Fran and I are delighted to welcome Julie A. Fast, author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Get it Done When You’re Depressed.
Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder is Julie’s book for the overall treatment of bipolar disorder. It’s a great companion to High Tide, Low Tide for anyone who wants to know more about the illness.
Here, Julie discusses how to ask for help, a topic close to our hearts.
Get It Right When Asking for Help with Bipolar Disorder
When I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder two with psychotic features in 1995 at age 31, my life was a mess. Two months earlier, I left my partner (who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder one the previous year) and flew to China to have an adventure. Yes. China. I then got depressed and psychotic in Hong Kong and finally got the help I needed back in the States.
When I say my life was a mess when I was finally diagnosed, I’m talking about my relationships. My mood swings were out of control and when I heard I had bipolar disorder, I didn’t feel shame. I was relieved! I finally had answers and I was going to tell all of the people in my life about this and get some help!
I ended up overwhelming people by asking for too much. Here are the two key mistakes I made and what I do now to get it right.
Mistake #1: Asking for Too Much from One Person or the Wrong Person
It’s natural to want a partner, close friend or family member to help. I have learned that helping is not the same thing as loving someone. Some people can give love and some can give you specific support with your bipolar disorder symptoms. Learn what people can and can’t do. I always ask people how much information they want to know. Some say, tell me everything! Others are honest and say they find the topic too stressful. It’s not that they don’t care about me. They care greatly. It’s just not a good topic for us if we are out to have fun.
I have a therapist, prescriber, parent, nephew, coauthors and my social media community such as the amazing Martin Baker to turn to when I get sick. I no longer overwhelm one person with my needs. When my symptoms get really serious, it’s time for professional help. When that is not available, there are certain family members who can handle this illness, and finally I have friends who do not get overwhelmed by my needs. It’s like having a calling tree. Start at the top with people who let you know they are able and willing to help, and go from there.
Mistake #2: Expecting People to Know What to Do
It’s not innate to know how to help someone in a mood swing. Most people understand basic communication tools, but have no idea how to talk to someone who is depressed or manic. This leads to what I call The Bipolar Conversation. (This is explained in my book Take Charge of Bipolar.) Here is an example:
You: I’m really down today and don’t know what to do. Life seems pointless and I look at the world and just feel so helpless. My meds aren’t working and I have no energy. I cry all day.
A person who cares: Oh, you are going to be ok. It will pass. There are beautiful things in the world too. You just have to stay positive and get out more!
Yikes. This response is loving and kind, but NOT helpful. This leads to the looping Bipolar Conversation:
You: But you don’t understand. I can’t see the positive. I can’t figure out what to do.
This is when the person who cares starts to get frustrated. You can change this by letting people know exactly how to help you. You do this when you are stable so that people can truly help you when you get sick. Here is an example of what you might say:
People with depression all talk the same. You will notice I have a pattern when I get sick. When you hear me say something like this:Here is what you can say:
I’m really down today and don’t know what to do. Life seems pointless and I look at the world and just feel so helpless. My meds aren’t working and I have no energy. I cry all day.I hear that you are depressed. You asked me to remind you that you always talk this way when you are depressed. This means it’s time to treat the depression and NOT have a conversation on how terrible life is right now. Let’s get out of the house, go for walk and make a plan to get your meds adjusted as a first step.
When you teach someone how to help you, they will be ready when you are ill. This works every time. My book Get it Done When You’re Depressed is filled with specific strategies friends can use to help someone who is depressed. It’s a great companion to High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Martin and Fran’s book specifically illustrates how friends can create a plan to help each other when the mood swings start. It is especially helpful for those who experience suicidal thoughts.
After my diagnosis, I eventually realized that what works best is taking care of myself as much as possible before I ask for help. I have a motto: Treat Bipolar First. I know what each of my mood swings looks like. I have a plan in place that I use the minute the symptoms show up. Once I have done all I can for myself, I reach out. This is NEVER easy, but it works quickly. Bipolar disorder affects me daily. I need help. Using the two strategies above helps me maintain relationships while staying stable.
Over time, you can learn to do the same!
A Note from Julie
My current project is a Kickstarter for Hortensia and the Magical Brain. My passion is early childhood education for children with diagnosed mental health symptoms, including early onset bipolar disorder. These are the kids who have difficultly at school and are often in hospitals. My management plan works for these kids, I just had to have a way to get it to parents and health care professionals who want to help.
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 Bipolar Happens! She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine for Bipolar at www.BPHope.com and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the United States. 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 and other mental health concerns and is currently writing a book for children called Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression.
- Let’s Talk Mental Health: The Real Reasons Mental Illness is Still Taboo, an interview with Julie A. Fast from Entity Magazine
- Kanye West Let Out A Cry For Help, We Just Weren’t Listening
- Inside Carrie Fisher’s Revolutionary Openness About Her Mental Illness: ‘She Changed the World’
- Why It’s So Hard to Help Amanda Bynes, People Magazine
- Claire Danes talks about Homeland and working with Julie A. Fast
Julie’s Articles for Bp Magazine
- Relationships and the Bipolar Trap
- The End of Bipolar Depression Isolation
- VIDEO: Bipolar Disorder Paranoia and Keeping Your Relationships Strong
- 3 Clues For Recognizing Mania In The Eyes, Plus Other Physical Symptoms
And finally, the most popular bipolar disorder blog of all time with over 500,000 views!