Having a loved with Bipolar Disorder can be tough but there are some ways that you can help those of us with the disorder to cope.
I’m using the word ‘we’ here as general guidance from my experience with my own illness and others in the mental health community, everyone’s experiences may vary.
Just be yourself
It’s important that you don’t try to take on a caring role unless we specifically ask you to do so; even then it’s important to be clear on the boundaries of what we are asking you to do. We are not incapable, we are adults and as much as we understand that you are worried, please do respect that. We’re not asking you to be a carer, to keep track of our treatment, to monitor our moods: just be the friend, parent or partner that you are.
Don’t try to fix us
We don’t need you to try and make it better; if we’re telling you how we feel, we’re not expecting you to give us magic words that are going to make us feel better, or to give us advice on how to deal with our illness unless we ask for that, we just want you to listen and say that you’re there for us. A lot of the time when we talk about how bad things are for us, we just want someone to acknowledge what we’re going through; we don’t need you to make it better.
Don’t push us to talk
Sometimes we might not want to talk, it doesn’t always help to talk; sometimes it can be hard to voice what we’re feeling, at times we might just not feel like it or we might not feel comfortable talking about something with you. It’s a great idea to say you’re there to listen, but please respect us if we say that we don’t want to talk about it and don’t try to push us.
If we say we want to be left alone, respect that
It’s understandable that it’s worrying when someone is struggling and you don’t have any control over what is happening, but we are the ones who are in charge of our illness and if we ask you to give us space, as hard as this may be for you as a loved one, please respect that and don’t keep pushing us because that can get frustrating and make a difficult time worse.
Don’t push us to explain our actions
If we tell you what we need from you, hear what we are saying and don’t push us to explain why unless we volunteer an explanation, for example saying that we don’t want to talk right now: it takes enough energy to function through a hard episode without trying to explain our actions to others.
We don’t need you to fully understand what we’re going through
It is really tough for someone without the disorder to fully understand what we are going through, how we really feel or what is best for us, and the good news is that we’re not expecting you to fully understand our illness. We just need you to understand the basics, to treat us as the person we are, to listen when we tell you what we need from you and to be there for us, basically what you would do with any other person in your life.
Don’t treat us as incapable
It’s understandable that you would worry about us and about some of the behaviours that we may show during an episode, and if you are worried about our safety then talk to us; a good tip for this is to establish a plan beforehand by talking to your loved one and asking what they would want you to do in a crisis, but respect any boundaries that we set even if you don’t agree with them.
Outwith any crisis, please don’t treat us as though we’re not capable of managing out illness; it doesn’t make us any less of a person or any less able to deal with life or be successful; it doesn’t mean we are unable to manage our own treatment and decide what is best for us. Even if we aren’t acting the way you would, or we are living our lives in a way you may not agree with, that’s not your responsibility: respect our right to live our lives the way we want, just like you have that right and freedom.
If you aren’t sure about something, ask us
If you don’t know what to say or how to act just be honest and ask us what we need, ask us how you can help; we would much rather you do that than walk on eggshells around us. Just communicate with us openly and give us the chance to tell you what our boundaries are or what we need from you, just make sure that you really hear the answers we give.