Bipolar disorder can be a challenge to navigate. The disorder is fundamentally characterized by dramatic mood swings and can lead to struggles in personal relationships. The National Institute of Health estimates that nearly 2.6 million Americans are currently effected by the disorder. This means that many loved ones are faced with the challenges involved in supporting individuals with this disorder. In order to provide the best support network possible, there are several things to keep in mind when working with an individual with bipolar disorder.
1. They experience emotions on extra loud when in a state of mania
Although we usually explain mood swings in terms of highs and lows, it is not the case that bipolar individuals feel all great happy things when in a state of mania. Instead, all the emotions one normally experiences are on a more intense setting. Everything comes through louder and it can be very difficult to navigate everyday life with such an intensity.
2. They have to navigate a lot of complex medications
Currently, medications for bipolar disorder do not effect everyone equally. As a result, each individual has to work through a complicated web of proper medications in order to find the best balance. This takes time and energy from the individual and can lead to higher levels of stress.
3. They miss perceiving the world as they did prior to the disorder
Depression and mania can cause one’s perception of the world to change dramatically. This can be both exhausting and frustrating. When the medications start to balance out and things begin to stabilize, the individual may again see things through a more normal lens. This can be a great feeling, but it can also be frightening because its unclear if this will last.
4. They enjoy parts of mania, but ultimately feel exhausted by them
There are parts of mania which are exciting and fun. Colors are more vibrant and individuals often feel incredibly empowered; however, every episode of mania comes with a deep slide into depression. The obsession and highs of mania take incredible amounts of energy and ultimately wear the individual out.
5. They sometimes consider going off their medication
This is not true for all individuals with bipolar disorder, but when the medications begin to work and stabilize the everyday experiences of the individual, it can take some time to adjust. The life of an individual with bipolar disorder is filled with extremes. When medications begin to remove some of those extremes, it may feel somewhat boring. This sensation typically passes as the individual realizes this is a healthier way of life, but before that realization can come, he or she may be tempted to return to the extremes.
6. They often struggle to be open about their disorder
Revealing one’s struggles with bipolar disorder can lead to feeling vulnerable. It takes a lot of guts to trust another individual with this information, even though he or she may really want to help their loved ones understand the explanation behind their sometimes unusual behavior.
7. They experience more than the normal ups and downs of life
Everyone feels highs and lows, but individuals with bipolar disorder are experiencing much more. It is important to respect this difference and not put unreasonable expectations on the individual as a result.
8. They are not alone in their struggles with mental health
Millions of Americans struggle with mental health issues. Although bipolar disorder has its own unique characteristics, many people are trying to navigate the complexities of mental health. That means those trying to support such individuals are also not alone. Seek support if you need it.
9. They don’t necessarily want your sympathy
Of course we all need a bit of sympathy here and there, but you shouldn’t assume right off the bat that sympathy is required. It is best to listen and try to understand as much as you can. Avoid saying you understand more than you do, and be weary of giving out too much advice. Just be a friend that listens and you will be great.
10. They will never “cure” their disorder, but can learn to manage it
Bipolar disorder is with the individual for a lifetime. There is no medical solution to curing the condition. Through medication and often therapy the disorder can be managed so the individual may live a healthier life, but there currently is no “cure.”
11. They may or may not be more creative than the average person
There has been some research indicating a connection between bipolar disorder and creativity; however, creative abilities are not necessarily part of the package. For some, such as Stephen Fry and Demi Lovato, their disorder does seem to contribute to their creativity.
12. They were not diagnosed via a specific test
Bipolar disorder is complex and currently there is no single test one can take to determine if he or she has the disorder. As a result, it often takes some time and careful analysis from a professional to receive the diagnosis. As a loved one, you are probably not in the best position to diagnose someone or seriously challenge the diagnosis, so take concerns directly to the doctors if necessary.
13. They want to know you love them, no matter what their current state
Whether its a moment of mania, or a time slice in the depths of depression, stability and love are critical. The world is an extreme place for someone with this disorder, and whatever pieces of stability they can latch onto are critical to their sense of well being. You can help by being consistent and finding ways to communicate your love to the individual.
14. They might need you to wait until they are ready
Sometimes the best you can do for someone with bipolar disorder is give them the time they need. Although your friend may want to come out with you or call you on the phone, sometimes they truly need some time to process through their current experience. Sometimes the gift of time is truly the greatest a friend can give.
15. They want to be treated like everybody else
Bipolar disorder comes with a lot of unusual experiences, but deep down each person longs to live a normal life. Its important that those supporting such individuals strive to provide the space needed for this individual’s health, but whenever possible, he or she should be treated like everybody else.