As human beings we have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If you think about it this way, bipolar disorder commits human-rights violations on a daily basis. We’re essentially imprisoned by our disease as it dictates our brain function and our ability to be ourselves and who we want to be. It can take away our lives. Up to half of us will attempt suicide at some point. Fifteen percent of us will be successful. We may be able to pursue happiness, but when you’re ensconced in depression, it’s hard to focus on the target. Because of all of this, we need a guide, an advocate. We need more than pills; we need a support system, and the best place to find it is at home.
Life is stressful enough without mental illness. We have jobs. We have friends and families. We have bills to pay. Add an innate inability to think straight along with the physical effects of bipolar disorder, all of this gets amped up. When an episode occurs, whether manic or depression, it’s incredibly difficult to cope alone. We need the same friends and family members we support to support us in return. If you are a loved-one of someone with bipolar, or any illness for that matter, I beg you to try your best to be supportive. We’re not easy to deal with, and we know that, even if we’re not willing to admit it, but there are some ways to help all of deal with it a little better.
The best way to empathize with someone is to know what they’re going through. Sometimes it’s hard for those of us with mental illness to express what we feel exactly, so it’s better if you hit the books, so to speak. There is a plethora of information at your fingertips to find out more about bipolar disorder. You do need to be careful, though, because there is a lot of wrong information out there too. Take a look at my article on research to find out some tips.
Take Advantage of Therapy
Therapy is not just good for the person with the illness, it’s good for everyone involved. There are a few options for this. You can see a therapist individually, with the person suffering from the illness, or both. Consider this: when you add partner/family therapy to a patient’s treatment, everyone copes better. Relationships are more stable. Patients are more likely to stick with their medications and treatments, and their overall function improves. If you can’t afford a therapist, call a psychiatric hospital or office in your area and they may be able to give you options for care. Pastors will also often see church members for free.
Try Not to Shame Us
The idea behind this is simple: it doesn’t help. In fact, if you berate us for having a psychological illness or demean us for actions and feelings we can’t control, the situation will get worse. When we feel stigmatized, our ability to function worsens. It is absolutely frustrating at times to deal with someone who sometimes cannot even get out of bed. This is when returning to empathy and therapy come in handy for all involved. You need to know we don’t do this on purpose and we need to recognize that you’re under pressure too.
Tell Us How You Feel
This is delicate, and can easily slip into us feeling shamed or guilty. It’s like walking on eggshells trying to deal with someone in the midst of a bipolar cycle. Work on your communication skills with your partner/family member/friend. In between phases, come up with key phrases you can use to communicate such as: I feel like I’m not getting the support that I need. It would really help me out if you could contribute more. I realize that you are struggling, but I need you to realize that I’m a part of this struggle. It feels good to hear that you recognize that I support you.
Do Something Small
I’m not sure why, but this impacts me in a huge way. When my husband offers to walk the dog for me because he knows I’ve had a hard day or my friend asks if I want to go check on her cats because she knows I can struggle with being around a lot of people, it means the world to me. Not only does it help me when I’m in the situation, but it’s a clear message that I’m loved and have the support I need without even having to ask for it. You don’t need to move mountains; a small gesture will do.
I’m forever grateful for the support that I get, and I hope you and your loved ones can experience that same support from one another. We’re all in this together, after all.
You can find me on Twitter: @LaRaeRLaBouff