Wednesday, 15 November 2017

One Small Chip: Living with Psychosis, by Roiben

Psychosis is one of the biggest Taboos still around in the Mental Health world, and by extension, in the world as a whole. You don’t often hear of people talking about Psychosis, whereas nowadays you may hear more about Depression, Bi-Polar, Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD and so on. You don’t often get told “I have (or I experience) Psychosis”.

So, what makes Psychosis such a big Taboo? Is it the unknown element that comes as a part of it? By definition Psychosis is hearing, seeing, feeling and believing things which others do not experience. It is much harder to empathize with someone suffering from Psychosis because it is harder to imagine being in that situation. One can extend one’s level of understanding for example with Depression – because everyone can understand feeling unbearably sad, having no motivation, or even the emptiness of emotion that can come as part and parcel of the disease. Yes, these things are not all and everything of experiencing Depression, but one can understand that it feels more than this. One can empathize.

Psychosis is a level of unknown that is so different for each individual experiencing it, that it is much harder to generalize and fit into a box of “it must be like when I experienced X that day, but to a bigger degree”.

Mental Illness as a whole gets blamed for a lot of things – if there is a murder, or a terrorist attack, or someone steals something from the local shop, the first thing asked in the modern-day media is: Have they got a Mental Illness? Hell, even Donald Trump is candidate for having a Mental Illness, and has been couch-diagnosed by so many people, purely because he is not your standard Politician (okay, he is a terrible Politician, but we won’t go into that here).

Psychosis is a major trigger point for being considered “at risk to other people”, even in the Mental Health field. Go to any A&E and describe an experience they count as Psychosis and the first question you will be asked is: “Have you ever hurt anybody else?” and “Have you ever been in trouble with the Police?” In the “real-world” of out there, hearing someone has Psychosis definitely means they are a danger to others and more likely to cause harm. The word Psychotic seems to be treated as a synonym for “dangerous and crazy”.

Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective disorder, Prenatal-Psychosis, Psychotic-Depression and Psychosis experienced as a part of Bi-Polar 1 are rarely talked about or admitted to openly in today’s world. Purely due to the stigma that somehow this makes you a bad person who is bound to cause harm.

In reality, people who have Psychosis are first and foremost at risk to themselves. They are much more likely to cause harm to themselves than to anyone else. Schizophrenia, for example, leads to extreme social isolation and people with this diagnosis die much younger than the average for any given country.

Psychosis, in all its forms, is hard to live with. Stigma and the sheer difficulty in explaining an experience without being ridiculed or just not believed makes someone a Social Outcast, keeping to the dark places and lonely shadows, behind the mask that says “I am normal”.

There is nothing better for someone with Psychosis than hearing “I understand you are having these experiences, and that for you they are very scary” – no disbelief, no brushing aside, no “have you hurt anyone?” (Unless the person has themselves expressed desire to harm others, the chances of them doing so are, in reality, pretty slim.)

It is so rare to hear someone accept that you have experiences that others do not, without chasing after “reality” or viewing the person admitting to these experiences as a threat to every human being they may come across. Accepting it, asking if there is any way you can help, and treating the person in the same manner you would anyone else in today’s world, is pretty much the best thing you can do.

So, what gives me right to say all this, you may be wondering? I have been told more than once that I have “Psychosis”. My main diagnosis is Depression and Anxiety, however, in with that is Psychosis. I have previously been told I have Psychotic Depression (not my current diagnosis, but it has been spun around by previous Psychiatrists).

To me, the world is a pretty scary place. I see, hear, feel and believe in things I have been told others do not believe in. To me, they are very real. I have opened up about them to seek help, mostly because my experiences have led me to Crisis point on a number of occasions. I have been suicidal, actively so – and so am considered definitely at risk to myself. So much so, that I am on bi-weekly dosette boxes for my medication as I can’t be trusted with more than two weeks’ medicine at once due to my risk of Overdose.

I am open to the idea that maybe what I experience is not real – purely because I will try anything to get better at the moment. So, if the Psychiatrists are saying I am Psychotic and medicine will help, I will give the medicine a go. The other alternative is literally to kill myself. So, I am giving the medicine a try. I am communicating with people about how I am feeling at any given moment, and keeping the floodgates open for support and understanding, because I need it to survive.

I have been told that this experience may be something I just have to “learn to live with”. That at best, medicine may make it easier to cope, but not remove the experiences altogether. Frankly, I am fine with that. It beats the current Not Coping At All.

I know that many people who experience Psychosis do learn to deal with it. They get on with their lives, they (by and large) live for many years. They could be the person sitting next to you as you read this. And I say that not to scare-monger, but rather to express the prevalence of Psychosis and the likelihood that as with many Mental Illnesses, you may well know someone, or more than one person, with a diagnosis (or perhaps they don’t, and need help).

So, what is the point I am trying to make here? Mostly, that despite being a major Taboo that is unspoken in many corners, Psychosis is not uncommon. Often, it forms part and parcel of another diagnosis. Sometimes, it is the first sign that anything is wrong. It is also not an automatic Doctrine that means any given person is “Dangerous”. As I stated above, quite the opposite is true.

I think people’s experiences should be shared more openly. The Taboo nature should be broken down bit by bit and the world be more open to people whose experiences maybe do not “fit the norm”, without automatically shutting them down and telling them they are lying, or there is no such thing, or their experiences are “all in their head” or even worse that “they are only saying this for attention”.

It is only through opening up and saying “This is happening” that anyone can get help to cope with what to them in very much real. As real as the page you are reading right now. And no one should suffer alone.

This is my little bit towards that. One small chip of the iceberg.

About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).

Photo by Luca Micheli on Unsplash.

 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

From Here to Edisto: My Life as a GPS Angel

As I mentioned in my speech at a recent mental health event, I have occasionally been called upon to act as a personal SatNav (GPS) service for Fran when she’s traveling.

When Fran’s away from home it’s often easier for me to look stuff up online than it is for her on her cell phone. I’ve booked hotels on her behalf and checked out restaurants and places to visit. I’ve even acted as an emergency SatNav, using a combination of Facebook chat, Google maps and an app called Glympse which lets you share your location with someone. It’s never boring with Frannie!

I had opportunity to reprise this role last weekend, as Fran travelled with a friend from Portland, Maine, to Charleston in South Carolina—a journey of 1,100 miles (around 19 hours on the road). We’d planned the trip well in advance. Jim would rent the car and do the driving. Fran would navigate, a challenge she was keen to take on even if she doubted her abilities. I would be on hand if needed.

We explored a number of navigation options. Google Maps would work, but is a bit basic. Waze was recommended by friends but we didn’t find it particularly intuitive. Researching alternatives, I found HERE WeGo. It seemed straightforward to set up and we liked the fact Fran could download the maps she’d need ahead of time to save data on the road. Fran also had a printed AAA TripTik Travel Planner. Glympse would let me track Fran’s location in the event they got lost or needed me to assist.

Hours before they departed, Fran realised we’d not considered the cost of road tolls. A quick online search turned up Tollsmart, an app which gave details of each individual toll along their route including which accepted cash and which didn’t. Fran had an old E-ZPass unit, but the battery was dead. (E‑ZPass is an electronic toll collection system used on most tolled roads, bridges, and tunnels in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States.) We discussed alternatives methods of payment and I checked the options offered by their car rental company. This page has information on not paying too much on tolls when using a rental car.

Fran and Jim got on the road around 11:30 a.m. and were soon making good progress. Their original plan was to break their journey overnight in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Fran and I had researched a few suitable hotels in advance. An hour or so into the journey they realised Fredericksburg was a little optimistic and decided to look for somewhere a little closer.

We’re thinking of stopping at Wilmington Delaware, can you find anywhere to stay?

I checked Booking.com and soon found one likely place—the White Oaks Motel at Pennsville—as well as a couple of others in the area.

Fran: Jim asks if we could get a place about an hour south of there. Tomorrow will be a long day and we need to check in around 4pm.

Martin: I found one in the Baltimore area about 3 hours from where you are now. It has various rooms available but doesn’t look as nice as the White Oaks one.

Fran: White Oaks it is then. Now to book.

Martin: Yayay

Fran: Booked. Now to put the address in the app. Jim says Big thanks to Marty. I think we all made a good call. Can you help us get to the motel?

Martin: You’ve put it in the app?

Fran: Yes but when I use the GPS I get confused. And the voice isn’t loud enough. Is it far from our path?

Martin: No it’s not far from your path. Program the app from wherever you are now, to the hotel. You are on I-95 now?

Fran: Garden State Parkway

I found that on the map but it seemed some way off the expected route.

Martin: Can you put Glympse on for a few minutes so I can see where you are?

Fran: Done. Are we on track? Below Asbury Park.

Martin: I haven’t received an email re the Glympse. Never mind. Looks like you are a little bit over to the east. Get onto 195 West.

Fran: I think we missed the exit.

Fran called me on Skype and we had a short call to confirm what road they were on and what they planned to do next. Once they were back on track I sent Fran screenshots and other details to get them to the motel.

Fran: You’re an angel. Do you have the motel number so we can tell them we’ll be late.

Martin: One moment... Here you go... When you get chance, it would help me to know where you are.

Fran: Just got on NJ Turnpike south for 195

Martin: Almost exactly one hour to go. You’re doing good!

It was about half past midnight here in the UK. Confident they’d be fine, I said goodnight and went to bed. Fran messaged me an hour or so later to let me know they’d arrived safely.

I am glad to be on this journey.. so far! We’ve navigated things well. Whew! Only 11 hour and 18 minutes from here to Edisto Beach (with no delays, stops, mistakes.. lord help me). We are supposed to be there around 4p. Sigh. We will get up at 5.30.

Five thirty a.m. for them is ten thirty a.m. here in the UK. I messaged Fran next morning to make sure they’d not overslept.

Beep! Beep! Early morning call for weary travellers.

She replied almost immediately with characteristic (and half-joking) candour.

Fran: Fuck you! It’s too early!

Martin: Good morning Fran! Good morning Jim!

Fran: Good morning! Jim says hello!

They were soon on the road. Fran sent me a short Glympse so I could see where they were. This time it worked perfectly. She was a little concerned about her phone data and asked me to check it for her: something I do when she is away from home. It was fine. We chatted on and off along the way.

Fran: It’s mostly I-95 until we get close to Edisto.

Martin: Yes. It should be easier going/navigating today. You both did really well yesterday.

Fran: I’m learning the satnav!!!

When they got to Selma I sent them a screenshot showing how far they had travelled since leaving Portland the morning before. They had about five hours left to go.

Martin: The U.S. is so BIG!!!!

Fran: YES! Wonder how many hours across the country?

Martin: I’d sooner take the train on something real long.

Fran: Me too.

Martin: So that’s something we can do some time!

They were making good progress, but you can never be complacent.

Truck ahead of us just went off road but recovered. That was unreal. But we’re safe. Damn. Send angels.

Fran put Glympse on again for the final hour or so of their journey. I watched as they missed a turn, turned back and corrected themselves.

Fran: We’re here! Our place is unbelievable. I’ll do a video of it tomorrow to show you.

Martin: You’ve both done brilliantly! I’ll let you settle in, and catch up with you tomorrow. Goodnight!

Next morning I saw Fran had posted this to her Facebook page:

After getting lost in Jersey, staying over in a Bates-like hotel, running over the treads of a truck tire, and watching a fuel truck run off the road and back on again (way scary) 22 hours on the road! We practically kissed the ground in Edisto Beach, South Carolina.

A friend had commented “Yikes! I’m glad you made it safe.”

Fran: There were angels ♥

 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Community, Cake, and Conversation: Talking Freely in Ely

In September I wrote of my excitement at being invited to speak at the second Talking FreELY Pop Up Café in the cathedral city of Ely. It exceeded all my hopes and expectations, and I am delighted to share my experiences of the occasion now that I am back in the north east. Organised by Talking FreELY, a community project established with the aim of getting people talking about mental health, the event was held at Ely Cathedral Conference Centre on Saturday November 4, 2017.

I drove down from Newcastle upon Tyne the day before and arrived at the cosy Nyton Guest House mid-afternoon. After checking in I wandered off to familiarise myself with where I needed to be next day. I enjoyed an excellent meal at the Minster Tavern, then headed back to the guest house for the evening. Ely is a beautiful city and deserves longer than I had to properly explore. Maybe next time!

I arrived at the venue around 8:30 a.m. next morning and met up with Talking FreELY events manager Jon Evans, project manager Carly Mason, founder Tony Sigrist, and the other volunteers and helpers. Everyone was so warm and friendly I immediately felt part of the team.

We had full use of the building. There was a free café on the ground floor serving tea, coffee and cake. This area also hosted an information zone and I was offered a table to display copies of our book, leaflets and contact cards. There was a demonstration of light therapy equipment by local company Lumie downstairs, and Sarah Parkin from the Ely Mindfulness Centre held mindfulness sessions in a room on the first floor. The talks were on the second floor.

I was one of three guest speakers. The other speakers were Jess Manley and Dr Steve Case-Upton. Jess is an Outreach Project worker for Cambridgeshire based children’s charity Blue Smile. She talked about her work providing counselling, therapy and mentoring for children in schools, as well as a wide range of other services. Steve is a GP in Ely and spoke on the subject of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

I attended the first of Sarah’s mindfulness sessions. Her warm, engaged approach and the two short exercises she led did a lot to calm and centre me for my talk.

Despite it raining hard all morning the event as a whole was very well attended, and there were around forty people in the audience as Tony introduced me.

The talks were streamed live to the Talking FreELY Facebook page. Mine is also hosted on our YouTube channel.

My theme was how you can be a supportive friend to someone living with mental illness, whether you live in the same town or thousands of miles apart. It was based on an article I originally wrote for the No Stigmas Project in 2015, subsequently republished by The Mighty as 10 Ways to Support a Friend with Mental Illness When You’re Apart. The audience was lovely—they even laughed where they were supposed to! I overran my slot a little but there was time for a short Q&A. Several people approached me afterwards with questions, or simply to thank me for my contribution to the day. I had a great conversation on mental health in the workplace with someone who has recently taken on responsibilities in that area in the company where she works. This is something I would love to get involved in myself, and we intend to keep in touch and compare notes.

I loved Jess Manley’s talk about her work as a counsellor with Blue Smile, especially her demonstration of the sand box and toys she uses to engage with the children. Steve’s presentation on seasonal affective disorder drew the most questions of the day, testament to his choice of topic and perhaps the weather. I was interested to learn how difficult it can be, from a clinician’s perspective, to distinguish seasonal affective disorder from a person’s responses to other varying factors such as stress.

After Steve’s talk I went down to the café area to begin packing up. I was greeted by a lovely lady eager to buy a copy of High Tide, Low Tide. Fran and I appreciate anyone anywhere who likes our book enough to buy it, but there is something extra special about meeting someone face-to-face, discussing our book’s relevance to their situation, and signing a copy for them.

After the event had finished Carly invited me to visit Julia’s Tea Rooms, home of the Happy Café Ely. The atmosphere inside is warm and inviting, and it would surely be a favourite haunt of mine if I didn’t live two hundred and thirty miles away! Over cheddar cheese toasties we talked about how well the event had gone and what had brought each of us to want to engage with initiatives like the Happy Café, Time to Change, and Talking FreELY.

All too soon it was time for me to head back to Newcastle, but not before Carly and I had taken selfies (shelfies!) with each other and the café’s copy of High Tide, Low Tide.

I invited a few of those involved with the event to share what it meant to them.

Talking FreELY was set up to facilitate conversations about mental health and it was a delight to see so many people on Saturday doing just that, Talking FreELY. There was so much positive energy from the visitors, the speakers and the volunteers that the whole event was a moving experience.
— Carly Mason

I have been struck by how quickly and warmly Talking FreELY has been embraced in our community and beyond. You always ask yourself, “Do people really want this? Is it the right thing to do?” Seeing so many at the event and getting support from all over the UK puts all of those doubts to rest and reassures me how many people are prepared to stand up for better mental health and put an end to stigma.
— Anthony Sigrist

I was encouraged by the warmth of the people who ran the FreEly event and thoroughly enjoyed being an attendee as well as one presenting. It was inspiring to see how people from various walks of life are finding different ways to address mental health—professionally and personally. Compassion for others and determination to make a difference stood out. Much of what was said chimes with Blue Smile’s aims to support those children who experience poor mental health first or second hand and I very much look forward to hearing of future events.
— Jess Manley

Talking FreEly was formed to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and I am delighted that the second event built on the success of the first. With more people attending, some inspiring speakers which where transmitted live through Facebook as well, and some great discussion, I can honestly say that the events can only be considered a success. There are more to come in 2018 and I hope they grow and grow and support more of our amazing community.
— Jon Evans

I am immensely grateful to Carly, Jon and Tony for inviting me to be part of their day, and to everyone who attended for making me feel so welcome. You can keep in touch with Talking FreELY on their website, on Facebook and Twitter. Their next event will be on Saturday March 3, 2018. Maybe I will be there: I'd certainly love to meet up with everyone again!

 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

My Interview in a Cupboard for BBC Radio 5 Live, by Aimee Wilson

Waking up to an invitation to speak on BBC Radio 5 Live was quite surreal, to say the least! I wish I could be cool and say that this is quite normal for my life these days (which it kind of is) but I still had the surreal ‘are-you-kidding-me?’ and ‘is-this-really-my-life?’ feelings.

It all started with Janice O’Hare! When there was finally talk (after about two years) that I could be discharged from the psychiatric hospital that was over 100 miles from home, I was assigned an Out-Of-Area Specialist/Funder—Janice! She not only helped make my discharge go as smoothly as possible, she also arranged for the step-down service I was transferred to for three months, and then my own home in the community. She even took me to collect Dolly after I’d been in my home for a week.

Needless to say, when Janice messaged me to say that BBC Radio 5 were doing a piece about mental health service users having to travel away from their local area for the appropriate treatment, I didn’t hesitate in agreeing to do the live interview for her.

Unfortunately, the interview was re-scheduled to the following day and because of prior commitments Janice was unable to accompany me. Luckily, Caroline Wild (Deputy Director of Corporate Relations and Communications) was! We’d met before on a couple of occasions so it was really helpful to have a familiar face with me. And she didn’t leave my side; not even when we were told that the studio I’d be in was the size of a cupboard. (Seriously! Take away the big headphones and mic and add some stairs and it would’ve been Harry Potter!)

I’m not sure if that was reassuring or disappointing; maybe both. I’d imagined it being a large room with the massive desks and boards of switches and buttons! On the other hand, I liked it just being big enough for the both of us—fewer people watching me!

You can hear my interview here, starting at 40 minutes in.

I was really happy with how it went, I feel like I’m getting the hang of talking to the media! Which is a good job because the following day I received an email from a reporter at Metro Radio asking if I’d do an interview with them too. It was spread out across their 4 pm, 5 pm, and 6pm news bulletins later that day!

About the Author

Aimee Wilson is a 26-year-old mental health blogger who has used her personal experiences to develop a popular online profile. Aimee was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2009, and after over 60 attempts on her life was admitted to a long-term, specialist psychiatric hospital almost 200 miles from home. It was during her two-and-a-half-year stay in hospital that Aimee began her blog: I’m NOT Disordered.

Originally it was meant as an outlet for pent-up frustrations from inpatient life, and a means to document her journey through the trauma therapy that eventually led her into recovery in 2014. The blog has developed into a platform for others to tell their stories and to give their own message to the world—whatever it may be.

Aimee’s blog has grown over the past three years, and now has over a quarter of a million readers. Its popularity has resulted in three newspaper (in print) appearances, two online newspapers, BBC1 national news, ITV local news, interviews on BBC Radio 5 Live and Metro Radio; as well as a TV appearance on MADE.

Aimee has had the opportunity to work with such organisations as North Tyneside and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Police, Time to Change, Cygnet Healthcare; and with individuals who range from friends, family and colleagues, to well-known people in the mental health industry.

You can follow Aimee’s blog and read more about her at www.imnotdisordered.co.uk.

 

Our Top Posts of the Month (October 2017)

Check out our top posts for the past month. Posts are listed by number of page views, most popular first.

  1. How Can I Best Help My Bipolar Friend? by Julie A. Fast
  2. With Thanks: Our Book’s Acknowledgement Page
  3. Taking My Mental Illnesses to Italy for a Holiday, by Peter McDonnell
  4. Informal Admission and Being Sectioned: Seeing Life in a Psychiatric Unit from Both Sides, by Soph Hopkins
  5. How to Write the Best Acknowledgement Page for Your Book
  6. We Haven’t Sunk Yet: Caring for My Bipolar Best Friend at Home and Abroad

Our three most visited pages were:

  1. News and Appearances
  2. Resources
  3. Contact Us

 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Informal Admission and Being Sectioned: Seeing Life in a Psychiatric Unit from Both Sides, by Soph Hopkins

In September I wrote a post about being an informal patient on a psychiatric unit. It is with great sadness that I am now able to write about life as a sectioned patient. Seeing it from both ends has been a real eye-opener for me.

I came back into the psychiatric unit after only managing four weeks of discharge. I found those four weeks a real struggle: things happened and I couldn’t cope. I was first admitted as an informal patient after being on a section 136 by the police.

Everything was going ok, but I had a few days where I struggled. I got really upset and angry at myself and ended up using destructive coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, this meant that on Friday 13th October—a day that is known to be unlucky—I was placed on section 3 of the Mental Health Act with no leave for three days. This was a shock to me. I didn’t expect the knock on my door asking me to attend an assessment under the Mental Health Act.

I always thought I would be informal. As an informal patient I took my leave for granted, being allowed out all of the time not listening to nurses’ advice shocked me. Being on a section makes me think differently.

The words “section” and “detained” sound horrible: it sounds like you’re in prison because you are put under local authority care. I didn’t like this at all, and I decided to get a copy of my papers and see what had been said. I do agree with my section because I am unsafe in the community on my own and I need the care and treatment in hospital.

Having no leave opened by eyes to how unsafe I was, but I accepted it and headed into the ward round on Monday determined to get something. It went smoothly. I was ready to argue why I needed leave but I didn’t have to. I accepted my small leave and managed to get escorted leave because I don’t have family or close friends nearby who can do my shopping for me.

Being under section 3 means you can be treated against your will. The other day I had a scare. I was so ill that I had to be forced back on to the ward. I tried to leave so many times I had to be assessed by PICU (the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit). It is a locked ward with high staffing and limited personal possessions. It is the most secure ward for patients who aren’t in because of court or magistrate sentencing. I was and am fortunate: as long as I keep working with staff and keep taking my meds I can stay on the acute ward I was already on.

I was injected with medicine to make me feel better. I heard that I was a worry to the staff because when I get low I get so low I am capable of doing what I can to hurt myself. Waking up the next morning makes me realise how ill I can get.

I understand my section a lot more now. I am currently waiting to find out if I have been accepted onto a specialist personality disorder unit for intense psychotherapy: the average stay there is one to three years. I have an idea that hospital is going to be my home for some time, but I understand I need care and treatment.

Being diagnosed with Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder is hard to understand and I don’t want to go into it here, but there’s more to come on that. What I have learnt is there is life on a psychiatric ward. I made a close friend who really helped me understand that I have been sectioned and what it means. I have accepted that I need help, treatment and care

And most of all, I now can speak for both sides—being informal and being sectioned—and they are certainly different.

I want to leave you with a piece of advice. If you ever have to go into a psychiatric unit and get offered informal take it, but listen to the nurses and doctors. I wish I had now.

Also, if you’re homeless like me being on a section 3 does come with some benefits. They have section 117 aftercare and have to make sure you’re housed and supported when you leave hospital. Also don’t take your section leave for granted. Start small and build up.

The more you accept the more you get better.

 

About the Author

Originally from Gateshead, Soph Hopkins now resides in Wales. She has been volunteering and campaigning since she was fourteen. In 2014 she was Vinspired regional Volunteer of the Year for the northeast of England for bringing communities together. Vinspired is the UK’s leading volunteering charity for 14–25 year olds.

Soph is diagnosed with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). Having spent time in and out of psychiatric hospital, she is keen to use her experience of mental illness to help others.

Please contact Soph by email (hopkinssophie3 [at] gmail.com) for copies of her articles, or for more information. She is keen to hear of any mental health opportunities in Wales.

 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

How Can I Best Help My Bipolar Friend? by Julie A. Fast

People with bipolar are regular people with a rotten illness. The more you can help us find ways to manage the mood swings, the more you will see the real person behind the mania and the depression.

It’s not all violets and fast cars when you’re friends with someone who has bipolar disorder. The day-to-day dragging on of mood swings and the constant vigilance we need to stay stable can take its toll on any friendship. Sticking to a plan is hard for us and you will regularly be amazed at how quickly we change our minds. Untreated bipolar can make friendships difficult. Trying to help a person with this illness can be like herding cats!

Have I shocked you? I hope so. Being prepared for the realities of our lives will allow you to stay in a relationship that can be as rewarding and lovely as it can be frustrating.

What is friendship? Why do we enter into a relationship with someone? What do we want and need from that other person and what do we expect from ourselves in the partnership? These are questions bipolar tends to bring up quite early in a relationship. Exploring them honestly at this stage, as you are searching for ways to be a better friend, helps build foundations for a friendship able to weather the ups and downs this illness inevitably brings.

I work daily to be a good friend. I manage my paranoia—a true relationship wrecker!—and I have friends who are secure enough to tell me if I’m manic and driving them crazy. My fiends know that I’m often ill. They know I have a tough time in life and that I need extra help from the people around me. I have taught them that people with bipolar are regular people with a rotten illness. The more you can help us find ways to manage the mood swings, the more you will see the real person behind the mania and the depression.

I’m sincere in my support of Martin and Fran’s book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder as it actually teaches friends how to help in specific situations. It can be used by siblings as well as friends and certainly tells the truth about the joys of a relationship with those of us with bipolar disorder minds. We are interesting!

Life is too short to waste time on bad friendships. Wouldn’t you agree?

I love it that you are here reading this, wondering how you can help your friend who has bipolar. Here are my top tips on how to create a loving and lasting relationship with someone who has the illness.

Talk openly about your needs and what you expect from someone who has bipolar

You are not responsible for the life of someone else, and walking on your tippie toes to make sure you don’t upset your friend will backfire in the end. I don’t expect my friends to give me special dispensation simply because I have this difficult illness. I want my friends to hold me to the standard expected from any friendship. This means spending equal time talking about life—I can’t just talk about myself and my woeful day every time we meet—and a focus on the positive instead of only talking about problems. It also helps if I am clear what I would like my friends to do when I get sick.

Talking about what you want from a friendship from the beginning creates an equal relationship. It will also help you see when your friend is struggling. Please remember that we are stable people who have an illness that creates symptoms. Unlike some illnesses that affect the personality, people with bipolar (when getting treatment) are more stable than sick. Friends are an enormous part of our treatment plan, so you can expect a fantastic friendship when we are managing our moods.

Be clear what you can and can’t handle and offer specific ways for your friend to get help that don’t involve you directly

It will vary from person to person but there’s a limit to how much a friend can handle. I have always had the policy that my therapist gets the brunt of my depression: I work out my illness with her and my health care team. It helps me so much if a friend tells me what they are able and willing to do. It stings a bit when someone says they need me to get help elsewhere, but it helps me, as the person with bipolar disorder, grow and learn to take care of the friendship.

Honesty trumps fear. Planning ahead prevents the inevitable email where you say the friend with bipolar is too draining. You will end up walking away from a person if you are not clear about what you need, as the caring friend. Over-caring on your part and oversharing on your friend’s part will wear anyone out. Reminding your friend that they can spread out their needs is essential to your wellbeing and your relationship.

Friendships save my life. Not because my friends are responsible for me. No. It is because friendships remind me of how great life can be. You, as a friend, mean so much. Take care of yourself, state your needs and be open about what you can and can’t handle from the beginning. This will create a great friendship!

 

About the Author

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine.

She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going.

You can find more about her work at www.JulieFast.com and www.BipolarHappens.com. She also blogs for Bp Magazine at www.BpHope.com.