Helping Bipolar Disorder Families Understand
by Patty E. Fleener M.S.W.
If you are like me, you will or have reached a point in your life where you ask
that million dollar question "why do bad things happen to good
people?" "Is there any meaning to my suffering?"
If you are in the midst of much pain, trying to survive your bipolar disorder,
you are not afforded the luxury of this question. I have often explained to
people that being very ill is a full time job. It takes every ounce of your
energy, every moment of your day just to get through the day. Am I not correct?
How do we explain this to our families? This is very difficult to do as our
illness is "unseen." We cannot show someone a physical open wound to
show how much pain we are in. They would take one look at that, tell you to sit
right down, get you a pillow, offer you something to eat or drink and have that
concerned and understanding look on their faces.
However with the bipolar disorder, you will hear from many people that they
would rather have a broken leg any day than suffer the kind of pain these
disorders inflict. To me, a broken leg is even a poor example to compare
suffering to these disorders and an insult to those of us with those disorders.
People do not take their lives because of a broken leg. They do however over
these disorders very frequently - much too frequently.
I am speaking to families now. You must see with your ears and your heart what
your eyes cannot see. You must listen carefully to what your loved one is
telling you. What they describe to you may not make much sense to you and may be
difficult for you to understand. Sometimes it may seem to you to be a different
universe that they discuss. Know that it probably is. You don't have to fully
understand their universe and you cannot possibly. However hear their pain,
listen for red flags always of any danger signals where you may need added
assistance. I like to call it "sending in the troops." Anytime your
loved one does not seem in touch with reality, or seems at risk for suicide,
homicide or any high risk behavior, it is time for you to call 911 if it is an
immediate risk or their counselor and/or their Dr. If you don't know who to
call, call 911 and ask them. Tell them what is happening.
You will hear many things from your loved one that to you seem so easy to
resolve. You may wonder why they make the same "wrong" decisions over
and over again. Why haven't they learned by this time? Why can't they see the
senselessness of their behavior? They may seem to be getting their life together
and them bottom out all over again.
What is happening here? Is your loved one lazy, stupid, immoral, etc? Nope.
Their physical brain is very different than yours. They experience the universe
differently than the way you do. They feel different than you do. If they are
manic they may be spending money or driving unsafely. They may be cutting
themselves if they have the bpd. They might be discussing suicide because they
are depressed. They might have gotten fired for the 33rd time because the boss
didn't like their personality or because they blew up at work again. Your loved
one may treat you cruelly and say horrible things to you. You may wonder what
you said or did that made them angry. Do they experience mood swings? Never know
what mood they will wake up with?
Are they bad? No! They have a physical illness and it isn't their fault and they
didn't ask for it and they don't deserve it.
Well if they are physically ill then maybe families should just put up with
whatever they put them through?? No way!
No matter what, no matter what reason, it is not ok for anyone to cause any form
of abuse to another person - physical, verbal, etc. Don't put up with it. Set
boundaries for your loved one. Protect your peace of mind. Be there for them but
let them know that you will not tolerate being hurt. Let them know exactly where
the boundaries are.
What if your loved one is ill and they don't want to get help? They don't get
help, that's what happens and you must decide if this is a situation that you
can live with. Do not become codependent with your loved one. Remember you are
powerless over this person. You are not their counselor or their Dr. If they
choose not to get help, the case is closed. You can only intervene in emergency
situations - danger to themselves, danger to others or gravely disabled. What do
you do in these situations? Call 911.
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Copyright © Patty Fleener, M.S.W. All