard them from Fran many times. My response is not to bombard her with contradictory assertions: ‘Of course they like you!’ ‘You are imagining it’ ‘There’s nothing wrong with you—you are a fun, lovely person; anyone would be proud to be your friend!’ That kind of talking doesn’t honor what Fran is actually feeling. A better response is to simply be there. Be the person who does call. Be the person who isn’t too busy. Be the person who demonstrates (not merely says) that you are likable, and liked.”

What about you? Having a plan in place to counteract these feelings of abandonment is my best advice for maintaining relationships when you have bipolar depression. I have learned to recognize my abandonment symptoms. My first rule for getting through an abandonment episode is not hiding in my bedroom. And I force myself to pick up the phone when it rings, or answer that email from a friend. It is so hard, but it works. You can do it!


Printed as “Abaondment Issues: When you’re feeling depressed”, Summer 2017

About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of "Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder," "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder," "Get it Done When You’re Depressed" and "The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder." She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
  1. Elsie makes a great point. I don’t have a circle of friends anymore. My parents passed away a few years ago and me being the youngest of four and ‘the happy accident,’ was the closest to them. (Besides being the last person to talk to both of them). I have my husband, who is supportive but a social butterfly who constantly has his friends over to hang out in his man cave; my youngest of three sons (16); and my sister, 2000 miles away. I choose to not have any close-knit friends. I don’t trust anyone, and I’m too self conscious to let anyone else close to me. My abandonment issues stem from not only being bipolar, but also being alone for most of my childhood. I had tried to make friends but avoided closeness in fear they would find someone better to be friends with. (Why? Because that happened a few times too). My abandonment feelings stem from a few things: years of often being left alone at home as a child, being bullied, and my oldest sister whom I was closest to – 11 year difference – leaving as soon as she was 18. The abandonment feelings twist me into ruminating the bad occurrences during my childhood. I hate it. With my mom and dad, I had a pretty good childhood. I was very close to my parents, they just liked to go out. A lot. My siblings – 7, 9, and 11 years older than me – saw me as a burden when they’d have to babysit. All the way until they too moved out. Don’t forget that we all have our own hell we live within. I made a list of emergency ‘things-to-do’ when I’m alone either during a depression slope or not. I try to get to at least one of them before my brain wraps itself around the fact that I’m alone. A couple of these are: coloring with one of my adult coloring books; get on the floor and play with my dogs; slip into a guided meditation app on my phone; write; or take my shoes and socks off and walk around my yard in the cool grass; or vacuum. I know, I like to vacuum. I’m an odd duck. … 🙂 That’s just a few for thought.

  2. I am fortunate to have a friend who when I say I depressed, could she call me every day, she does. She doesn’t ask me how I am or talk about my depression. She talks about her grandkids and kids and her issues. She always concludes with “I love you!” This is much better than someone lecturing me about depression when I’ve been dealing with it for 50 years. To my bi-polar compatriots, I wish that you can find a friend that is so understanding. This, and talking to my brother, have kept me from days in bed. I’ve had a few days in the last few years when I’m down and stay in bed for the day. But prayers and my supports keep it from the months it used to be….

    And this is far better therapy than the shock treatment I went through that only fried my brain!

  3. Elsie …

    You nailed it… Many friends and family members just simply cannot handle us when we are going through bipolar depression or don’t want to be involved at all. This leads to feelings of rejection, lonliness and not wanting to your home for days on end at least in my case.

    You are not alone.. Remember you are Loved!!!

  4. This advice only works if the abandonment is not real, but for many people with bipolar, abandonment IS real. People abandon you because of your depression. What do you do if you have no family or friends that you can talk to about it, no one to read the script you recommend? If you have abandonment depression accompanied by real abandonment, what do you do then?

  5. I feel the exact way this describes. I have a couple friends but they have husbands and
    younger kids. I feel so alone, it’s awful. I’m not a bad person, I’m kind, funny, generous and my mind says . You are nothing.

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