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How People With Bipolar Disorder Are Like a Family


Hello, I’m Anna and I have bipolar disorder.

I’ve been involved in support groups for over a year now. At the group, we introduce ourselves by our name and diagnosis. At first, I felt a little uncomfortable with it. Why am I defining myself by my diagnosis? But now I like it. By sharing our diagnoses, we are able to connect with others. I see people with various illnesses being relieved that another group member has the same disorder and they are not alone. People nod and smile, seeing that someone understands. Somehow, with bipolar disorder, it feels a little different. When people realize there is someone else with bipolar disorder, there seems to be an instant, intense connection. They become excited, lock eyes, and often direct their conversations in group towards each other, towards the person who “gets it.”  Bipolar disorder is an emotional and intense illness that sometimes feels like it envelopes us. Being able to share those emotions, that intensity other people don’t seem to understand… it’s an amazing thing.

I love meeting other people with bipolar disorder. They always feel like relatives — like brothers, sisters and cousins. We seem to speak the same language. Especially (for me) people with bipolar 1, since that is the type I have. We are intense, passionate, affected by seasons and body changes. Our energy level changes, our illness changes. We live our lives within the syncopated rhythms of bipolar disorder. It is amazing to meet other people who understand the rhythm.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a close friend I met at a support group. I asked her whether work is triggering her moods, since she tends to be manic in the fall. She thought about it for a while and then responded, “Somewhat.” She talked to me about how she has no one really to talk to about her mood problems… except for me. I’m part of the family.

Last week I called an old friend, who also has bipolar disorder and has difficulty managing her moods. We talked about all different things, but eventually, conversation came back to how we are managing our bipolar. She shared with me her recent praises and frustrations. I empathized and shared my story. We always talk about our therapy sessions, psychiatrists and medications. We can talk about everything. She tells me I’m her only friend who understands, though her mother tries. I nod. I’m part of her bipolar family.

I got into an argument with another writer last month. She was criticizing a recent article I attempted to write related to suicide. She was criticizing me for trying to write about something I don’t know enough about. Her comments were hurtful, though I may have deserved them. Then she shared that she was bipolar. I quickly responded that I am bipolar as well. We began excitedly talking about mental illness and writing. A conversation flipped from criticism and defensiveness to something like friendship. She applauded me for my efforts in raising awareness about mental illness, even if all my attempts are not successful. We have talked several times since then. She and I have differences, but we’re in the same family, so we get each other.

Lately, at support meetings, I am usually the only person with bipolar disorder there. But recently, I was at a meeting and two new people with bipolar disorder showed up. We were all incredibly excited to meet two other people who understood us. We were talking back and forth about our stories, even staying after group to talk. I felt understood and welcomed. I’m not alone. I’m part of an amazing family of people with bipolar disorder.

If you have just been diagnosed, welcome. Welcome to the family of bipolar disorder. You are not alone.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text L§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§§ine by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Milkos