10 Things I Want My Family to Understand About Me as Someone With Bipolar Disorder


I made a list similar to this one shortly after my first hospitalization in 1999. My family was anxious to help me along in my recovery, but they had no idea what would help and what would not. After several years of learning about my bipolar disorder and discovering what works and what doesn’t, I developed this list.

I hope this piece will encourage readers to open up to their loved ones about their illnesses. I hope this will encourage those with similar illnesses not to be afraid to admit that they have limitations and need help from time to time.

The last item on the list I stress above all others. I want my loved ones to know I am thankful for their love and support, and I am the same old me they know and love. Having bipolar disorder has not changed that.

1. Trying to “fix me” will not work. I have a team of care providers (psychiatrist, therapist, case worker) who will help me. I appreciate your concern and I am grateful to have people who care around me, but you aren’t my doctors or therapists.

2. I have good days and bad days, just like you. My good days can fall anywhere between “pretty good” and “joyous”; the bad days can range from sort of blah to crushingly depressing. This happens to everyone; however, the good days are too good and the bad days are too bad in my case. When I’m set in those extremes, it’s hard for me to function at all.

3. It is OK to call me out on my bad behavior. This illness often clouds my judgment when it comes to my behavior. There are times when I’m so irritable I want to bite the heads of everyone I encounter. There are also times when my mind is so unfocused, my daily responsibilities are neglected. It’s OK for you to point these things out to me. Don’t feel like you have to walk on eggshells.

4. My mood shifts have absolutely nothing to do with you. If suddenly I become sad, or angry, or confused, don’t take it personally, and please don’t try to cheer me up. You did nothing to cause it. It’s just my unbalanced brain’s skewed reaction to any stimulus.

5. Some days I may really need your help. As I stated previously, this illness clouds my judgment sometimes. Sometimes I will forget to take my medication. Sometimes I really have a hard time controlling my impulses.

6. Just because I take medication and go to therapy does not mean I will be “cured” someday. The best I can hope for is remission (which means mental and emotional stability) for a period of time. Most likely I will need treatment for my condition for the rest of my life.

7. This condition affects me in different ways. I am emotional unstable at times. The disease also clouds my thinking and inhibits my concentration to the point that tasks others might take for granted (reading a book, watching a movie, training for a new job, etc.) are next to impossible sometimes (see #2.). I try my best, but sometimes I fall short. That’s OK.

8. This condition makes life planning challenging for me, to say the least. During the bad times it’s all I can do to survive from one day to the next; I don’t know what will be going on with me a week from now, much less 10 years from now. Again, I just live day to day and do the best I can. I set goals for myself; sometimes I get there, sometimes I don’t. That’s OK.

9. I am a good, loving person. I am not violent. I don’t want to hurt anyone, physically or emotionally, and I do my best to avoid it. I am able to have healthy, loving relationships and enjoy life. I have a lot to contribute to the world.

10. (Most importantly) I love you. I am not making this list because I believe you to be ignorant or cold-hearted. I know you love me and care about me, but are at a loss sometimes when it comes to knowing how to deal with me. You are an important part of my life and my recovery. I am grateful for your support.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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