Since I’m pretty–okay, incredibly–open about my mental illness, I receive certain frequently asked questions. One such question is the ever-perplexing, “How do I talk to my loved one with Bipolar Disorder?” Well, the simple solution would be to treat him or her like a fellow human being. Of course nothing is ever so straightforward. I’ve found it is much easier to list what you should not do as opposed to what you should when dealing with a loved one with the illness. So, here’s my little list of don’ts, if you will. This one is for the kind souls who feel they can’t properly communicate with their loved ones, be them diagnosed or undiagnosed. Whether you choose to take advice from a 17 year old girl who was only recently diagnosed is up to you…
- Don’t respond with anger-When interacting with a loved one who is battling Bipolar Disorder, remember that there is a chemical imbalance in his or her brain. Also, keep in mind that the illness typically activates when people who are genetically predisposed to it endure some form of trauma. Just to clarify, trauma does not always have to be as severe as partaking in a war or surviving sexual abuse, although it certainly can be. What hardly affects one person could be immensely traumatic to another. That being said, it is important to remember that those battling Bipolar Disorder did not choose to do so. Mental illness is not a choice. You wouldn’t be angry at someone if they had the flu, would you? If your loved one cannot get out of bed, if she pushes you away, if he is reckless, restrain from becoming frustrated. There is nothing more discouraging to someone who is mentally ill than discovering that they are causing trouble for those they hold dear.
- Don’t bruise his or her ego-Ah, mania, you are so misunderstood. When most people think of mania, they imagine a highly productive, frighteningly happy individual. You know, that delusional, singing-to-animals kind of happy. The reality of mania is far more terrifying. While manic, individuals are prone to engaging in risky activities, such as reckless driving, self-harm, unprotected sex, and binge drinking. Contrary to popular belief, many also express suicidal tendencies during episode of mania. How do you handle a loved one whose behavior is so erratic? Remember that he or she is a wild card and may at any given time fly off the handle, so to say. When grappling with mania, individuals are likely to experience feelings of grandiosity, or an extreme sense of self-importance. Never tell your manic loved one to calm down. She’s on top of the world! Nothing could stop her! He doesn’t need to rest! Sleep is for the weak! Telling manic individuals to calm down can be earth-shattering, for it suggests that they are not superhuman, after all. You may have the best of intentions, but be careful not to bruise your loved one’s ego along the way.
- Don’t assume the blame-If you have a loved one who suffers from Bipolar Disorder, odds are you have felt you were to blame at some point or another. Now, that is not to say that you believe yourself to be the cause of the illness but rather that you feel as though you are making his or her situation worse. Could your relationship be doing more harm than good? Possibly, but it is unlikely. If your loved one does not always respond with love and joy, remind yourself that he or she is fighting a war that is invisible to your eyes. You are not to blame for his or her pain. It is difficult for someone with Bipolar Disorder to receive the care that you offer or even detect that it is there. Remember that your loved one is learning how to let people into his or her little world, which, to the non-sufferer, is foreign territory. Relationships that involve at least one individual with bipolar disorder are often tumultuous for both parties. People with bipolar disorder have a tendency to burn bridges and bite the hands of those who feed them. They do it all because they don’t feel like they are loved and appreciated for all they have to offer. If your loved one appears distant or attempts to shut you out, it is imperative that you stay and weather the storm.