Editor's Note: This article was originally written by community member G.J. Gregory.
If your spouse or loved one has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you may be wondering what exactly to expect and how best to show your support. Expert Patient GJ Gregory shares his tips for helping a loved one cope.
So your spouse or loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and you are wondering how to handle it. Like many, you may run to the library and return with an armful of books that will take six months to read. Or you may jump on the Internet and try to wade through a thousand pages of useless information for one page of relevance. Or you may reach out to others that have similar afflictions. Here at BipolarConnect we try to give you the information you want, the way you want it.
So here is a quick top ten list of suggestions and things to remember if your loved one is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Keep in mind this is written from the point of view of the bipolar disorder "sufferer". In the near future, we'll revisit this topic from my wife's point of view.
1. Give us confidence. If you can make your partner or loved one feel good about him or herself, life will be SO much easier for both of you.
2. Take an active role in our treatment. Help with med administration. Don't count on us to be faithful to our medication, we all slip from time to time. If we are under the care of a psychiatrist or counselor, maybe a yearly session where you join us would be helpful. At a minimum, if you have questions or concerns write them down so we can take them with us to our appointments.
3. Recognize there are things we just can't bring ourselves to do, and try to work with us on this. For example, my wife pays the bills, as my stress level goes through the roof, and I blow up at the family if I try to do it. Of course, it's worse when I then give her a hard time for not "doing it right". When this happens, try to be understanding.
4. Remember that we have certain strengths and super-hero abilities at times. Take advantage of this. For example, if we go hypomanic and suddenly desire intimacy for hours on end, or multiple times per day, help us out. Keep in mind our meds sometimes take this desire away for months on end, so when it does come around use this to your advantage. You might even go so far as to say "Paint the house and I'll fulfill that little fantasy you've been hinting at for years..." The house will be painted in a matter of hours.
5. When we get in a really bad frame of mind, and we all do, be there for us. Don't be afraid, don't put up a defense against us, don't brace yourself for something bad. Be there to talk and support. It may not be pleasant, personally I can be downright mean when in a bad frame of mind. But you'll both be glad you were there.
6. We know when we've made fools of ourselves, or done something bold, brash, or stupid. We'll be embarrassed to face you, or others affected. Don't hang us out to dry. Step up and support us, not in a condescending way, but as you would with any loved one. Don't say "that's the bipolar disorder talking" or something like that. We may say that, but please let that be our decision. Accept us, don't dwell on it, give us a hug to show you understand, and move on. We'll be eternally grateful.
7. Embrace our diagnosis, it's not going to change, and may not improve. Meds can control it, but we won't be "cured". Realize that it's not always a bad thing, we're still the same people we've always been. To look at the bright side, we now even have an official title.
8. Remember that even though we're diagnosed, and likely medicated, things aren't necessarily going to be easy. In fact, when the bad times come around, we now know what's happening, and we understand why. Rather than use our old (and maybe dangerous) coping techniques, we may try harder to rein in our feelings and behaviors. This can make these episodes even more dangerous and volatile than before.
9. Help us to recognize those coping mechanisms that may not be good for us. We may not realize we are doing something, and the gentle input from a loved one may be extremely valuable.
10. Watch for triggers, and watch our behavior for clues of an upcoming change of mood or frame of mind. You are in the best position to recognize this, and to help us see and understand this.
There's not much that love, understanding, and trust can't improve. Keep the love flowing, be understanding of our limitations, and continue to trust us. We'll try hard to do the same for you.