As hard as I may try, I am not neurotypical. As hard as I push myself, I’m going to have a harder time than most people. It’s not an excuse; it’s an illness. That’s why there are four prescription bottles in my cabinet that I have to take everyday to function. They also help as much as they can, but they are not a cure. I’m not asking for your sympathy. I’m asking for understanding, as much as it is possible.
There are plenty of people who still believe psychology is a pseudoscience and psychiatric illnesses are not real. Phil Hickey of Behaviorism and Mental Health stated, “So the very basis for a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is either feeling particularly good about everything or feeling particularly grumpy and angry.” That wins an understatement award. If I am feeling particularly good, I make extra plans with my friends and go out for drinks. If I am manic, I go on a giant shopping spree that I can’t really afford. If I’m feeling particularly grumpy or angry, I put on my headphones and tune out the world. However, if I am dysphoric, I start yelling at people and making rash decisions. If I’m depressed, I’m not sad. Sad is when your goldfish dies. Depression is when you have such a sinking feeling in your soul that it can be hard to even move. Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts. More than 15% of people with bipolar disorder commit suicide each year. For the general population, it’s only 1%.
There is a reason mental illnesses are referred to as “disorders.” They have to be debilitating. When a disorder is debilitating, it interferes with everyday life. It’s not just one day here and there. This is something we deal with constantly. We consistently feel depressed enough that we have to cancel plans and are unable to do simple tasks like housework and running errands. Neurotypical people cannot possibly understand how frustrating this is. We understand that it looks like complete laziness and wish that we could possibly convey how that is not the case. Imagine being unable to properly take care of your family, nurture your relationships with your friends or hold down a job. Then add to that the knowledge that it’s not something you’re choosing so it’s harder to do anything about it.
Relationships can be the biggest hurdle in dealing with bipolar disorder, and mental illness in general. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, neurotypical people cannot possibly understand what it feels like to be inside our minds. They can try to understand as much as we can try to overcome, but it just doesn’t happen. That’s okay, but we have to learn to work together and do our best.
The people that care for us have a tough job that requires a ton of compassion. Caregivers can end up neglecting themselves in order to care for the unpredictability of a loved one with bipolar disorder. Both parties can have problems communicating, even during euthymic stages because bipolar patients still show cognitive impairment problems between cycles. It gets frustrating to feel like your partner isn’t doing their share around the house and that you’re carrying the weight of the relationship. It can cause strife, anger and resentment.
We all have to do our best. Make sure you and your loved ones are communicating as best they can. Deal with it in the moment. Letting it fester will only make things worse, especially because those of us with bipolar disorder will tend to react more strongly. Plan activities that don’t revolve around responsibilities or have anything to do with an illness. Try to be okay if these plans need to change. Also, seek counseling- not just for the patient, but for loved ones as well, and perhaps together if prescribed.
It’s possible to get through this. We just have to get through it together with compassion and understanding.