Some of you have requested that I post more about my experiences with living with bipolar disorder. So I figured this year I would try to write about it at least once a week (maybe more depending on the week).
I will say that it is much easier to write and talk about these things when I feel healthy and that the disorder is in control. The sad part is that just because I’m healthy now, doesn’t mean that I don’t have it or that it will magically go away. I like to think of it as it’s “in remission”. Hopefully it stays way but just like cancer, I need regular checkups with my Dr. And for me personally, making sure I take my medication and always strive to keep up the 10 habits.
There can also be many side effects that never go away. And it doesn’t mean that things that people say (well-meaning) don’t affect me in a negative way.
So today I thought I’d give you an idea of what NOT to say to someone who has bipolar disorder.
1. You seem so normal. This is probably the one that I hear the most and it’s frustrating because just because I look or seem normal doesn’t mean that I’m not struggling. Plus, you never know if someone is between cycles of mania or depression. And some people are just really good at hiding it or wearing a mask. Think about how this would feel if you said it to someone with cancer! It is a lack of empathy in my honest opinion. A better way to approach this would be to say. “You seem like you’re feeling good at the moment, what can I do to support you?” Just showing you care and recognize it as a disorder, will go a long way.
2. I saw so and so the other day and she was acting so crazy, I think she’s bipolar! First of all, we are NOT the disorder, we HAVE the disorder. Second, making assumptions that someone has a disorder just because of their actions is rude and disrespectful.
Remember how I talked about your manner of language yesterday? When you say it like that, it makes us feel like if you think that about them then you must think we are totally bonkers! It’s a generalization that doesn’t help the situation. And most often just makes us feel worse. A better way would be to say, “I saw so and so the other day, she looked like she was really struggling, it’s possible she could be suffering with a mental illness. Is there anything that you would suggest that might help?” Be genuine.
3. Come on let’s go shopping, you just need to get out. It’s not that easy to just snap out of it. This is a real honest struggle for those who suffer, and just getting out doesn’t make it go away automatically. Most often it feels physically impossible to do the easiest of tasks. However, I will say that continued support is extremely helpful. Check in often ask sincerely how they are feeling that day and if they might like to get out? And then be supportive and understanding if they decline. Again a little bit of empathy can go a long way. Genuinely care about the person and do not make it seem like what we are going through is fake or brought on by something we are doing or not doing. Don’t give up on us.
4. You are acting crazy, phsycho, deranged, out of control, bonkers, or any other negative terms used to describe someone who is probably really struggling to stay in control. Again, just be careful of generalizations and assumptions. Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.
A better way to handle this situation would be to gently say, “I feel like you are not quite your usual self today. Is there anything I can do to help?” Be prepared for a person to become defensive. And if that happens, it’s best to just give them time to process your observation. The last thing they want to have happen is to have the disorder sneak up on them. Pointing out an observation and then giving them time to adjust and process would be a good way to handle it. And again, lots and lots of support. Don’t just walk away and never come back to it. Give it time and then try to sort it out when they are ready.
* A note to the person who has bipolar: Personally, when this has happened to me, I find it therapeutic to document how that made me feel in a journal, just let it all come spilling out on paper. It saves me from saying something that I will probably regret.
5. And finally… You’re just making all of this up to get attention. While it may seem illogical to you, it usually makes perfect sense to the person with bipolar. Bipolar is a disorder of the brain, so it makes sense that sometimes certain behaviors or statements may seem irrational. When observing behavior that doesn’t seem normal, brushing it off with blanket statements like this is NOT helping. Give the person validation by saying something like, “I understand that what you are seeing/saying/doing is very important to you, what can I do to help you with this?” Again you may encounter some defensiveness, but be gentle. Yelling and trying to make your point is actually just a way of escalating the symptoms they may be experiencing.
I hope that helped a little and made you think about your words and the way that you support someone who is struggling with bipolar. It’s very difficult for a loved one to see someone they love struggling and not acting like themselves. Give each other grace and be gentle. And encourage them in the kindest way, to get the help they need. They need your support more than ever when times are tough. Checking in regularly and genuinely is a great way to help someone who has bipolar disorder. And above all, never, never give up on them!