Wednesday 27 March 2019

Just Because You're Paranoid: How to Notice Gaslighting in Bipolar Disorder

By Beth Gadwa

Foreword by Julie A. Fast

I recently posted a note on Facebook that included a link to one of my Bp Magazine videos called Bipolar Disorder Paranoia and Keeping Your Relationships Strong. I made the point that I had to take responsibility over my own paranoia and not take it out on others. I have ruined many relationships in the past due to my untreated paranoid thinking and actions. Right under this post, bipolar disorder advocate and writer Beth Gadwa left a comment that truly opened my mind to the other side of the situation. She wrote:

Julie, please be aware that people with bipolar are also sometimes victimized and exploited in relationships. A good strategy is to “check in” with a neutral third party, such as a close friend or family member to try to determine if you are symptomatic. Being bipolar does not mean being a doormat, or turning a blind eye to infidelity or abuse. But it does absolutely mean we have to check ourselves, and pause and reflect before we act.

Wow, she was so correct! What if someone is telling YOU that you have paranoia or that you are manic for their own nefarious reasons! What if you are actually stable and someone is using your bipolar against you! What a thought! I knew I wanted to hear more. I told Martin Baker about it and as always he said, “Let’s do a post for Gum on My Shoe. This is an important topic.”

Here is the OTHER side of the symptoms story from Beth Gadwa. Thank heavens for open minds and hearts. This is how we learn. My mind was opened and expanded from her comment and I hope her stories below help you just as much as they helped me!


Julie A. Fast
Bestselling mental health author, speaker and coach |

Just Because You’re Paranoid: How to Notice Gaslighting in Bipolar Disorder

by Beth Gadwa

Julie Fast wrote a great post about the dangers of bipolar paranoia and how it can undermine core relationships. I had one question in response: What do we do in real situations of abuse, infidelity, or gaslighting when someone is using our symptoms against us in order to control a situation? In my experience, both personally and professionally, neurodiverse people are at increased risk for violence and exploitation. Yes, it is important that we know our own symptoms and work hard to not take them out on others, but it’s equally important that we don’t just blindly accept the words and accusations of others when it comes to our brains.

Julie suggested that I share my own experiences. Here are two stories, both everyday situations that could happen to anyone. I tell them with the hope that we can learn from Julie’s work and at the same time, trust our own experiences in order to protect our brains from those who are out to harm.

#1. “Chicken Wars”

My friend Teri was visiting me from Ohio, with the thought that she might move to Portland permanently. One evening I noticed she was eating takeout fried chicken in the guest room. I asked if she could eat her meal in the common area, because the greasy chicken crumbs could stain the bedding and get into the carpet, attracting vermin.

She immediately became defensive, and told me I could not tell her what to do. I did not raise my voice, but reminded her she was a guest and had been staying at the apartment for over two weeks for free. She grew more agitated. She called me manic and accused me of starting the argument because I was bipolar. I was taken aback and hurt by her words.

To me, this was a normal roommate squabble that had nothing to do with mental health. I wasn’t experiencing any mania symptoms (sleeplessness, racing thoughts) so I didn’t feel the issue was mania or hypomania. I was simply protecting my home. Because of her response to my honest feelings, I felt I couldn’t express any negative opinion in the future without it being labeled symptomatic. We eventually talked through the situation, but it had an effect on our friendship. I have noticed over time that I have become more conflict-averse, which isn’t always a good thing.

#2. “You’d Have to Be Crazy to Break up with Me”

In 2014, I was casually dating a person I met online. At first Kevin was charming, but he grew increasingly controlling and possessive. We had been dating for about three months when he announced plans to throw a reception at a fancy hotel in “our” honor, and asked me to invite my friends too.

This made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to exit gracefully, so I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. He flipped out — started yelling, said that I was manic and didn’t know what I was talking about. In his mind, I didn’t “really” want to break up with him. It must be my diagnosis.

What I did next was check in with my good friend Kasey. She has known me for almost 20 years and reassured me that I didn’t seem to be manic. Kasey had only met the guy once, but she told me to watch out — his behavior fit the classic pattern of abusers and narcissists.

She was right.

The same day, Kevin had also called my sister (whom he had never met — he found her work number online) to “warn” her about my mental health. This creeped me out! Checking in with a trusted source helped me take care of myself and protect myself from a person who was out to harm.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Relationships fail for a variety of reasons, but being told that having a negative opinion or wanting to leave was due to my mental health was not someone trying to help me. It was someone trying to control me. I focus greatly on my health and work hard to present the most stable self possible. And yet, gaslighting happened. For this reason, I believe it is essential not to have a “single point of failure” in your care network. This means that you check in with yourself and someone you trust, separate from the person who is making the accusation that your bipolar is a problem.

As a bipolar life coach, I advise my clients to stay in close touch with a broad support network of family and friends. That way if there is conflict that feels confusing, you have a neutral third party to evaluate the situation.

If you’re a friend or caregiver, be alert for symptoms as Julie suggests, but please don’t use them as a weapon. Work together with us if you worry that we are symptomatic and it is affecting our decisions. That makes us a part of a team. We need you!


About the Author

Beth Gadwa is a Certified Professional Coach with over eighteen years’ experience managing bipolar disorder. She splits her time between Portland, Oregon, and Western Massachusetts, where her partner Erik resides.

Learn more about her practice at



  1. Oh man. Good blog. Unfortunately I don’t have many people to check in and hardly any that know me well enough. But my very own family gaslights me. My Brother is the worst of them all. I grew up with an army of narcissists. The abuse was there before my Dx’s. So yeah I am always second guessing my self and my decisions. I live in fear of making mistakes because they also maximize my mistakes and minimize theirs. The criticize me for being on disability and public aid because they think I did this to myself and they say it. They also say I made my life this way, that I’m a drain on society, and that I’m weak minded. They tell me to get over stuff but they don’t. Then say people have it worse then you when they have it so much better than I. They think they know me but they don’t. I get better validation from strangers then most of my family. My friends are limited because some were that way to plus I have a sign on my forehead that says please take advantage of. So I have but a small fee amount of friends that I hardly see if at all for a couple of them. So yeah. I totally relate to this blog. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Thank you for responding. That family situation sounds toxic and horrible. Ugh. And unfortunately, all too common. All I can is hang in there, believe in yourself, and believe that you are worthy of good people in your life. It's never easy, particularly when others have left you with scars in your past. Support groups (online and in person) may be an excellent resource.

  3. What if u don't have a support system?