Listening to Bipolar - From Both Patients and Loved Ones

John McManamy Health Guide
  • One of the tragedies of our illness is how it rips apart our families. Check out the various posts and questions and comments from readers on this site and you will find all the proof you need. From a family member's perspective, it's as if the mother ship abducted their precious loved one and substituted him or her with an alien impostor. Meanwhile, a patient suddenly finds him or herself a stranger in a strange land.


    Neither party seems to understand the strange customs of the other. Stuff happens, words get said. Things fall apart. The center does not hold ...


    Last week, I presented a two-part Question of the Week. The first part was aimed at patients: How much allowance, if any, should those close to you make for your illness-related behavior? Should your colleagues at work and others you run across make similar allowances?

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    "Jane," who is looking to return to the workforce after a long period of unemployment, laid it on the line: "I would not expect bosses to bend over backwards, make overt allowances, or treat me any differently than anyone else," she writes. But the one time she shared her illness with co-workers "led to me not being any longer employed through no fault of my own."


    As for friends, "they simply no longer answered the phone, no longer had time to meet for lunch, no longer ... "


    Then she has to put up with family members who "berate me continually about what I'm not doing well enough at and when I go into a episode of extreme depression - for they love my mania - they too, simply disappear or roll their eyes and say 'you suck the living life out of everyone when you are like this.'" Thus: "I no longer involve nor include them."


    Similarly, "Ellen" observes: "Only two people have stuck by me. All of my family turned against me. ... I live mostly in isolation now because of my bipolar. I do not date and most of my girlfriends stopped being so because of my disorder. It is very hard to maintain a healthy attitude under these circumstances."


    And from "Angie": "These last years have been very difficult on me. My son, who is my only child, has turned away from me. We still speak but only on his terms. I am not allowed to speak of depression or bipolar. So bipolar cost me the most important and dear relation. I love my son dearly and I feel such a loss, one that no matter how hard I try, I just cannot get over."


    The second part of my query was directed at loved ones and others: Do you feel the bipolar individual in your life too often fails to take responsibility for his or her behavior?


    "Sophia," who whose untreated husband cannot control his irritability around her (his "soulmate"), wonders "why can he control it around some people and not others?" "I do love him," she concludes. "I just can't stand him."


    But she also observed: "I feel badly reading about everyone's loss of friends and family due to their bipolar. I recognize that this curse could happen to anyone."


    Ellen responded sympathetically: "As a bipolar, I do not know why someone would not treat their illness. There are meds out there and therapy. ... So, in my mind, I think you could insist that your husband seek treatment as part of your agreement to stay with him."


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    This, in turn, drew a kind response from Sophia: "It is very nice to share with an obviously intelligent and self-aware person. I have much I would like to talk to you more about this, perhaps in a less public forum ... "


    And these words of wisdom: "People who have not been around those with mental illness have such disdain for those who have it. They do not recognize that it is as much of a physical illness as cancer or multiple sclerosis. Ironically, it is much easier for me to have sympathy for you than for my husband, since I am not the victim of your condition. I still do sympathize for him, but I also ache for myself and my family. Our story is fairly hair raising, but I guess yours is too."


    A dialogue, a precious dialogue. As "Jill," who sees it from both sides in a family torn apart by the illness observes: "If we as a family were able to sit down and talk about this thing, it would help so much. I also think that anytime an opportunity for people to sit down and discuss any subject presents itself, that it's beneficial. At the very least, everyone understands where each other is coming from...its a win, win."

Published On: November 06, 2009