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.

 

2 comments:

  1. A friend of mine has bipolar disease, and it seemed that no matter what I did, I would be clutching at straws. Your post seems to be a good starting point.

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