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The First 48 Hours: Telling Your Family and Friends About Bipolar Disorder

Whether or not to tell your friends and family about bipolar disorder is a difficult decision. Here you'll find tips on how and what to share.

By John McManamy
Read John's Blog.

The five most hated words to someone with bipolar disease are: “Just snap out of it.”

I’ve found myself biting my tongue and force-feeding those words back down my throat more than once. You see, as well as being a patient, I am the loved one of a patient. If you think my own illness drives me crazy, you should see how my wife’s illness drives me crazy. Yes, even I – sensitive, loving, caring me - can be driven to the brink.

By the same token, I’m capable of arousing hate in Mother Teresa. I exaggerate only slightly. Mother Teresa is my wife, Susan. I wonder how she puts up with me.

So, what chance can you possibly have with family and friends? Is there any point in trying to establish a rapport, or should you quit while you’re still behind?

First, the bad news. Unless your family and friends are drowning in the same end of the gene pool as you are, they can never understand the illness. It’s like trying to explain a headache to someone who has never had a headache. You may as well tell them that Jupiter’s great red spot is acting up today, . that’s why you’re behaving a bit strangely.

The good news is that family and friends will rally to your cause despite their hopeless ignorance. These people will prove indispensable in your quest to get well and stay well.

Family Relationships

Chances are, disclosing your disease to family is a moot point. They probably suspected you had bipolar disorder long before you did. After all, your Attila-the-Hun moments are pretty hard to hide from those residing under the same roof. Odds are they were the ones who dragged you kicking and screaming to the emergency room in the first place. They have seen you at your very worst. You are blessed to have them still in your life. Many of us haven’t been so lucky.

Following is some practical advice, based on my experiences as both a patient and family member:

• Keep your expectations realistic. From your family’s perspective, your illness will always be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

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