Articulating the inner experience of having a mental illness is hard. Like the saying goes, unless you’ve walked a mile in the other person’s shoes, there is no way of really knowing what it is like to have bipolar disorder (or any other illness, physical or mental.)

Previously, I’ve highlighted the voices of people with depression and adult ADHD. Today, the folks with the bipolar disorders get their moment in the spotlight. Here’s a sample of what people with bipolar disorder would like their partners to know:

  • “Bipolar disorder isn’t just about ‘depression’ and ‘mania’ (or hypomania, as in the case of bipolar II). There are a lot of in-between feelings and moods, too. I might be okay one day, and not the next. The key to managing my illness is recognizing triggers, patterns, and trends so that we can stop a mood episode before it gets out of hand.” (The book Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder by Julie Fast is a great resource for this!)
  • “Depression feels like living my life slogging through mud. Everything is impossible. But mania feels like a gift from God–everything is easy, I don’t need to sleep, I can get everything I need to done, and I finally feel relief. The problem is, mania is dangerous, and I may not be willing to admit that because I feel so good. I need you to insist that I be seen by my treatment team once you start to see the signs that I am becoming manic.”
  • “When I am stable, we have to work together to come up with a plan for what to do when I am not doing well. A psychiatric advance directive is a great tool to have in case I need to be hospitalized, but we also need a plan for how to handle home and work responsibilities if I become too depressed or manic to handle them.”
  • “Routine and stability are so important for people with bipolar disorder. I need to have enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, take my meds religiously, exercise regularly, watch my stress levels, live in a calm environment, and keep track of my moods in order to make sure nothing gets out of balance. As my partner, it helps a lot if you not only honor my needs for routine, but participate in them with me.”
  • “Many people don’t realize that irritability is a sign of bipolar disorder. Irritability can show up as part of depression or mania, although being irritable doesn’t necessarily mean the person has bipolar disorder. But it’s something to keep in mind when describing symptoms to a doctor.”
  • “When I am experiencing bipolar depression or mania, the real me is gone. You are dealing with an illness, not my real personality. I know I say and do hurtful things that I don’t mean when I am ill. Please learn how to respond to my illness so that our relationship isn’t damaged when I am sick.”
  • “People with bipolar disorder are very sensitive. Our brain chemistry is very different from people without this disorder, and some situations, events, and behaviors can really affect us in ways that might not bother you. Please honor the fact that we need to avoid triggers and stressful situations, and recognize that it will probably take us longer than you to recover from something stressful.”

There are several great websites/blogs out there written by people with bipolar disorder: