10 Ways to Support Someone Who Has Bipolar

10 Ways to Support Someone Who Has Bipolar
For the people who support us, there are ways to reduce stress, improve relationships, and make for a better overall quality of life for everyone.
By Stephen Propst
For those of us who have bipolar disorder, we are kidding ourselves if we think we can go it alone. While one of the most profound determinants of making a positive recovery is having support from family and friends, supporting someone with a chronic illness is not easy. When family and friends understand how things are for those of us with bipolar, it helps move us along the road to recovery and helps us all live more harmoniously.

For those who support us, there are ways to reduce stress, improve relationships, and make for a better overall quality of life for everyone. Whether the person has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is compliant to a wellness plan, or refuses to admit that anything is even wrong, having the right attitude and the necessary basic knowledge is key. Here are 10 points to keep in mind if you’re serious about offering support that helps, not hinders

#1 Never Give Up Hope Looking back, the first 10 years of my more than two decades of dealing with bipolar disorder were a seemingly insurmountable struggle, but my loved ones never gave up hope. Despite a situation that often created frustration and hopelessness, they never doubted my recovery. Today, they continue to instill that same undying confidence. There is one piece of advice for anyone who loves someone with bipolar disorder, and it is this: keep the faith and never give up. There have been many times when there was nothing but hope, and you have living proof that it kept me going. So, let your hope for a loved one spread—it’s contagious.
#2 Take Some Time Time is one of the hardest concepts to convey to people. We all want immediate results, but with bipolar disorder, so-called overnight success can, in fact, extend to years. Studies show that it can take 10 years or more to even obtain an accurate diagnosis (Living with Bipolar Disorder: How Far Have We Really Come? Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance [DBSA] Constituency Survey, 2001). In my own case, it took eight years before someone accurately put a name to my struggle. With bipolar disorder, there are simply no quick fixes. Thinking there is a miracle cure only makes matters worse, so instead, help your loved one set realistic goals. The road to recovery is not a straight shot; it’s a winding path with delays, downtimes, and detours. Remember, progress can be made, but it takes time. Let patience be your guide.

3. Face the Facts

Be willing to acknowledge that bipolar disorder is a legitimate disorder. Saying something like, “It’s all in your head,” or “Just snap out of it,” denies that reality. As with diabetes or cancer, bipolar disorder requires medical treatment and management. And as with other chronic conditions, bipolar disorder is initially unfamiliar and frequently unpredictable. It can be gut-wrenching and at times, scary. It also helps to face the facts when it comes to our current mental health system. If you find it to be disorganized and disconnected, imagine what the patient is experiencing. With your support, a patient can be guided through the maze, find the best care, and stick to a workable treatment plan.

4. Adopt the Right Attitude

How you see things does matter. With the amount of stigma and discrimination that exist in society at large, the last thing a patient needs is misguided thinking coming from family and friends. More support is needed, not more shame. The more your response is based on reality and not on myths, the more your support can make a difference.

All too often, family members make a loved one feel as though it isn’t bipolar but rather a character flaw or something brought on by the person. Some even view an occasional setback as though it spells permanent doom. Such flawed thinking may be common, but it’s harmful to the person facing bipolar who needs constructive feedback, not destructive rhetoric.

5. Get Educated on Bipolar Disorder

People who have bipolar often deny that anything’s wrong, and, frequently, they don’t stay on their medications. It’s important to learn about these and other nuances of the disorder. Fortunately, there are many resources available today, especially compared to 25 years ago, not the least of which is the internet. A national clothing store uses the slogan: “An educated consumer is our best customer.” To support your loved one, consider adopting a similar notion. An educated family member or friend is our best advocate and our greatest source of support.

6. Treat Us Like Adults

A psychiatrist once commented that my body (at the time) was 30 years old physically, but I was 45 intellectually, and 15 emotionally. Talk about a tough pill to swallow! Bipolar disorder can arrest a person’s emotional maturity and produce behavior that appears very childish and reckless. Please remember, however, that while someone who has bipolar may act like a child, there is an adult underneath. The world of the person who has bipolar disorder can be full of chaos and confusion, and low self-esteem is common. It can make a big difference when you continue to acknowledge and show respect for the grown human being who is struggling behind all the symptoms.

7. Give Us Some Space

Living with a serious illness is a daunting task. It can be a foreign concept to separate yourself from someone you want to help. But as a support person, it is best to establish a loving distance between yourself and the person who has bipolar. Set boundaries and establish consequences that encourage those who have bipolar to seek recovery on their own, all the while expressing your concern and willingness to help. Be supportive, patient, and understanding—without being used. Effective encouragement is helpful; enabling is not.

8. Forget the Past

Frustration often accompanies bipolar disorder. Family and friends can spend countless hours—if not years—wondering what went wrong. Avoid making matters worse by wallowing in the past. Pointing fingers solves nothing; blaming is not the answer; and getting angry only makes matters worse. Bitterness and resentment can sometimes act as a trigger and incite more of the behavior you want to stop. Instead, focus on helping make tomorrow better. That’s true support.

9. Take Care of Yourself

The family suffers right along with the person who has bipolar disorder, so, it’s important for you to develop your own coping skills. Only if you take care of yourself can you help someone else. All too often, caregivers end up becoming ill. During training, emergency medical technicians are taught to never put their lives in obvious jeopardy to save someone else’s. If they did so, they’d be unable to help anyone. The same is true for you while you are caring for your loved one. Remember that you have yourself—and probably others—to care for as well.

10. Find a Healthy Balance

There are so many questions: “How much should I be willing to do?” “Should we use tough love?” “How long does this go on?” “How long should we wait before we intervene?” and on and on and on. Bipolar disorder is tough. It’s like walking a tightrope sometimes, where you’ve got to learn to balance your own welfare with the interest you have in supporting the person with bipolar. You also have to find a healthy balance when it comes to the support you offer. Learn to take things in stride, one day at a time. There’s a time to help and a time to step back; a time to speak and a time to listen; a time to be patient and a time to be insistent.


Now, you have some valuable points to ponder as you help your loved one pursue recovery. The more you’re in the know, the better equipped you are to offer the type of support that can make a positive difference. The reward is a brighter, happier future—for everyone involved.

I know it’s worth the effort.

What we have in common with the global world during this pandemic

It occurred to me today, after 45 days of solitude and social distancing, is our world is experiencing solitude as I have when deeply depressed. In those times I isolate, sleep, don’t sleep, eat, don’t eat, watch tons of TV and walk my dog. In fact the only exercise I get is walking my Sally. Well, here I sit for a month and 1/2 and once again I am doing all the above.

The difference between now and then is that I am really REALLY enjoying being home alone. I guess because I am now 62 I certainly BETTER be comfortable by myself. Don’t have alot of time left on this planet – I say I am in the back 6 holes of my life. So I need to make sure I am trying my best to stay balanced and if the depression or mania rears its ugly head raise my hand… get advice from my Psychiatrist and adjust meds until stabilization occurs.

Now currently I am REALLY enjoying my netflix, hulu and amazon prime and that makes me happy. I have my knitting which i love and everyday I wake up at 8 and start thinking ….. what shall I cook for dinner. Seriously I am having a blast as when I work at my job ( which I don’t have right now – for obvious reasons) I am unable to cook like this 7 days a week.

I am hopeful that my readers understand what I am saying and if you are struggling with lonliness take a deep breath, take a walk and do something for yourself you haven’t been able to do for many years.

God bless you all & Stay safe.

Lizzy

Springtime Rules—Managing Bipolar’s Seasonal Mania

Planning Is Everything—Seasonal Mania & You

This article in BP Magazine reminded me of nearly each and every year for the past 36 years. For me ,it seemed that my depression kicked in early December – and stayed through easter. Mothers Day was the first truely happy time. The fresh flowers and wonderful weather change from Bostons long winter. Hope it helps you.
Liz
By Carin Meyer 6 Apr 2020
‘While saying good-bye to the winter doldrums and welcoming a brighter spring is usually comforting, it also holds the potential for seasonal mood episodes. Add to that our current state of uncertainty and social isolation, and it can feed into increased anxiety and instability. The longer days of spring is generally a positive change, but for those living with bipolar, this can be a dangerous path to mania, says Dr. Christina Girgis, a Chicago-based psychiatrist. “For patients who have good insight, they want to be careful to try to prevent this from happening.” Of course, it doesn’t help when mania or hypomania feels like a refreshing reprieve from a winter season of depression, which makes preparation that much more critical. Especially because summer—with its longer days and extended bright light—has a reputation for sparking more frequent and high-risk manic episodes. While not everyone is vulnerable to mood episodes that coincide with the seasons, for the many who are, planning for the onset of spring starts weeks in advance. One way to get ready is to understand the correlation between the onset of symptoms and disruptions in circadian rhythm, which is affected by physical activity, sleep patterns, and eating habits.

“Most definitely, people with bipolar have trouble with change with regard to circadian rhythms—jet lag, changing seasons, change in routine of any kind,” says Anthony Levitt, MD.

All of these often happen during spring and summer, so the time to plan for trademark triggers is now. This means being on the lookout for your own signs of hypomania or mania.

Both consistency—getting out of bed at the same time every morning, for example—and limiting overexposure to light are paramount.

Knowing she will be battling her most “dangerous season,” bpHope blogger and Alaska resident Carin Meyer—who has to transition from a dormant winter to “persistent sunbeams” in the spring—makes preparations to lessen the impact with her self-imposed “springtime rules.” They include journaling to monitor her mood, and always having a baseball cap and sunglasses on hand.

She has come a long way since she was first diagnosed, when the “longer days brought so many weeks of extreme agitation that my cycles would blur together until I could no longer separate day from night.” 

Growing Older with Bipolar
Bipolar disorder may become easier to manage in later life, but it’s important to stay alert to changes in physical health and how well your medication works.

By Robin L. Flanigan

One day you notice your smile lines have turned into wrinkles. Or maybe your back and knees creak after a flag football game. It’s inevitable: The passage of time brings changes in the body, in relationships, in outlook. The mantle of maturity often fosters a stronger sense of self, even as midlife marks the creeping arrival of “senior moments” and medical issues. Parents have to adapt to an empty nest, which can be an emotional challenge even as it leaves more time and freedom to focus on personal pursuits. Ditto for those who step back from the workplace.

How does bipolar play into all of this?

Mood shifts may change or intensify. Medications that worked for decades may lose their potency or start contributing to other health conditions. Yet years of accumulated knowledge can yield a better grasp of how to maintain balance.

Of course, everyone’s journey with bipolar is different. At 69, Dennis hasn’t noticed any differences in his bipolar I symptoms.

“They always say that as we get older, we change,” he says. “I’ve been doing well on the same dose of medication for 25 years. Maybe these things happen a little later than people think.”

Or maybe some credit goes to Dennis’s daily walks around Boston and longtime involvement with a local Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance chapter.

Anything that helps you stay active and socially connected will make the third act of life run more smoothly. It turns out “functional age” — how we perform daily tasks, whether we exercise, what we do for fun—may trump chronological age.

“There’s more data now that supports we have control over how we age, above and beyond whatever our inherited genetics are going to predict for us,” says Brent P. Forester, MD, MSc, chief of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. “We can impact the way we age because we can impact the way we live our life.”

One of the cornerstones of aging well is nurturing social connections, Forester says: “People who maintain relationships with other people tend to do better. That’s really, really important.”

Of course, that’s also a well-documented factor in recovery from psychiatric disorders. Beverly of Virginia counts staying close to the people in her support network, including family and dear friends, as one of her key coping strategies. Also on the list: eight to nine hours of sleep a night.

“The sleep takes a lot of discipline to manage, as I used to be quite a night owl,” she says, “but as I succeed, I’m motivated to try harder so I can keep succeeding.”

Beverly, who was diagnosed with bipolar II in 1997, is weathering a number of changes at midlife. Now 53, she has fewer upswings than in her 30s and 40s—a pattern of “flattening” in mood that others have reported as well.

It’s not uncommon for eyeglass prescriptions to get updated several times around age 50 after remaining constant for years; the same thing may happen with psychiatric prescriptions. Medication that Beverly found effective for years hasn’t been working as well.

“It’s kind of holding me at a moderate level of depression,” she says.

She’s also noticing a major alteration in concentration and memory. Not so long ago, she was handling a high-stress job as a speech pathologist in public schools. Recently it took her four hours to pay four bills.

As a result, she now finds herself able to commit to only one task each day, such as going to an appointment or taking a shower.

“But I see myself as a person who never loses hope,” she says. “I eventually come back to, ‘It will get better.’”

Why am I Bipolar?

Why am I bipolar?

I have thought for the past 24 years since my diagnosis I am bipolar of what is the ‘why’ that I am bipolar. After struggling to understand following observing my life from my 20’s thru my 60’s It is clear to me it’s genetic. Inasmuch as I am the ‘poster child in my family’ nearly all of the 8 kids in my family deal with bi-polar and depression. ( two are unmediated bi-polar). One is perfectly fine . That’s 7 of 8 children. My mother dealt with depression but was not aware of it until she hit menopause. I am sure the stress of raising 8 kids had her depressed at times however she found her solace in going upstairs and reading . Being a depression baby there was not only no understanding in that society that this was a treatable illness. Of course there were reasons why her life was stressful both economically and how to equally love 8 kids.

My mother was singularly the most intelligent person I have known. Both she and my Dad raised a large family of highly intelligent children. Of which, according to my syblings over years since my 20’s Continued to say that I was the smartest one in my family. My response was I achieve professional success because I work hard or noooo Johnny is a walking library his memory for facts is outstanding . Well, after many decades of my syblings saying I was the brightest in my family about 8 years ago I said. Ok you may be right.

When I was deeply depressed I felt I was a fraud and figured out how to manage social situations so no one would know. On the other end of the spectrum I was so empowered I felt like I could do anything I set my mind to. Both professionally and personally I did just that.

Net net in my opinion bi-polar is genetic and filled with many intelligent minds. Interesting fact my psychiatrist agrees.

We try to understand the what is going on and we strive for success putting one foot in front of the other no matter how hard it was .

Depression I am not sure. It may be situational. How you were raised to prepare you for the adult world or physiological. In America, depression kicks in for many during their change from adolescence to an adult. I have read it typically happens in women at about 14-16.

As I get older into my ‘twilight years’ I feel very lucky I have made it through the hills and valleys. Today, despite my current economic situation I say ‘every day when I wake up and my feet hit the ground is a GREAT day- and I go from there. This is working as I struggle maneuvering through life.

10 Signs of Bipolar Disorder

Wondering whether or not you have bipolar? Questioning your symptoms? Confused about how to distinguish one mood episode from the next? Wonder no more! Here are 10 definitive signs—plus their associated moods.

By Julie A. Fast

While reading each sign of bipolar, ask yourself, “Is this depression, euphoric mania, or dysphoric (mixed) mania?”

1. Sporadic Sleep Schedules

Noticeable changes in sleep when compared to normal sleep patterns.

2. Increased Irritation

An increase in irritation around children, around pets, and in public. The person who normally glides through life without making negative comments will suddenly turn into a negative, complaining, nasty, meanie! (Associated with agitated depression and dysphoric [mixed] mania.

3. Unpredictable Passions

An increase in goal-driven activities that are acted on immediately, then stopped when the energy runs out. (Associated with mania, with an emphasis on euphoric mania.)

4. Sudden Disinterest

A lack of interest in what a person normally finds very interesting, such as working on a car with regularity and then suddenly not even opening the toolbox. (Associated with depression.)

5. Fluctuating Mood. A noticeable change in mood that is in direct contrast to another mood, such as being the life of the party one day and crying in the car and feeling upset to go in the next time, as you don’t have the energy to be up and around other people. (Associated with euphoric mania and then depression. It is rapid cycling if it happens more than a few times in a year. Ultra-rapid cycling happens when the mood shifts monthly or weekly.) Read more >>

HOW WE CAN HELP EACH OTHER

How. We can help each other

As I read other blogs on bipolar, I am trying to figure out how I can both help myself as well as others. I have some questions for my readers who also have their own blogs or can give me recommendations. My hope is to get some input from you.

1. I want some recommendations on how you get responses and people to follow your blog?

2. Do you find any help or insight with my blog?

I know it is different than most as it is both educational as well as personal. Having said that the only input I have received back have been from non bipolar friends who have provide3d words of encouragement. This makes me feel I am not helping people who are bipolar or deeply depressed at times, families and friends of bipolar people or even medical professionals who may be learning about bipolar to better help their clients.

3. Do you feel your blogs are more like journals to help yourself release your current life’s issues or are you too trying to better the world and reach out to those who are trying to understand themselves and if this is something that they can figure out if then need help..

In a nutshell this actually makes me feel a blog isn’t my vehicle and becoming a waste of my time.

Another reason why I ask is my family siblings 3 of whom are bipolar ( one unmedicated and in denial) and 3 who are on drugs for depression and anxiety, didn’t care enough to read this blog. My hopes were so positive. I wanted them to ‘put their money where there mouth is’ as they proclaimed over the years they didn’t understand bipolar and wanted to so much because they love me. Sigh

Hopefully I can get some help here.

Thanks,

Liz

Social Isolation Could Be a Clue for Bipolar Relapse

Solitude can be healthy and rejuvenating. Time alone can do wonders when you need to hit the pause button. But when you find yourself with more and more unanswered emails and texts, regretfully declining RSVPs, and hours logged on the couch, that seclusion you were craving may be closer to self-isolation.

Self-isolation feeds loneliness.

And when left unchecked, loneliness fuels depression, anxiety, and paranoia, which only contributes to more withdrawal, according to Michelle Lim, PhD.

“We are not designed to be alone,” she says. “We are a social species.”

A study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science found that both actual and perceived social isolation are associated with being detrimental to our health.

Adding to the problem is that other people often don’t pick up on the signs. It’s easy for them to mistake your silence as you merely being busy or even disinterested. For you, this gradual and unintentional withdrawal could be a sign of bipolar relapse you hadn’t seen coming.

If you’ve found yourself handing out more “no, thank you”s to social invitations, consider whether you’re making excuses for yourself. Try not to rationalize all that one-on-none time and instead see it for what it is, then reach out to someone you trust for some gentle support in saying “yes” to an invitation when you want to say “no.”

Apologize for your recent absences if necessary, and perhaps use that as a segue for a larger conversation about what you’ve been going through.

In a memo to those in her life who care about her but aren’t nearby enough to see how seriously bipolar can impact her life, blogger Lynda Williams writes: “There is a small group of core people that I talk bipolar with, and if you aren’t in that group, I’m asking you and myself, why aren’t we talking about it? I’m afraid to disappoint you, and I’m afraid to lose you…” Read more >>

Boulder bipolar clinic to suspend ‘much-needed’ services as finances fall short

By LUCY HAGGARD |

November 24, 2019 

Bipolar disorder affects roughly 2.6% of the population. In Boulder County alone, that’s likely about 8,300 people.

Yet on average, about eight years pass from when someone first experiences symptoms and when they get treatment, likely due to stigmatization and lack of access to care. When Boulder’s Sutherland Bipolar Clinic suspends services in May 2020,

that access will decrease just a little more.

The clinic cited unsustainable funding as the reason for taking a break in providing care, though it’s not closing entirely. It’s the only clinic in the Front Range, and possibly throughout the state, that solely treats patients with bipolar disorder.

The Robert D. Sutherland Memorial Foundation raises approximately 80% of the clinic’s funds through donations. While the clinic isn’t free, it operates on a sliding scale to make care accessible for patients whose mental health often directly affects their

financial situation. The rest of the funding comes through small grants and in-kind donations, including its office at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Raimy Clinic.

Rachel Cruz, the foundation’s executive director, said that though the clinic’s budget — about $230,000 — is not a lot in comparison with other nonprofits, consistent funding has dwindled during its 17 years of existence.

“In an effort to still try and meet their needs for treatment and care, we continued to try and keep our center going with donor funding,” Cruz said. “Over the years, it’s become more and more challenging to ask for gifts in that manner. Mental illness is not one of those more prominent causes that people are willing to support.”

Not only does the clinic provide affordable, specialty help for those living with bipolar disorder; it also trains doctoral students to be the next generation of therapists. Natasha Hansen, a sixth-year doctoral student who has worked at the clinic for three years, said this trifecta of opportunities benefits everyone involved and has increased her passion for accessible mental health care.

“I feel like I’ve gotten an in-depth training in treating bipolar disorder, which really benefits from specialized treatment, but also a high-quality training for co-occurring conditions,” Hansen said. “It’s been incredible to work with individuals and help break

what can be a vicious cycle.”

A disorder that can be managed

Though bipolar disorder looks different for every individual, it often includes cycling between elevated and depressed episodes. In a manic episode, the high point of the cycle, someone can experience symptoms like racing thoughts, euphoria and irritability.

This can also manifest in a muted form, called hypomania.

The low point of the cycle is often a major depressive episode. Someone may not sleep well, feel emotionally depressed and even experience suicidality. Sometimes individuals will go through cycles of mixed episodes, with both mania and depression, or go directly from one episode to the next without any time in a “normal” mood. Occasionally bipolar disorder also includes psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions.

While patients are often prescribed medication, therapy can be more tricky than other mental illnesses. Hansen likens it to diabetes: both are chronic conditions, without a cure, that put people at higher risk for adverse health. They can also coincide with other conditions. Bipolar disorder often accompanies substance abuse, anxiety disorders or attention deficit hyperactive disorder.

Yet bipolar disorder, like diabetes, can be managed with a balance of psychological therapies and maintaining physical health. This degree of holistic care is often absent in clinics that are more generalized or when treating less severe mental illnesses.

“You can do everything right and someone can still flip into a severe episode, but at the same time these strategies make a big difference,” Hansen said.

Someone with bipolar disorder may experience signals — altered sleep schedule, for example — that could either trigger an episode or indicate that one is already on the way. The clinic’s patients learn how to recognize their own signals, consciously

intervene with behavioral strategies and manage their lifestyle to mitigate the frequency and intensity of episodes.

Hansen noted that patients also work on issues like interpersonal communication, navigating relationships and managing stress that any other person in therapy might address, too.

‘You’re not alone’

A large part of the clinic’s success comes through this all-encompassing approach. Often, this is through a community setting such as group therapy. Sam Shew, one of the foundation’s board members, said that the clinic has filled a much-needed niche.

“It’s nothing that anyone else is putting forth,” Shew said. “Being able to sit next to someone else who’s going through the same challenge that you are, you really feel that you’re not alone. It’s a much-needed service in the community, which is why it’s hard to see it closing.”

To be clear, the clinic isn’t closing outright. Right now, the clinic offers outpatient, individual, group and family therapy, as well as educational seminars for the general public. The foundation will continue to look for new ways toward financial sustainability,

which may include narrowing the clinic’s operations to the most impactful services.

“I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but the interviews I’ve had over the past couple of weeks have pointed to the need for us to keep our services available,” Cruz said.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to figure out a way to do this.”

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