Bipolar disorder affects everyone differently. The challenges you face when you’re diagnosed with bipolar disorder can be overwhelming, but let’s think about the people around us. Let’s think about the difficulties faced by our family and friends now that they need to support us during these times. I’ll admit, it was hard for my parents because I wasn’t the easiest guy to deal with. I would have mood swings, negative reactions to medications, and until today constantly rely on them to provide support whenever I need it. It’s been an ongoing challenge for both of us and continues to be one. But, the good news is that everything is a learning experience and one’s misfortune can be great knowledge for someone else…right?
I chose this topic for two reasons:
1) We all need support and it’s important everyone knows what to expect when supporting someone with bipolar disorder. Even though I’ve been living with bipolar disorder for over 18 years, I sometimes need to help others recently diagnosed with it. I’ve learned a lot from people close to me who have taken out the time to help me, and I want to share my knowledge with you.
2) It was a question posted on my Facebook page. I promised I would write about it and I always keep my promises.
Let’s get started. These are my own personal tips so feel free to leave a comment providing your tips below the content. 🙂
Learn About Bipolar Disorder
You don’t know how hard it is for someone with bipolar disorder. You’ll never know because you’re not bipolar. However, you can try to understand it by learning as much as you can. I encourage you to learn everything you can about bipolar disorder. Do research online about the symptoms, the medication, and side effects. You also want to learn about the treatment options so you can encourage the person to add alternatives to their current treatment plan. For example, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is a great addition.
The more you know about bipolar disorder, the better equipped you’ll be at helping your loved one. Dealing with a bipolar person requires a lot of patience so by learning about bipolar disorder you can better equip yourself to handle stress and build patience.
Google is going to be your best friend because doing a quick search for “how to deal with a bipolar person” will provide a lot of free useful information.
This is one of the best things my family did for me. They didn’t yell or scream when I didn’t want to or had trouble doing things. They understood how bipolar disorder affected me and how it limited my drive to conquer things, especially during my depressive phases. But, my family was patient and they understood that I’ll have days which are more difficult than others so gave me my space. I encourage you to do the same.
When supporting someone with bipolar disorder it’s important to step back and understand why they are feeling the way they are. You need to understand why they don’t want to leave the house, don’t want to eat or work. You need to understand why they are upset, angry or being disruptive. You need to understand they have a mental illness and will need time to learn coping strategies. Treatment does take time so be patient and understanding.
By attending doctor appointments, you’re doing two important things –
- You are giving yourself an opportunity to ask specific questions about bipolar disorder. Through specific questions, you can learn more about treatment and coping strategies.
- You are building trust and respect between you and the person living with bipolar. Through this trust, you’ll be able to implement coping strategies and the person will also listen to you when you recommend something to them. Remember, someone who doesn’t trust you will NOT listen to you.
An appointment can be once every month to once every three months so take time off to attend these appointments. I brought my dad to my appointments and he left with a better understanding of bipolar disorder. It also allowed him to fine tune his supporting strategies.
Reduce Their Stress
By now we know how stress can trigger a manic episode in a person with bipolar disorder. Here’s what stress does to the neurotransmitters in the brain –
“Stress depletes critical brain chemicals causing depression. Your brain cells communicate via chemicals called neurotransmitters. Low levels of either of these neurotransmitters can leave you depressed and more prone to addictions. It plays a large role in mood, learning, appetite control, and sleep.” – liveinthenow.com
These chemicals in the brain of someone living with bipolar disorder are sensitive and shift more quickly than someone NOT bipolar. For this reason, it’s important you help someone with bipolar disorder avoid stress where you can. I recommend decreasing the workload of the person you are supporting for the time being. You might even want to help them with work or homework. The goal is to help the person stay calm and not be overwhelmed because this will lead to greater stress levels.
Fixed Sleeping Pattern
I wrote a great article on how sleep and bipolar disorder are connected. It outlines how lack of sleep can cause someone with bipolar disorder to relapse. It also outlines how a fixed sleeping schedule can help control triggers improving the quality of life for someone with bipolar disorder. When supporting someone with bipolar and living with them, I encourage you to keep an eye on their sleeping patterns. Encourage them to be in bed at the same night each night and stay away from stimulants at night. Stimulants will cause the person to have difficulty sleeping at night.
Now it’s important to not push or demand they go to sleep at a certain time but communicate your thoughts. Let them know about the importance of sleep and ask them what time they feel comfortable being in bed. Try to find a mutual understanding that both of you are happy with. Here’s the problem with demanding:
- you’ll lose the mutual respect between you two.
- you’ll make the person angry, stressed and/or irritated. This is NOT good for someone with bipolar disorder.
- You’ll make them feel lower than They’ll think you are speaking to them this way because they are bipolar. You won’t make them feel good about themselves. This can lead to stress. Furthermore triggering an episode.
Be gentle and be patient. 🙂
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve missed a dose. But, I’m greatly for my support circle at home to remind me to take my medication early morning and at night. This wasn’t always the case because I needed to ask them for help and reminders. You’ll learn about the importance of clear communication in the next section, but for now ensuring you take your medication every day is important in your treatment. It’s the number one reason why I have been able to progress forward. Finding the right combination of medication, in my case is Depakote and Wellbutrin, has controlled my symptoms and allowed me to better myself. You can consider medication the right foundation for you to build yourself on afterward.
My family has created an alert on their mobile phone to remind me to take my medication. I recommend you do the same.
Little progress will be made in terms of support if no trust has been established. However, for trust to be established you need to openly communicate from the beginning. I encourage you (the supporter) to be honest and upfront from the starting so you can be clear about what’s expected. This will give the person needing support a chance to address any concerns they have too. Here’s what you should do from the start –
- address any concerns you have before or while supporting the other.
- always be honest even if you are unhappy about something. Many people avoid being vocal about something bothering them, but in this case, it will build mutual respect. It will also allow the person living with bipolar disorder to be open and clear up any misunderstanding. By holding your thoughts in, you won’t clear up any negative situation or misunderstanding vital in supporting someone with bipolar.
I mean in the form of allowing the person to feel the way they do. This was the greatest factor in my recovering and I thank my wonderful support circle for allowing me to feel the way I did. For example, when someone is depressed, let them know it’s completely fine to feel the way they do by using the following statements –
- “I love you”
- “I care”
- “You’re not alone in this”
- “I’m not going to leave/abandon you”
- “Do you want a hug?”
- “You are important to me”
- “If you need a friend…”
- “It will pass, we can ride it out together”
- “When all this is over, I’ll still be here”
- “You have so many extraordinary gifts – how can you expect to live an ordinary life?”
Next, when the person is manic, you want to change it up and provide support by saying the following –
- “You’re not alone in this”
- “You sure you want to buy this?”
- “You want me to hold on to your wallet?”
- “How are you feeling right now?”
- “How did you sleep last night?”
- “Please avoid alcohol when feeling like this?”
- “Let’s do this (whatever they are doing) together”
- “Your fine and not being crazy”
- “It’s normal to feel the way you do”
- “Why don’t you think twice before doing or saying this”
Choosing the right words and saying them nicely will help avoid confrontation when the person is both manic and/or depressive.
Accept Both Limits – Yours and Theirs
Accept your loved one’s limits – People with bipolar disorder have a hard time controlling their moods. It’s hard for them to know when they are being aggressive or not themselves. They can’t just snap out of a depression or get a hold of themselves during a manic episode. The good news is both are a phase so try and accept what’s going on and provide support in a loving manner. Telling your loved one to “Stop acting crazy” or to “Look on the bright side” won’t help.
Accept your own limits – If you’re trying to help and it’s not working, you need to know your limits too. You can’t solve problems in one day or might just have a hard time solving this one. The only thing you can really do is offer support, but ultimately, recovery is in the hands of the person with the illness.
If you simply can no longer help, then know there is other support out there. You can find an expert to come in and help your loved one. There are support groups and even other therapy forms proven to work well with those living with bipolar disorder.
Living with someone whose bipolar can be difficult. However, know that if you have a friend or family member living with bipolar disorder, you can help them grow. You can take pleasure in knowing you were there for them during difficult times. This is truly a blessing which will go rewarded. I have been living with bipolar for over 18 years and my success in managing it is directly linked to the people around me. I’m truly blessed to have great people in my life.
Above I have listed what I have gone through and the things which mattered most when getting support from others. Internalize them and implement them when supporting others. Some will work better than others because each person is different. I would love to hear your thoughts on what strategies should be included in the list above for supporting someone with bipolar disorder.