Almost six years ago, when I was a University senior, my much-loved Uncle went into a manic depressive episode that lasted for months. He would come home very late in the night, yell and scream at everyone and even told us how much he hated us all. Believe me; I’ve been through this journey. And I know how heartrending it can be. Loving someone with bipolar disorder can feel like riding a rollercoaster. A mood episode can cause the person most loved to you to say and do horrible things. But rather than seeing it as something personal, know from this moment that it’s a hundred per cent a medical condition.
“The silver linings playbook” is a movie that so many of us must have seen which shows the challenges faced by people with bipolar disorder and the people who love them. According to the Black Dog Institute, Bipolar disorder is the name used to describe a set of mood swing conditions, the most severe form of which used to be called manic depression.
What is it?
Bipolar disorder is a medical condition that manifests in behaviours that may look very personal. It is one of the most severe mental disorders that a person could have. In most cases, the lives of those suffering from it are threatened. Unlike other disorders like anxiety and depression that go on and off, bipolar disorder requires constant and careful management.
For the major part, this disorder is managed by medications and talk therapy. Within the four walls of the home, symptoms of bipolar disorder look more personal than medical. When a person with bipolar breaks all the dishes in the kitchen, smash a brand new phone, makes horrendous accusations, spends the entire family budget on trivial things and even refuses to listen to the voice of reason, It may feel very daunting or even impossible to remain in a relationship with such a person. It’s tough to make excuses or think logically that this is an illness. But this is precisely what needs to be done.
Bipolar can make your loved one say things that they never meant to say. Living with such a person can make you spend your days and nights with your head soaked in the pillow with tears. You ask questions like “What have I done to deserve this? Why is he/she trying to punish me? Why does he/she hate me?” When the behaviour gets constant, and the episodes are recurring, you may get worn out because your needs are not being met. You will even get scared that such a person would never get back to their sweet, lovely selves again. But they can. And with your help, they definitely will. So how can you stay in love with a person living with bipolar disorder? Here are just a few tips to set you on the track of that long, beautiful journey:
Recognise the symptoms
The first thing you will need to do is to recognise the symptoms. The primary trademark of bipolar disorder is mood imbalance. The person may shift between feeling depressed to a psychotic state, to a completely different mood swing, that may affect the person’s ability to function effectively.
According to writer and Psychologist Seth Meyers, People who have bipolar disorder often have a hard time sleeping. It is not unusual for someone with bipolar disorder without medication for it, to be awake for two to three days straight. This is because their mind and body just won’t let them sleep. So let your partner know that you’re aware their behaviour is nothing personal and that you’re willing to help them through it.
Help him/her book an appointment with a Psychiatrist. Ask him/her questions about the illness with love and genuine curiosity. Know how he/she acts in a mixed state and what their voice sounds like when they’re depressed. Look for triggers for bipolar episodes in your loved one. Anticipate situations likely to spark a manic or depressive period to help avoid or, at least, calm the situation. This way, you can help them identify what mood they’re in even when they’re not sure themselves.
Learn how these symptoms affect you
In most cases, these symptoms affect you, even without you knowing it. It takes a toll on you physically, emotionally and psychologically. You may find yourself walking on eggshells not knowing what to expect. You may also begin to feel helpless and depressed about the situation. Rather than allow this to happen, you need to tune into reality, you cannot expect your partner to always be consistent. Learn from behavioural neuroscientists all you need to know about bipolar and how to cope with someone living with it. You have to lean into the truth that their mood and behaviour can significantly change unexpectedly.
Find and Talk to a friend who has walked in your shoes
One of the most effective ways to help you cope is to find a friend who has a loved one with the disorder too. You can also join a support group for family and friends of people living with bipolar disorder or talk to a therapist about how the behaviour of your loved one is affecting you. Most times, talking things out not only helps to smoothen out what has been welling up inside you but also empowers you to be able to help and love your partner.
Appreciate the beautiful variety that bipolar disorder brings
Along with depression, recklessness and mood imbalance, many people living with bipolar disorder are bestowed with amazing talents that they don’t talk about. So you will need to establish a rapport and create a safe space for your partner to open up.
You have to know that suicide idea are never far away from people with bipolar, as they see the world quite differently than you do. So have honest, loving talks with them. Let them know that there is nothing shameful about being bipolar. Let them own who they are and embrace it. Most of all, make them feel comfortable talking about it. Develop routines with your bipolar loved one that will provide security and help keep things on an even keel. You’ll be surprised at the array of beautiful gifts that they possess. And what more, because they know what it feels like to struggle with bipolar, they are usually more sympathetic and empathetic towards other people, which includes you.
Take a break
When you feel you need to get away from all the intensities of living with a bipolar partner, it’s okay to take a break. Refreshing breaks will make you a more supportive and loving partner in the long run. In the end, loving someone with bipolar disorder can be scary, but the person behind the disorder is worth the effort.