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What Not to Say to a Person With Bipolar Disorder (and What You Should)

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I’ve had some incredibly touching experiences in the midst of my struggles with bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, it’s also par for the course that I’ve had some really sh*tty ones, too. Over the last decade, I’ve heard so many things, like “There’s nothing really wrong with you, you’re just an attention whore” or “It’s all in your head.” And to that I cheerily reply, “Of course, it is happening inside my head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” I feel like Dumbledore would be proud.

I’ve come up with a list of phrases I’ve heard over the last 20 years or so that I feel you should never say to someone with bipolar disorder, and why I believe they shouldn’t be said.

1. Snap out of it.

I really hate this expression, because I feel it insinuates I’m choosing to act this way, whatever way that might be. That I have a switch I can flip to go back to “normal.” Fighting the struggles of bipolar disorder can be an all-encompassing job, and to imply I’m not doing all I can to feel better is insulting. Sometimes, all I can do is make it from my bed to my couch, which can feel equivalent to a hike up Mount Everest when I’m depressed. While walking 20 feet can be too much to handle, “snapping out of it” is an even more impossible task.

2. “Why are you doing this to me?

Talk about a guilt trip from hell. I really despise this, because it can make you feel even worse about something you can’t control by implying that you’re doing this on purpose, to be vindictive, or for any other reason. It’s as if they’re trying to make you own their emotions, and give you a weight you don’t need to carry.

3. “Happiness is a choice.”

This one really gets to me. Yes, there are choices you can make to lead to happiness, but there is more to it than that. There are other people who can affect your path to happiness. There are neurotransmitters that affect your happiness. There are situational factors that affect it as well. I’m a fan of Viktor Frankl, who wrote about finding happiness after surviving the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. He even created a school of thought from what he learned there, called logotherapy. He knew you couldn’t just choose happiness — you had to work for it. Albus Dumbledore once said, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” I love this quote, because it reminds me that what I focus on is what I see best. If I’m dwelling in the dark, I’m not going to find happiness.

4. “Have you thought of trying ____?” or “You should get off all those pills.”

I know this one may be well-meaning, and it’s usually brought up in a loving manner, but to me, it’s still patronizing. It hurts because I have a doctor, and 99 percent of the people in my life know I have a doctor, and we work quite well as a team to keep me stable. I’m not going to risk my stability on an herb that could have grave consequences should I try it. And quitting my meds? I’ve burned so many bridges that the people suggesting this to me likely didn’t know me when I was off all those pills. They wouldn’t want to see that. I know I don’t.

5. “You’ve got it so good, why are you depressed?

This one hurts, probably the most to me right now. I am fully aware of how incredible my life is, how blessed I am and everything I have to be grateful for. I still cry big tears of sadness and feel like I don’t deserve any of it. It’s possible to have a great life and still be depressed. Pointing out everything great doesn’t make the depression go away; it just makes me hate myself more for being an ungrateful brat.

So, what can you say to someone with bipolar disorder? You can say, “I see you’ve been struggling lately, what can I help with?” You can say, “I see you, and I am here with you.” You can even just be silent, and sit and give your presence as a show of solidarity with the person struggling. You can just listen instead of talking. You can offer a hug. I know for me, I had one experience in the psych ward where I was just devastated and the tears wouldn’t stop coming, and the nurse on duty just came and sat with me. And listened. And just her presence was enough to calm me down. She then gave me a hug and gave me an encouraging platitude, and it was enough. I’ve never forgotten that, even though I’m sure she probably doesn’t remember this at all by now. Never underestimate the power of silence.

We all just want to be accepted as we are, warts and all. Treat us as you would want to be treated. And remember this above all: In a world where you can be anything, be kind.

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I Finally Found the Right Medication for My Bipolar Disorder

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It hasn’t been long since I started my journey to mental health recovery. In fact, I officially started just this past June, but I began dipping my feet into the world of psychiatric care about a year ago. Damn, has it been one hell of a year.

First of all, let me say recovery from a mental health issue isn’t always something that’s permanent nor a cure. Sure, in some cases, someone may find a cure and their depression can go away. Yet, this is not the case for a lot of us.

For us, recovery means fighting a constant battle. It means waking up every day knowing while you’re still sick, you actively choose to not let it win. Recovery isn’t linear, either. It has its ups and downs. Sometimes, it stays level. Some days, recovery looks like applying for jobs and cleaning. Other days, it looks like lying in bed and Netflix binge-watching. It’s all OK as long as we survive.

Right now, I’m in an “up” place in my recovery. Thank God. Although, I’m not too sure I can trust it to be honest. I don’t know if it’s because of my medication, an effect of a new relationship or if I’m in a hypomania state. I can’t tell you 100 percent which one it is.

I can tell you this:

Two weeks ago, I contemplated suicide.

Two weeks ago, I had to spend time with my new boyfriend almost every night to make sure I stayed alive. (He doesn’t know that.)

Two weeks ago, I was on the wrong medication.

Let me tell you a little bit about being on the wrong medication for bipolar ll disorder. It’s hell. The first few days, it worked wonderfully. I was as productive and energetic as ever. It was a miracle. I felt like myself from more than a decade ago. Then, it took it all away. As my dose went up, my emotions went down. I became numb. The only time I could feel was when I was with my soon-to-be boyfriend, and I knew that was not healthy for us.

It took away my will to live. It took away my joy and my logical thoughts. I wanted to self-harm, but I didn’t. I wanted to die, but I didn’t. In the evenings, I’d get so depressed I couldn’t get off my sofa. I found myself wanting to go to bed at 5 p.m.

I wasn’t me. I could see this person I was, this person I didn’t know. I didn’t like her very much. She was dependent, lonely and afraid. I was afraid for her.

Moreover, one of the side effects was a low sex drive. I’ll admit that ain’t me normally. It drove me bonkers. I had this new boyfriend, but I didn’t want him to touch me. I didn’t want to be intimate with him. I couldn’t feel any emotions between us. I felt like I was just there. This, along with the other downfalls of it all, continued for a few days after stopping the medication.

Now, I can breathe. Honestly, I’m in total shock as I sit here and write this. Not only do I have my ever so lovely sex drive back, but I can feel emotion again, even when I’m alone! This in itself is amazing to me. I’m finally on the right medication.

All it took was a change in my antipsychotic medication and a change in one of my stimulants. I take the antipsychotic medication before bed and the stimulant in the afternoons. My evening depression is gone! Normally, all I can do is lie on my sofa feeling sorry for myself about being physically alone.

Tonight, everything changed. Not only am I able to write this, but I’ve been cleaning. Actually cleaning as in organizing, making piles and cleaning! I’m happy! I’m alone, and I’m content. My boyfriend isn’t staying over tonight and that’s OK. I’m OK. I’ll be able to go to sleep with a smile on my face.

Wow, I’m OK. That’s the first time I’ve meant that in years. I’m OK. Damn, that’s nice to say.

For anyone struggling to find the right medication, hang in there. Trust me. Once you find it, you’ll know how worth it it was. It’s so worth it to be able to function by yourself. To not have to beg your best friend to kick you in the ass or give you a pep talk. To not have to pout and ask your boyfriend to spend time with you to get you out of your own mind. It’s truly refreshing to be able to breathe and say, I’m OK.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Truths People With Bipolar Disorder Wish Others Understood

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What I Learned About Bipolar Disorder After My Most Recent Hospitalization

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A couple of weeks ago I wound up in the ER for my bipolar disorder– I was experiencing a mixed episode, filled with mania, anxiety, depression and urges to self-harm or do drugs. I even felt delusional about the limitless possibilities in my life, all the while feeling hopeless and empty.

What led me to this moment? My antidepressant — after being on the highest dose for more than two years, had finally crashed and burned. It was deemed ineffective. I also had gone off a drug that helped me with mania a couple months prior because I irrationally feared it made me gain weight (it didn’t… this was simply my eating disorder speaking). No wonder my mood was constantly swinging from severe depression to hypomania and intense mixed states!

What I learned after being stabilized in the psychiatric unit for a few days, is how crucial medication is for bipolar, and in my case, also anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Bipolar disorder, I finally understand, is a truly an illness of the brain. If I’m on the right meds I can function. If I’m not, I cannot. While therapy certainly helps me cope, as well as with my other disorders, bipolar disorder is best managed through the proper medication.

I’m happy I’m now on my proper medication cocktail — a new anti-depressant and mood stabilizer. I learned that medication, in some cases, especially with bipolar, may very well be the main key to being healthy.

Editor’s note: This piece is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Consult your doctor before starting and stopping medication.

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When Bipolar Disorder Keeps You Trapped Inside Your Mind

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I am trapped inside my mind. I shout. I rebel. I long for expression. Yet, I sit silent. My words, my connection, with you is severed. I don’t think this is my fault. You see, I need you to hear me. My voice, well, has “left the building.” My bipolar depression has wrapped itself around me. I am muffled at best.

The world spins. Days rise and set. I sit. Staring at the wall. Resting.

Movement is slow and overwhelming. Getting out of bed is an accomplishment. Brushing my teeth over the top. Accolades do not resonate. Guilt hangs on my chest.

Why can’t I do more? Go to work? Cook a simple meal? Even think about making coffee? I’m so exhausted. Yet, I haven’t actually moved in days.

I left messages with my boss, with my therapist, with my psychiatrist. Not necessarily in that order. Explaining. Maybe it mostly sounded like excuses. The honesty I exuded was painful then. Admitting my cognition, stamina and memory was compromised took all I had.

However, really looking back, it was probably obvious to others. I was barely hanging on. My face often flush, looking hung over. Raw. Fragile. The hangover was from emotion, floods of tears and uncertainty. White knuckling a mood disorder.

The darkness has moved in. Rented space without a lease. I didn’t know it was coming, and I don’t know when it would leave. Scary synopsis for a person with bipolar disorder. The reality of daylight savings time has me quivering. Bold black night greeting me at 5 p.m. It affects me, deeply.

My action plan, if I can muster the energy? Walk in the midday sunlight. Big cleansing breaths with sun on my face. Quiet time in the holiday craze. If that’s not possible, then I steal just five minutes here and there. I have a Youtube video with a song called “Breathe” I listen to in headphones. Just me and the music. It’s a reminder and a reprieve at the same time.

Fall is a time of beauty. A cleansing as the rains come. For me personally, it’s a time to really take notice of my internal clock. My tolerance or intolerance of noise, light and crowds. As the leaves change, so does my mood. Historically speaking, I’m vulnerable this time of year. Armed with this information, I can do my best to manage all that comes.

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