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Coping With Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme highs and extreme lows that affects millions of people. The lows that someone with bipolar disorder experiences are far lower than normal people feel, and the highs, well, they’re called “highs” for a reason.

Read more about bipolar disorder.

Coping with bipolar disorder, or having a loved one with bipolar disorder can be a challenging life. Those who experience bipolar disorder are not the only ones who suffer – their family and friends also struggle. It is a challenging, yet manageable life.

Here are some tips for coping with bipolar disorder: if you’re the one diagnosed with bipolar disorder if someone you love has bipolar disorder, as well as some things NOT to say and do for someone who has bipolar disorder.

How To Cope With Bipolar Disorder:

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder can evoke fear, terror, and relief all in the same breath. It’s nice to know WHY you’re doing what you’re doing, but it’s also a life-long mental illness that requires care. How can you manage?
Here are some tips for coping with bipolar disorder:

Remember that no matter how great the highs feel, they’re always accompanied by the lows. It’s the nature of the mood disorder.

Bipolar disorder, much like depression or PTSD, is a mental illness. Whether it’s Bipolar I or II, it still must be treated and managed, like any other illness – like kidney disease or diabetes.

There is no shame in having bipolar disorder. Take ownership of the disorder and learn to work past the destructive impulses it causes.

If you haven’t received professional help or gotten a diagnosis, don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Bipolar disorder isn’t a life sentence. No one will disown you. You can work through it, but only with the help of others.

Do not use your bipolar disorder – or any other mental illness – as a crutch. It’s not a way to explain why you spent $4K on a new couch while you’re in debt, or why you decided it was a good idea to quit your job on a whim.

Learn as much as you can about the way bipolar disorder affects you. Not every person who has bipolar disorder will experience the same symptoms in the same manner – learn as much as you can about bipolar disorder; the way it treats you and how to anticipate the highs and the lows, and manage your behavior accordingly.

Find a trusted friend or loved one to keep you in check – check-in regularly with this person about your feelings, your mania, and depression. Ask that this person help to keep you in check – let you know when you are being “too manic” or “too low.”

Before doing anything impulsive (such as quitting a job, moving across the country, or setting your refrigerator on fire), check in with this trusted individual. Sometimes, your brain will be telling you the truth – it’s a good idea to quit this job for a better opportunity. But doing so on a whim, making it “tomorrow’s problem,” is not a healthy or responsible way in which to live your life.

Remind yourself that being bipolar isn’t a personal sign of weakness or a result of something you did “wrong.” Your brain is wired differently, and that is okay.

Tell others about your bipolar disorder – they may not understand it, or how it affects you, but you can teach them a little bit about your mental illness.

Admit it when the highs and lows become too high and low. There is no shame in seeking out a therapist or support group to help learn new and different ways of coping with your bipolar disorder.

Find a support group that specializes in bipolar individuals – you can learn tips and tricks about coping with mental illness, develop a support system of people who understand why you feel the way you feel as well as having a place to check in and really talk about how you are feeling.

Be patient – it may take some time to adjust to medications, or for the medications to work properly, but in time, you will get better.

Become involved in your treatment – this is YOUR life – this is YOUR treatment – advocate for yourself! Be informed, know what the risks and the side effects are and closely monitor your feelings.

Don’t be afraid to try new cocktails of medication for bipolar disorder – what works for some people may not work for you.

If your current doctor or therapist isn’t helping, don’t hesitate to find another one.

Be truthful with your doctor – even if it’s embarrassing.

While it may be hard to see the light today, tomorrow is a new day. Remember that.

Take all medications as directed – while they’re not miracle cure-alls, they can help manage the high highs and low lows. Just be patient with them.

Know your triggers and how to avoid them.

Build structure into your life and make sure you’re making healthy and responsible choices about taking care of yourself.

Take care of yourself!

Keep stresses to a minimum wherever possible – learn to meditate or relax and build some leisure time into your everyday routine.

Many people with bipolar disorder self-medicate with substances such as alcohol or illegal drugs in order to cope with the extremes in mood. This is an unhealthy pattern of behavior. If this is a coping tool that you have used, don’t hesitate to seek help for it.

If you find yourself resorting to alcohol or drugs in order to “feel normal” don’t be afraid to admit that you’re not coping well – and that you may want to try some other therapies or medications in order to develop more positive coping skills.

If you have bipolar disorder and are self-medicating, use this time to get into rehab so that you can best manage your disorder while sober.

As many as one in every five adults who have bipolar disorder completes suicide. Do not make yourself a statistic.

Watch out for signs of deep, deep lows – if you begin to feel suicidal, do not hesitate to call 911 – this is an emergency.

If you’d just like to talk through your suicidal ideations, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

How To Help Someone With Bipolar Disorder:

Having a loved one with a mood disorder can be extremely challenging at times. Bipolar disorder comes with high highs and low lows, which can be very hard to watch. Here are some tips for loving someone with bipolar disorder:

Learn all you can about bipolar disorder – it can be a light-bulb “so THAT’S why” moment for you.

Remember that every person who has a mental illness experiences the signs and symptoms in a different way – there is no “text-book” example of someone with bipolar disorder.

Keep the lines of communication open. Have an open dialogue with your loved one about how you can best support them in tough times. Then make sure you can act on that discussion!

Reassure your loved one with Bipolar Disorder that the illness is not his or her fault.

Accept that your loved one has limits – he or she cannot control his or her moods and “snap out of it.”

Be their advocate – everyone needs someone in their corner. You, too, can be your loved one’s advocate.

Accept that YOU have limits too. If you’re finding yourself burnt out and exhausted, be sure to take a self-check and make certain you’re caring for yourself.

Recovery is not up to you – it’s up to the person who has bipolar disorder. You cannot make someone better by willpower alone.

Help to reduce the stresses in your loved one’s life. Bipolar disorder mood swings are often related to stresses in his or her life – help reduce these stresses wherever possible.

Do not expect that medication is the only solution to your loved one’s problems, but encourage your loved one to seek help.

Remember that no two people who have bipolar disorder will be treated in the same way – it’s often a game of trial and error with medications, therapies, and other treatments.

Objectively point out patterns of behavior when your loved one with bipolar disorder does or acts a certain way, but do so in a detached non-emotional manner: “I notice that you’ve quit the last three jobs because they were “boring.” Do you think that’s helpful?”

Explain that you’re there for your loved one no matter what – that he or she can call you at any day or night.

Remember that no matter how frustrating his or her behavior is, that he or she is coping with a mental illness that may be causing the odd behaviors.

Reassure your bipolar loved one that you love them; that there is no shame in having a mental illness and that mental illness is no different than a physical illness. Both must be treated and managed.

Remember that you cannot make someone with bipolar disorder “better,” but you can be there for them.

Ask direct questions of your loved one with bipolar disorder; do not make assumptions and do not pretend that the disorder does not exist.

Offer – and mean it – to help with the daily tasks – going to the grocery store, picking up the laundry. Sometimes, those of us who are mentally ill have trouble managing these tasks.

Take any signs of talk of suicide very seriously – many people who have bipolar disorder commit suicide. If you have ANY suspicion that your loved one may try suicide, do not hesitate to call 911. This is an emergency.

If coping with your loved one’s bipolar disorder becomes too much for you, don’t hesitate to seek out a therapist to talk to – mental illnesses are hard for everyone – including the loved ones of those who are mentally ill.

Help your loved one find a therapist and support group in his or her area that specializes in bipolar individuals. Offer to go with him or her to the support group meetings.

Point out things that are not helping your loved one cope in a healthy manner, such as self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

Ask your loved one for any suggestions as to the triggers that trigger his or her mania or depressive episodes and be vigilant about looking for these signs.

Be prepared for some self-destructive behaviors. When in the throes of a manic or depressive episode, someone with bipolar disorder may behave in a destructive manner.

Ask your loved one if there’s anything you can do to help with his or her treatment.

Ask about how he or she manages his or her bipolar disorder – sometimes, those of us with mental illness simply need to be able to talk about what we go through.

What To Say To Someone With Bipolar Disorder:

  • I’m here for you no matter what.
  • You aren’t alone.
  • I know that you have an illness and that’s why you’re behaving this way.
  • Any time you want to talk, I’m here.
  • Is there anything I can do to help?
  • I don’t always understand exactly how you feel, but I want to help – please let me help you.
  • You’re very important to me.
  • Your life is important to me.
  • We’ll get through this together.
  • These horrible feelings will change – things will begin to look up again.
  • Hold on – for another second, another minute, another day.

How NOT To Help Someone With Bipolar Disorder:

Sometimes, when we try to help someone who we love dearly, we inadvertently hurt them. Here are some strategies to AVOID when dealing with your loved one with bipolar disorder.

While you do not have to dwell on your loved one’s bipolar disorder, don’t make it a family secret. Openly discuss his or her bipolar disorder.

Do not shame the person or insinuate that he or she has bipolar disorder because he or she is weak.

Don’t ignore talk of suicide. If your bipolar loved one mentions suicide, take it seriously – this is a medical emergency.

Don’t compare your loved one and his or her bipolar disorder with that one guy on TV who has bipolar disorder or your best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s girlfriend’s cousin twice removed. No two cases of bipolar disorder ate the same.

Don’t expect that your loved one will suddenly “get better” just because he or she has begun to seek treatment. Treatment takes time and adjustments to really work.

Don’t assume that because your loved one seems better today, he or she is “cured.” This is a life-long illness that has to be kept in check closely.

Don’t take his or her behaviors personally. I know, it’s hard not to, but it’s not your fault, and often, someone with bipolar disorder can snap at you; really hurting your feelings.

Don’t get into an argument while your loved one is in the middle of a manic episode.

What NOT To Say To Someone With Bipolar Disorder:

  • Stop acting so damn crazy.
  • This is all in your head.
  • Stop worrying – you’re fine.
  • We’ve all been through times like these.
  • I saw this fad diet on Oprah for people with bipolar disorder.
  • You have SO much to live for – why would you want to die?
  • Look on the bright side.
  • Snap OUT of it.
  • What’s wrong with you?
  • Why aren’t you better yet?
  • I can’t help you.
  • We all get moody – what’s the big deal?
  • STOP being so bipolar!
  • Stop being so dramatic!