Okay, I admit it; we bipolar folks can be a real handful. If you have close friends who live with bipolar disorder (BD), you’ve probably had a couple – or more – not-so-easy interactions with them/us.
This is my invitation to walk a mile in their/my shoes.
But before we go further, terms; I choose to say, “live with”, instead of “suffer” bipolar disorder. I would much rather live with than suffer pretty much anything.
And, though I do live with this disorder, I’m not reveling in it. I’m living with it. You won’t hear me saying “other abled” about BD, except jokingly. Bipolar disorder is a disability. One you live with.
Thus the title of my little article.
“I’m sure that time when I disappeared in my car for a month without telling you where I was going was rough on you.
It was rough on me, too.”
When I was younger, the way I dealt with my symptoms was just that – to get in my truck and drive away until I could deal with my life again. When I pulled a “disappearing act,” as my mom would call it, no one had to see the weak, dark, tormented, vulnerable side of the hard-core, shaved headed, feminist that I was.
Especially when I was severely depressed, it was far easier to wander off like a wounded animal does, and care for myself. Lick my gashes – always at risk of gnawing off the offending limb.
At times I crawled under the covers, at times into a bottle, at times into bed with unseemly strangers, at times I drifted into and out of towns I had never been to and would never again see. A ghost in a substantial world; it made it easier – no story to stick to, no one to let down, absolute freedom to be where, and who, I was in that moment.
It may sound romantic. Until you think about the whole picture. Which is where a lot of people get stuck with understanding BD. You see me as outgoing, charismatic, strong, and edge-seeking. Or you see me as a loose cannon. Or you see me as overly sensitive. The truth is, just like you, I’m multifaceted. But with BD, many of those facets can become larger than life.
If I were to become “apologist” for BD, or if I were manic, this is where I would say; “It’s part of being me. I feel more. I see more. I do more. I taste more. My life IS larger than yours. You have no idea!”
That grandiosity is what we give up when we go on meds or find other ways to truly stabilized BD.
You know what else we give up? Never asking for help. We have to give that one up, too.
Parenting With Bipolar Disorder
When I had kids, the disappearing-act approach to my dealing with my disorder became both less inviting, and immeasurably less accessible.
At times, parenting is a challenge for anyone. Parenting with bipolar disorder is a horse of a different color. For many of us who live with bipolar disorder, even after receiving an accurate diagnosis it takes a while to learn what it means to manage the disorder. After all, BD by definition tends toward feeling (and often acting) out of control.
Becoming a parent requires getting a whole new perspective and handle on the disorder – whether diagnosed or not. This is where you come in.
How to Support Your Friends Who Live With Bipolar Disorder
A big turning point comes when we begin figuring out how BD shows up in each of us who lives with the disorder. It’s not a uniform experience person-to-person, and sometimes there are other circumstances thrown into the mix. And it is introspection and self-awareness that allow those of us who live with BD to ask for what we need.
Let’s do a role-play. Imagine I’m your bipolar friend, talking to you right now.
Here’s how to support me:
Educate yourself about bipolar disorder.
Read up on BD, because sometimes I get tired of trying to explain the disorder.
This is especially so when I’m symptomatic. When I’ve already called you a b*tch for trying to get me out of bed after five days, I’m not going to be able to tell you how to deal with my mood swings.
Ask me about how I experience BD.
If I’ve been open about my diagnosis with you, chances are I’m more than willing to talk to you about it.
It DOES NOT mean I’ve invited armchair analysis, or unsolicited problem solving.
Show me I can trust you. Show me you trust me.
Supporting me requires mutual trust, and agreements on appropriate feedback. Choosing the right word at the right time can make all the difference.
For instance, if I’m feeling paranoid and you yell, “You’re paranoid!” let’s just say it doesn’t help.
However, when you say, “I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you. I’m never going to hurt you,” it reminds me that I’m taken care of, and my paranoia begins to subside.
And, if both you and I experience mood disorders, those agreements are even more necessary.
Ask me what you can do.
Sometimes I need a break. Sometimes I need a walking buddy. Sometimes I need some tough love. Sometimes I need tenderness. Ask me what I need.
If I have enough self-awareness at that moment, I’ll even be able to tell you what it is! But…
Don’t let me bulls#!t you.
If you’re a really good friend, sometimes you WILL know better than I do what’s good for me.
Ask me how I deal, and how I heal.
Once you know what my main coping methods are, you can support me in the ones that help me attain what stability is possible. You can help me to find my ground, and still safely encourage me to stand tall.
Sometimes it’s the everyday things that matter most. Brushing my teeth, taking a shower or bath, going for a walk. Unless you yourself have experienced depression, you probably have no idea how hard it can be to commit to carrying out these minor tasks. When it gets really bad, this can extend to eating, hanging out with my kids, getting out of bed.
The truth is, these are exactly the things that will keep me healthy, happy, alive. Eating well, exercising, interacting in healthy relationships, completion of basic daily tasks.
Get me out of bed, and – no exaggeration – you just may have saved my life.