Bipolar Disorder Tips for Friends and Family Part One
Let's start out with a story about cabbage. (A conversation between my mom and myself)
Mom: Why don't you put some cabbage on your salad?
Julie: I want to have cabbage on my salad but it is just too hard to do it.
Mom: Julie! It's too hard to have cabbage? What is your problem?
Julie: It's not just cabbage, Mom! It's getting it out of the fridge. Taking off the old leaves, finding a place to cut it, making sure the knife is clean, slicing it, putting it on the salad and then cleaning up the cutting board. It is too much right now.
Mom: It really is just cabbage, Julie. Why does everything have to be so hard for you?
Julie: Mom. It is not a *normal* thing! It is not a cabbage thing. It is a *bipolar* thing. It is an overwhelmed thing. It has nothing to do with cabbage. Things are hard for me because I have a book deadline and I have bipolar disorder.
Mom: Ok. I understand it a bit better when you put it that way. Would you like me to do the cabbage for you?
Julie: I would like that a lot! I have so much going on right now I can not think about cooking.
A few days later I asked her, 'Mom, of all the mood swings you know I have now and you have seen in the Health Cards, what is the hardest one for you to understand?' She answered, 'The anxiety and how you tell me you get overwhelmed so easily.'
I understand why she feels this way. She has depression herself, so she understands that. I have talked to her about mania and psychosis and though she has no idea what they feel like - she can see they are symptoms of bipolar disorder - but my anxiety and overwhelmed feelings seem so arbitrary to her. I am unable to do things on some days and on others I am fine. Some days she can ask me to do something and the next time she asks the same thing it makes me sick. She never knows what she is going to get from me! (Poor Mom!)
The moral of this story is that you, as a friend or family member need to understand that bipolar disorder is complicated.
You really don't have to understand all of the terminology or even empathize with us, but you do have to have tools to help you deal with us. My mother has the Health Cards and she uses them all of the time because I am just simply baffling to her.
I can see it when she looks at me. I can see it when she has to once again change her behaviour so that I don't get sick. I can see it is hard on her, but the only thing I can do is constantly work on myself to stay well and give her as much information as she needs to help our relationship stay stable when we are together. You as friends and family members have such a hard job. When people with bipolar disorder are sick, it is the friends and family who have to somehow read our moods and behaviours and know what to do to help us get well. We may not say this enough - but THANK YOU!
Ten things friends and family members NEED to know about those of us with bipolar disorder.
10. If you blame us or put us down or get impatient or angry with us for bipolar disorder behaviour it simply makes us SICKER! Impatience never got us out of bed or made us less depressed. Anger never made us stop spending when we are manic. Kind and realistic rules and limits do help. Telling us that you will not and cannot live with us if we don't treat bipolar disorder first does help.
But helping us help ourselves is the best gift you can give us. The Health Cards can help you figure out what part of our behaviour is bipolar disorder and what part is just us. If you know what behaviour is a symptom of the illness, you can then treat the illness to help the behaviour instead of getting so upset with us all of the time. (We are upset enough with ourselves, believe me!)
9. Understand that we cannot always help you do things when we are sick. You may need help around the house, with the kids, the bills, the laundry, etc. Deep down we know that, but sometimes we are just too sick to do anything. Help us get well and then we can help you around the house more. Help us get well and we will be a good friend, partner, daughter, son, grandson, granddaughter and parent.
If you expect us to be able to do normal things when we are sick, then you will only get more upset with us. If you expect us to treat bipolar disorder first - that is reasonable and something we can work on together! Then we can do the laundry and the dishes with pleasure. We can have fun in life.
8. Depression is very motivated. I don't know if there is a more successful illness in the world. It is a champ, a winner! It sets goals and follows through with its goals. 'I want Julie to be really sick and down on herself today. I want her to stay in bed, eat junk and cry buckets of tears.' And it sure does do a good job! Depression is serious and motivated and strong.
Without the right tools it is impossible for us to fight it. WE ARE NOT LAZY! WE ARE NOT SLACKERS! WE ARE NOT DUMB, WEAK OR FAILURES! We are sick.
Learn our individual signs of depression by using the Health Cards and help us fight it. If depression is motivated and successful, then we all have to get motivated and successful. If you see us sitting on the couch doing nothing day after day - don't get on our case for being on the couch. Get some tools to help us get off the darn couch! Get motivated, serious and strong, just like depression. Then teach us how to do this.
Help us find the right mix of medications, alternative treatments and lifestyle changes that make depression the failure instead of making us look like failures. We need your help to fight this illness. We need your love to beat depression.
7. What you do in YOUR life makes a huge difference in how we experience our bipolar disorder symptoms in OUR lives. This is not fair on you, but it is a reality. It should be that you can do what you want and we can lead our own lives and let you be you - but people with bipolar disorder cannot simply separate themselves from the things you do. If you are stressed and unhappy and unhealthy, you have to know that it affects us greatly.
6. Bipolar disorder is a disability. It is not really recognized in that way right now, but it will be more so in the future - many of us are dis-abled from leading the life we want and you want us to lead. We simply can't function like other people can function. We can't snap out of it, therapy our way out of it or just get on with it - whatever the 'it' is you want us to do. WE HAVE TO LEARN WHAT WE CAN DO AND WE NEED YOUR HELP!
Please know that stress makes us sick - good stress, bad stress, stress that is none of our business - all stress makes us sick. Can you look at us differently? Can you see us as people who have an illness that often makes us unable to be 'normal'? Can you hug us, love us and help us even when we make you scared, angry and embarrassed? Please help us turn a disability into an opportunity.
About the Author:
Julie A Fast, best selling author of Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder is a critically acclaimed six-time author, award winning bipolar disorder advise columnist, national speaker, and sought after expert in the fields of bipolar disorder and depression. Julie's work specializes in helping real people manage all aspects of their daily lives and despite the complications that bipolar disorder creates.
Learn how to how to personalize a plan to help yourself or a loved one find and create stability that ensures the quality of life that we all deserve, visit: bipolarhappens.com