In my years of helping people develop their ability to thrive with bipolar disorder, I have heard horror stories about interventions that were done on them. As a therapist, I help teach people loving ways for doing interventions.
Out of love and desperation, people often do some very hurtful things to get someone to get help.
INTERVENTIONS GONE WRONG: Words that hurt someone you love when trying to get them help.
“Something is wrong with you.”
“You scare me.”
“I am ashamed of you.”
“You embarrass me.”
“You are crazy.”
“You are bad.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You are bipolar.”
It does not matter what words follow after these sentences. The damage has already been done.
It is highly unlikely that a person will want to seek help, when the person trying to help them is hurting them.
Loving ways to do an intervention:
Use “I” Statements.
Focus on specific behaviors that you are concerned about.
Asking your loved one to receive help.
“I am concerned that…”
“It hurts me when…”
“I get scared when…”
“When this (behavior) happens, I feel…”
“I don’t know what to do when…”
These types of “I” statements are effective because:
They do not blame or shame.
They do not judge a person.
They do not label a person.
The person sharing these statements is expressing how something affects them…they are owning it.
Focusing on specific behaviors: (that are not normal for the person)
“When you don’t sleep at night, I fear that…”
“You’ve been speaking so fast lately that I can’t understand you.”
“The way you drove today, really scared me. I felt we were going to get into a bad car accident.”
“When you purchased _________ on a whim, I didn’t feel we could afford it and I don’t know what to do about that.”
“Your emotions have been so powerful lately. It scares me and I don’t know how to respond.”
“You haven’t stopped working on ___________ (goal) in four days. You haven’t eaten, showered, changed clothes, slept or left the house. This is not how you normally are. I am concerned.”
What makes it effective:
You are separating the person from the problem = not shaming, blaming and judging your loved one.
You are expressing your response to their behavior without labeling or diagnosing the behavior.
Your concern is NOT that there is something wrong with your loved one, but that their behavior is significantly different from how they usually are.
You bring awareness to the behavior.
Asking your loved one to receive help
The goal here is to:
Not make yourself an expert or “know-it-all”. You do not want your loved one to have to defend their behavior. Therefore, you acknowledge that you don’t know what it’s like to experience what they are experiencing. (Unless you too are living with bipolar disorder…then it is different.)
Acknowledge that you believe that their behavior could be beyond their control; therefore, it is worthy of receiving help and not a reflection of who they are.
Ask them if they are willing to receive help. If their behaviors do not put them at harm to themselves and others, it is best to willingly choose to receive help.
“I don’t know what it is like for you to not be able to sleep and to have such powerful emotions (or whatever behaviors you are noticing), but it appears that what is happening may be beyond your control. Are you willing to receive help?”
When to have a professional intervention
If you are not able to communicate with your loved one in a structured and constructive way, it may be a good option to have a therapist or specialist participate in the intervention to structure and guide the communication process.
However the role of the interventionist is not to diagnose your loved one, their role is simply to contain and structure the communication so that your loved one can have an opportunity to choose to receive help.
It doesn’t matter what you call it “emotional _______”: “…tide”, “…highs and lows”, “…rollercoaster”, “…waves”, “…rubberbanding”, “…disruption”, “…overwhelm”….we all go up and down or in and out in some way (even people without bipolar disorder).
So what do you do when you are in a relationship with someone and they are experiencing an “emotional…”?
Here are some of my ideas…
Common reasons for “emotional ______”:
Physical / Biological:
Dietary or digestion changes
Lack of exercise
Not enough connection / intimacy
Too much connection / intimacy
Need for independence / to be alone
Need for connection
Financial stress / loss of income
You upset them / hurt their feelings
Pain / Past emotional wounds
These are just some possibilities. The reality is that if you ask any person who is experiencing “emotional…”, they probably won’t be able to express this as they are experiencing it.
Why asking them WHY? doesn’t always help:
They don’t know.
Asking people “why” causes them to have to defend themselves.
Asking people “why” causes people to have to search for a problem and find one…that may not even be the problem at all.
It makes them feel worse when they are already feeling bad, overwhelmed or confused.
Ways to respond to your partner’s “emotional ______”
When someone we love is pushing away, withdrawing or pulling away, it is uncomfortable, scary and sad. Of course it is a natural instinct to want to be close. When they pull away it feels like we’re losing them, that we’re losing our relationship. It really hurts. “Emotional…’s” can be painful and a loss.
Often a mistake we make is to do the opposite of what they want. We often smother them, lovingly of course.
Things to do instead of smothering:
Give your partner the space to experience their “emotional…”.
If they are pulling away, let them, and do so lovingly. Let them know that it is okay and that you love them, instead of panicking and feeling like the sky is falling down.
I know that this is hard and it is not easy to do at all, but in every “emotional…” there is a gift. They may not always find it, but the gift is their own to be found. You cannot give them that gift. It is something they get to find within themselves.
Develop your awareness of your partners pattern or cycle for “emotional…” (and your own).
Ask yourself, “Is this a pattern? How did it happen before? What was the outcome? What did I learn?”
If you are able to see a pattern of emotion and behavior, then it is possible that what your own emotions and instincts are fearing may not be actually happening and it is simply an “emotional…”.
Do not take an “emotional…” personally.
(See the reasons above…almost all of them have nothing to do with you.)
Take good care of yourself.
Now is the time to focus on YOU.
What makes YOU happy?
What do you enjoy doing by yourself or with others that you may have not done in awhile?
What is something you want to try?
Give yourself love…
Don’t wait for anyone to bring you flowers, grow your own.
Therapy is both a vehicle and the developer of your own and your relationship’s tools and resources to better build the relationship you desire to be in.
Suffering with depression is incredibly difficult and painful. However, the second most painful and difficult position is experienced by the person trying to love their partner, child, parent or best friend experiencing depression. In a way, it could be easier for the person who is suffering from depression, as they are able to seek out different methods that can help them to feel better. They can even go as far as trying something similar to the mataro blue strain to relieve some of their symptoms, even if it’s just for a while and until they can find a more permanent solution. Meanwhile, it can be harder for the family and loved ones of the person who is going through depression as they may not know how to handle the situation.
The rejection is heart-breaking. Feeling like your presence (doing anything in your ability to help) makes your partner worse or doesn’t matter at all really hurts.
In this blog we will explore strategies that will support you during the difficult times caused by depression.
Strategy #1: Do not take it personally
Nothing that is expressed or takes place during your loved one’s depression is personal.
When they reject you, and they will, IT IS NOT PERSONAL.
Rejection has nothing to do with you. Isolation is an instinctive response to suffering and depression.
Rejection can also be seen as an act of protection. Your loved one does not want to hurt you. The only thing depression can do is hurt you. Everything that is said is a reflection of the depression – the fear, the anxiety, the panic and the pain. It’s a very heavy load, if you take it personally, the load will become yours.
When someone is experiencing depression they experience the inability to be themselves and it feels permanent. When they can’t be themselves with you (ie. be loving with you) it hurts them more and makes the depression feel worse.
People often share with me that their loved one experiencing depression is able to talk with casual friends and acquaintances and that those people are helpful and it hurts.
My response to that is that partners, parents, children and best friends are different from casual friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Partners etc get to actually see the depression.
Casual friends, colleagues and acquaintances get to see your loved one’s “representative”. They get to see your loved one pretend to not be depressed. They get to distract your loved one. If your loved one does talk with them about their feelings, they’re not dragging them through the mud the way they do with you. Instead, they give their friends the “I’m struggling, but look how well I’m handling it” story.
Casual friends don’t know that when you’re loved one gets home that they can’t get off the couch and wish they were dead. Of course your loved one feels better when they get to pretend that they are okay.
Strategy #2: Accept that you cannot make your loved one be “not depressed” or feel good
This is a really hard thing for anyone to accept. Depression hurts not only the one experiencing it, but it also hurts the people who love them the most. Here is a metaphor that I share that has helped people develop acceptance of this statement:
When we come into life we are all given two things: a shovel and a bucket of shit.
It doesn’t matter in life that we have a bucket of shit. We all have it. We always will. It never goes away and no matter what you do the shit will always be there.
What matters is what we do with our shovel.
Some will use their shovel to take their own shit and put it in other people’s buckets. They never actually can get rid of their shit, they simply make other people feel like crap.
Some will use their shovel to stick in other people’s shit and then put other people’s shit in their own bucket.
Others will first use their shovel to cover their bucket from giving others shit and receiving other people’s shit and then figure out what they can grow with the shit that they have.
If you stick your shovel in your loved one’s shit who is experiencing depression, it doesn’t make the depression go away. It just puts the depression in your own bucket and adds to your shit.
You cannot make flowers grow in a bucket of shit that is not your own.
Instead of “making it better” take the pressure off yourself to fix it by:
Simply being with the person you love.
Sitting beside them.
Holding their hand.
Rubbing their head and their feet.
Validating their feelings. What they are experiencing is horrible.
Reminding them that what they are experiencing is temporary.
This won’t make the depression go away, but it will help them get through the suffering.
Strategy #3: Perspective: Depression is in a relationship with the person you love, not the person you love
Your loved one is not depressed. Depression is NOT who they are. Your loved one is experiencing depression.
They are in a relationship with depression that has them captured or held hostage. Its a bad relationship. A relationship that isn’t easy to get out of. However, depression affects them and when they have the strength they can affect depression.
It can help your loved one to hear that you know that this is not who they are and that you love them. It is also important for your loved one to know that you love them even though they are not themselves.
Of course they won’t respond the way you want them to…with love, affection and appreciation. However, deep down beneath all of the numbness, pain, anxiety, fear etc…your loved one is still there and need to be loved.
Strategy #4: Interpreting Rejection
When your loved one is in a depression rejecting you and pushing you away as best they can. They’re not saying, “I need you and want more of you.” It would be easy to allow their rejection to cause you to dive into a depression yourself and feel heart-broken.
Here’s an alternative interpretation to their rejection:
“I need to be alone.”
Interpretation: “I need to escape this by sleeping as much as possible. I can’t escape it as easily if you’re here talking with me about it. Why don’t you go do something you need to do for yourself.”
“I’d rather be with my friends [than you].”
Interpretation: “When I’m with my friends, it distracts me from how horrible I feel. My friends don’t ask me how I’m feeling. They don’t ask me if anything is wrong. If they see something is wrong, they wait until I share. If I don’t share, they don’t ask…they just keep talking about themselves.”
“I don’t know if I want our relationship.”
Interpretation: If your relationship was in good standing when your loved when went into the depression…”I’m not myself. I don’t like who I am being. This is not who I want to be. I don’t want to treat you this way. This feels permanent. If this is how I will always treat you. I don’t want to be with you.”
“You don’t make me feel better.”
Interpretation: “You can’t make me feel better even though you really try to. When I am with you, I still feel so depressed because I don’t get to pretend to be okay when I’m with you. When I’m with you I’m stuck feeling whatever I feel and there is nothing you can do to make me feel better.”
Strategy #5: Your Own Self-Care
When your loved one is experiencing depression, it is not your responsibility to make them feel better. You can’t. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself.
It is incredibly difficult to not be sucked in by the depression of your loved one because of how much you care. It is your responsibility to not be sucked in. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself.
Think about what soothes you, brings you joy, and nurtures you.
Here are some areas of self-care to explore:
Exercise / Movement
Being in nature / Being outside
Attitude of gratitude and appreciation
Connection with others
Being Creative / Artistic
Self-Expression / Journaling
Games / Playing
Cooking / Eating healthy
Meditation / Guided meditation / Yoga
Depression is incredibly hard on everyone involved. When you are loving someone with depression it is so important that you make the time to love yourself, to nurture yourself, and receive support in a way that is fulfilling to you.
When someone has lost touch with reality the words to describe this experience, “psychosis” and “psychotic” often scares people. One automatic response to those words that many people have is “crazy”.
Reality is simply created by people agreeing on shared sensory experiences.
Psychosis simply refers to someone experiencing things with their five senses that other people are not able to perceive.
The five senses:
Some people see people or things that others do not see.
Some people see sounds or smells represented by shapes and colors.
Some people hear sounds or voices that others do not hear.
Some people feel sounds with their body or taste sounds that other people cannot.
Some people feel sensations in or on their body that other people cannot feel.
Some people can touch something that others do not perceive.
Some people taste flavors and textures that others do not taste.
Some people smell pleasing and displeasing scents that others do not smell.
What most people do not understand is that the EXPERIENCE of these sensations is very real.
When other people do not agree or share in these sensory experiences it does not make it any less real for the person who does.
These sensory experiences are taking place in a person’s brain.
What MAY be happening during these sensory experiences is:
There could be a communication problem in the sensory centers of the brain
Communication error between the sensory centers of the brain and the cerebral cortex (thinking part of the brain).
The messages coming from the five senses may get jumbled by the time they reach the sensory centers.
When someone is having these experiences, the goal is not to “snap them out of it”.
Instead, goals are to help loved one’s by:
assessing their safety in regards to harm to self and/or others.
meeting and supporting them wherever they are in their experience
helping them regulate if they are willing.
Five actions you can take to help someone who has lost touch with reality.
1. Do not challenge or try to disprove their experience
Instead, BE CURIOUS.
Some ways of being curious:
Ask them to tell you what they are hearing or seeing etc.
Ask how it affects them – behavior, thoughts, feelings etc
Ask how they feel about it
Ask them if they believe it is a problem or if there are ever times when it is problematic.
Ask them how it helps them.
This assesses for safety and prevents agitation.
If what they are experiencing is causing them to want to do harm to themselves or others, hospitalization is necessary immediately.
It is not helpful to tell someone who is experiencing psychosis that what they are experiencing is not happening. Doing so often causes agitation for the person and isolation.
2. Bring their attention to their body
There are several activities you can do to help someone bring their attention into their body. However, when someone is experiencing psychosis, you do not want those activities to be based on imagination. The activities should be physically based:
Breathing: have them notice their lungs filling. Some people may not respond well to listening to their heart beating it could cause some to become agitated.
Wiggle the toes, rotate the ankles, raise and lower the legs, or massage their own legs. You can do the same with fingers, wrists, and arms.
Put feet flat on the floor, sit with good posture and breathe
Rotate neck clockwise and counterclockwise. This can be done with the chest as well.
What these activities do is engage the sensory organs and sensory centers in the brain to the present moment in the body. This may help someone regulate their brain by focusing on the physical senses.
3. Focus on breathing
Breathing is consistently important in everything we do.
Ask them to take at least seven deep breaths, into their belly, and slowly release them.
Breathing deeply helps regulate the brain. Its like pressing the restart button.
4. Redirect them to thinking about a time & place where they felt good
If they are agitated, ask them to tell you about a time and place where they felt good (or whatever emotional state they are needing).
Ask them about sensory things like what they saw, heard, touched, tasted, smelled etc. This may help regulate the sensory areas of the brain.
If your loved one is a willing participant to be close to you, ask them if you may hug them. Ask them if you may give them a long tight hug.
This type of hug is not one in which you pat them on their back or rub their back. This type of hug is one in which you hold them tightly, without squeezing, and simply breathe deeply together.
This form of containment and breathing is very calming and may also be a “reboot button” for the brain.
I feel sorry for the boys I dated when I started dating.
I never outright said, “I’m bipolar, you don’t want to date me…do you?” (Hoping they’d say yes.) Nonetheless, this is what my actions said.
I remember the very first time I went on a first date….
Within the first 10 minutes I told him that I’m bipolar. Then I sat there and waited to see what he would say.
There was no second date.
What I came to realize is it is not that he didn’t like people who are living with bipolar disorder. He simply didn’t know me at all. He didn’t know what to say. He had no clue of what that meant and how it would affect him enjoying our time together.
Him not wanting a second date had nothing to do with who I am. It had everything to do with how I presented myself.
I learned from normal dating that telling a guy in the first 10 minutes was a bad idea. So I wanted to protect myself from being rejected…I waited until I knew that I liked the guy.
Years ago, I decided to try online dating. I met this guy and told him nothing over the chatting on the internet…nothing over the phone…and let him get to know me on our dates. We had so much fun together. We had a lot in common (for people in their early twenties), we had similar backgrounds, interests, playfulness etc etc.
He really liked me. We were excited about each other. One night while sitting on the beach on our third date he shared with me that even though he talks about sex a lot that he’s really a virgin and shared his values, beliefs, hopes and dreams. I felt comfortable with him so I decided to share that I’m bipolar. I felt so at ease that I shared some of my stories and what I’ve overcome and my successes. We felt so connected and bonded after revealing these really important things. We were in fantasy land talking about our future.
The next date he told me that he does not want to see me anymore.
I was so hurt. I couldn’t understand. He seemed so happy about me sharing with him and he rejected me.
Later he told me that it wasn’t personal. He shared that his sister is living with severe bipolar disorder and that he didn’t want his children to go through that.
Even though it made sense…it hurt.
This changed how I did online dating….
I learned very quickly how painful it is to be vulnerable and have someone reject you. It was something I did not want to feel again and I was willing to do anything I could to prevent it.
Therefore, I got in the habit of telling guys on the phone before I even made a date with them.
The way I thought about it was that if we got to talking and liked each other that if I shared that I am bipolar and they still want to go out with me…then its safe…I won’t be rejected.
It was sort of effective dating.
I ended up dating other guys with bipolar disorder and other psychological disorders that didn’t bother me so much because I truly get it and I know how to respond to it; however, I wanted someone more emotionally grounded and stable than me. My choices and behavior wasn’t attracting that.
Dating While Manic
A number of years ago I experienced a self-controlled hypomanic episode and I thought I was out of the woods…but I was wrong. While still under the influence of mania I was really free, I met a guy online. My guards were completely down. I had no attachment to the outcome. I was completely free to say and do whatever I wanted. We hit it off on the phone. I shared with him that I was living with bipolar disorder before we met. I simply didn’t care how he responded. Without any effort on my part, he clearly saw that I was thriving and successful in how I live with bipolar disorder and wasn’t concerned at all.
On our very first date we had the “love at first sight” experience. We were in each others arms referring to each other as “soul mate” by the end of the first date.
By the second date, we were planning our lives together and talking about future marriage. We just knew that even though we didn’t know each other that we were meant to be together.
The following weekend he went on a camping trip with his friends and I was not invited.
While he was gone, I freaked out. I didn’t even know his last name. I panicked because the “relationship” was happening way too fast for me.
So I texted him sharing that I needed to slow down. I sent him probably 100 text messages while he was gone without him responding to even one. I was on an out of control emotional rollercoaster.
When I didn’t get a response from him I kept trying to correct or explain the previous message. I couldn’t control myself. I got angry and sad then rationalized my feelings all in texts to him. I just kept impulsively texting trying to explain myself. When he didn’t respond, I couldn’t stop rollercoastering and expressed every thought and feeling I had.
It turned out that he didn’t have phone service while he was camping.
He got all of my text messages at once.
When he got home, I received a text that said, “Never contact me again.”
I tried to explain myself, that it was mania. He didn’t care and wanted nothing to do with me.
Dating with bipolar disorder is really hard and can be very painful…but it is doable.
Building a loving, nurturing and healthy relationship is possible.
We will explore building relationships in another blog.
I invite you to share your dating stories and bloopers in the comments section.
Sharing with people that you are living with bipolar disorder can be a devastating and painful experience. However it can also be one that opens people’s eyes and is liberating for you. In this blog, I will share my own stories including the humor, the successes, and the times when it really hurt to share that I’m bipolar. The stories I’m sharing are about my first time ever revealing that I’m living with bipolar disorder, making friends, meeting new people, and the hardest….my dating stories. I will emphasize the lessons that I learned from each experience.
My First Time…
The first time I shared that I was living with bipolar disorder was in front of a high school summer school class of thirty students. I was forced to go to summer school weeks after being diagnosed because my family was really concerned with seeing me spend my days in a ball in the corner of the couch. After my first full-blown manic episode, I was in a depression so deep that I only knew I was alive because the spoon fogged up when it was near my nose. A teacher, who knew me as an enthusiastic bright student, saw that my head was down on the table since I started the class and I wasn’t participating at all. In front of the class he asked me, “What’s wrong, Robin?…Are you heart-broken?” My head felt like it weighed 50 pounds and was crazy glued to my desk. So I slowly lifted my face off of the table, leaving my head still on it, and in a tone that must have stated “don’t mess with me”…
I said, “No. I am crazy. I have bipolar disorder.”
I really don’t know how people responded to my lifeless expression. I can only imagine that it would really scare people to see me like that, especially knowing me and after seeing me manic. I’m pretty sure that rumors spread through school like wild-fire because everyone gave me space. My friends who were close to me before I was manic, disappeared…except for one. I felt like a ghost throughout the rest of high school. (Luckily, I was able to find support in a positive environment elsewhere.)
…What I Learned
It hurts. It really hurt to have people fear me.
That pain caused me to decide that I wanted to educate people about the experience of bipolar disorder.
From then on, I shared openly that I am living with bipolar disorder and worked hard at learning so that I could answer any question asked of me to the best of my ability.
When I got back on my feet, I took off running in life. I didn’t have many friends. Nonetheless, I was determined to not only succeed in all the ways I was told I couldn’t…but also decided that I wanted good friendships.
My first day moving into the dorms at UC Berkeley was quite memorable for everyone on my floor…well, maybe even the building.
Everyone was nervous and uncomfortable about this huge change and new living situation. I came in, bouncing off the walls…so happily manic that it was contagious.
I welcomed everybody to my floor with a HUGE hug and smile. My enthusiasm, humor and spark brought almost everyone together laughing and playing. We all helped each other move in. People felt so comfortable in this very uncomfortable situation of moving in with strangers.
Then I led most of the people on my floor to each of the other dorm floors in our ten floor building and introduced ourselves to all the people in our building…practically going door to door. We were a tribe.
That same day, a group of us sat down in my room and I pointed out my behavior and shared with them that I’m living with bipolar disorder and was triggered into mania by the change etc.
There response was one of care and curiosity instead of judgment. They asked me questions about what its like to be bipolar and what I’ve overcome. I openly shared with them. Then they asked if there was anything they could do to help me…I told them that they were already doing it.
Everyone was so appreciative of my sharing that we all began sharing stories with each other of overcoming hardship. It resulted in the beginning of the closest friendships that I have had thus far.
…What I Learned
I learned that if I have confidence and inspire people that they won’t be afraid of me.
I was quite hypomanic and honest about it. It brought so much joy and freedom to other people without shame, judgment or fear. It tore down the traditional walls between people when they first meet. I inspired and empowered other people to connect with each other and share their lives openly.
I took the fear out of bipolar disorder for my friends. To this day, when my friends meet someone with bipolar disorder they treat them with so much acceptance, compassion and kindness. They have no fear and judgment because I destroyed the stigma.
Meeting New People…
I never walk up to anyone, shake their hand and say, “Hi I’m Bipolar.”….ANYMORE. When I was young, that was basically the first thing that came out of my mouth and then I “fire-hosed” people with everything I knew about bipolar disorder. Fire-hosing is like when someone asks for a glass of water, putting a fire-hose to their mouth instead. I did this because I was so proud of what I had achieved in my life. I had proven all the stigma wrong. I wanted everyone to know that what people believe about bipolar disorder is not true. I’m not as open and free when I meet brand new people as an adult. First I see if they show interest in me. I do this by genuinely being interested in them. I am naturally curious and want to hear stories and learn about people’s lives. If someone shows interest my profession, I share openly with them about what I do as being a therapist (but without going into my specialization…bipolar disorder). If they continue to be interested and want to know about my passion, then I confidently share with them my love of helping people who are living with bipolar disorder. I share that I have this tremendous passion and sense of duty because I too am living with bipolar disorder…. Then I invite them to ask me questions and I share my experience, listen to their awareness and understanding and answer their questions to the best of my ability.
…What I Learned
People only fear and judge people living with bipolar disorder when they don’t understand it. When people understand and have compassion for what they fear, the fear can no longer exist.
Oy Vey! There is so much I could say about this that I’ll have to write about this in my next blog that will be up Wednesday….
In the comments section, I invite you to share your stories and bloopers of “coming out” with bipolar disorder.
So many people have shared with me the pain that they experience from their loved ones who reject them or refuse to acknowledge that they are living with bipolar disorder.
In this blog, I will do my best to expose some of the things that may cause people to reject and deny support to people living with bipolar disorder.
My goal is to uncover the pain that people are going through when they don’t respond the way we would hope. I hope that those reading this will have a greater understanding about painful responses from the people you care about who aren’t able to be there for you yet.
To reach this goal, we are going to break down the complex responses:
Insecurity & Fear
Shame & Guilt
Denial broken down into pieces:
“This is not happening. My daughter is not experiencing mania, she’s just moody.”
“This is not happening. My son is just going through a lot of financial stress.”
“My husband can’t be bipolar. He is the provider for our family.”
“My wife is not bipolar, she has a drinking problem. That’s all.”
“This cannot happen to me. I could never have imagined this.”
“People with bipolar disorder are crazy…they’re insane…my _______ can’t be bipolar.”
“This can’t be happening, I know everything that goes on in my family. I would know if this were happening.”
“This is not possible. This doesn’t happen to me.”
“It can’t happen. No one in my family or anyone I know has ever had it. It’s not possible.”
Declaring that the evidence, experiences or facts that support what is happening is not true.
“It’s not true.”
“This is all lies.”
“None of the doctors we’ve seen know what they are talking about.”
The message I want you to notice and take home about the denial response is that it is a reflection of where the person is able to be right now. It is a mental and emotional place that is self-centered and experiencing a great deal of fear and pain. It is not a reflection of you.
Insecurity & Fear
Insecurity broken down into pieces:
What are people going to think of me…
“What will my friends think of me if they know that my child is bipolar.”
“What if people think I did something to my child that caused them to be bipolar.”
“What if people think I was abusive.”
“I must have done something wrong raising my child.”
“I wasn’t a good enough parent.”
“I am a bad mother.” “I am a bad father.” “I am a bad sibling.” “I am a bad spouse.”
What does it say about me…
“Does this mean I am bipolar?”
“If I were a better parent, my child wouldn’t be suffering with this.”
I don’t know what to do…
“I don’t know how to help my (loved one).”
“I don’t know what to say or how to act.”
“What if I make them worse?”
The message I want you to notice and take home about the insecurity and fear response is that it is a reflection of the person’s fear and insecurity AND it has nothing to do with you.
Shame & Guilt
Shame and guilt broken down:
Its my fault…
“I did this to my child. My child has my genes.”
“I wasn’t there for him/her when s/he needed me.”
“I didn’t teach them good coping skills.”
I am embarrassed…
“I am embarrassed that my child is bipolar.”
“I am embarrassed that my spouse is bipolar.”
“I’d be less embarrassed for my child to be a drug addict than mentally ill.”
The message I want you to notice and take home about the shame and guilt response is that it is a reflection of the person’s beliefs and fear of other people’s opinion AND it has nothing to do with you.
Many people find it incredibly difficult to acknowledge and accept that they are living with bipolar disorder….let alone be willing to get help. They have really good reasons.
Here are some perspectives people have shared with me as well as my own experience that I have overcome in order to get to be who I am.
I share this is so that people who want their loved one to admit they have diagnoses can understand where their loved one is coming from.
“This way of thinking and being is normal for me. I have always been this way. Why should I need a doctor, medication and therapy to feel “normal”. This is what I know. Nothing is wrong with me.”
“I’m not hurting anyone but myself. I don’t care what people think about me.”
“This is who I am. I don’t want to change.”
“I don’t want to be controlled by medication. I don’t want to be a robot……I am afraid that if I take medication, I will lose who I am.”
“Struggling with the ups and downs is something that I know how to do well. I don’t know what I would do with myself.”
“I am so scared of medication. I have heard stories of people not being able to feel and think. I have heard stories of people not able to be who they were. That really scares me.”
“I can’t believe that the most wonderful, beautiful, life changing experience didn’t come from God and is considered as a disorder…I can’t believe that it means there is something wrong with my brain.”
“I don’t want to be treated as though I am crazy.”
” I don’t want to find out that there is something wrong with me.”
“Society has a problem for not valuing and putting to use your creativity, brilliance and energy. I have something to offer just the way I am.”
“Moses saw a burning bush and said God was talking to him…AND he’s a prophet. Why is it that when I see God and we talk that I am crazy?”
“I love mania.”
“I don’t see it as a problem.”
“What if no matter how hard I try, I can’t be “normal”?”
“What if I can’t be fixed?”
“I am broken.”
“I don’t belong. No one will accept me.”
“My life feels over.”
“I don’t know who I am.”
“No one will love me. I am not loveable.”
“I am so scared of myself.”
No one can be forced to see that they are living with bipolar disorder. No one can be forced to take action and receive treatment.
Have compassion and empathy.
People usually do not seek out treatment unless it affects their functioning on the following levels:
They feel out of control of their mind and body.
There loved ones do not feel safe being around them.
They are at risk for self-harm or a danger to others.
They are not able to function in their work.
They are not able to be the partner they want to be in their romantic relationship due to their behavior and emotion.
They are having difficulty maintaining friendships due to their behavior.
Sometimes people are not able to see that this is taking place. They are so deep in the mania that they can’t see what is happening.
Therefore, it is important for loved one’s of a person who is allegedly experiencing bipolar disorder to share their concerns and help them develop their awareness.
Before we get started, I want to help everyone understand why in my writing I use the terms “we” and “us”. The key reason for doing this is because stigmatization, judgment and the fear people have of people living with bipolar disorder can be very isolating and create a great deal of self-shame and self-fear. I use “we” and us” to remove stigma, judgment and fear in order to create belonging and acceptance. I also use “we” and “us” so it is very clear that I am writing about an experience that I belong to as well.
This blog is in response to someone asking for help to better be able to help her loved one who is struggling with rapid cycling…and I’m broadening this to include both rapid cycling and mania.
#1 Thing you can do to help the one you love is by taking really good care of yourself – emotionally, mentally, physically, your health etc.
It is incredibly hard to help someone who is experiencing mania or rapid cycling. The reason why hospitalization exists, besides being at harm to ourselves and others, is to slow us down. Hospitalization removes whatever supports mania and medically slows us down and forces our bodies and mind to stop running a million miles a minute and rest. Being forced to slow down can feel like death or simply horrible.
The goal of this blog is to help intervene before hospitalization is needed.
This blog is about how to help someone you love slow down and gain some control during mania or mixed episodes without hospitalization. It is not easy.
A gem I have gained from my experience from experiencing mania is how powerful the mind-body connection really is. When my mind and emotions are going a million miles a minute there is no rational way to THINK myself out of this process. However, my body can only go so fast. I learned that if I can slow down my body and gain awareness and control in my body that it has a profound affect on my mind.
What I hope to share are some tools that can be helpful to the ones you love that I have learned from experience and professional education that have been successful in slowing down mania or cycling and building awareness and control.
Help loved ones gain control of their mind through their bodies by:
Shifting our attention to our breath.
When we focus on our breathing it brings our attention away from what is taking place around us and in our minds. Our attention goes directly to expanding and contracting our lungs. Our attention goes to breathing as deeply into our bodies as we can and releasing our breath.
By focusing on our breathing we experience control. Our awareness decides how deeply we breathe. We have the power to control our breath which can either slow down our body or speed it up.
GOAL: Breathe deeply and slow down the breath which will regulate the rest of the body and the mind.
How you can help:
Don’t judge, label or say things like “You’re out of control. You’re manic. You’re crazy etc”
Instead say something like, “I’m feeling scared/sad/down/lost/frustrated etc, will you hold my hand (or sit beside me) and breathe with me?”
Creating a safe place for us to contain ourselves
When we feel out of control in our bodies, a long tight hug really helps. There is something incredibly containing about a hug that is grounding for a person who feels out of control.
The hug not only helps us stand, but it also helps us to emotionally center ourselves. We feel emotionally connected, present and a hug is an act of love.
GOAL: Hug your loved one until they let go, don’t let them go. By hugging them they feel safe, wanted and loved. This containment creates self-control in both their body and mind.
How you can help:
Simply say, “I want to hug you, may I give you a hug?”
With your words
When we are manic or rapid cycling we don’t respond well at all to words, we are not able to be rational…especially when sentences start with the word “You…”.
GOAL: To not make us feel bad about ourselves, when we are manic or rapidly cycling and are out of control…we already feel bad about ourselves.
How you can help:
Make “I” statements. Start your sentences with the word “I”. For example, “I feel scared when…” “It concerns me when…” “It’s problematic for me when…” etc.
Giving us space.
When you can’t express how you are feeling, it is incredibly frustrating when someone keeps asking you “What’s wrong?”, “How are you feeling?”, “Are you okay?” etc.
GOAL: Give us space so we can ride out the emotional rollercoaster.
How you can help:
Help your loved one create a space when they are okay that feels safe to them. This space will be where they go when they experience an emotional rollercoaster.
Mania, depression and mixed episodes cause us to express ourselves and emotion in ways that are very hurtful. We often feel ashamed of what we do and say. We are often not kind in how we treat the people we love during these times of incredibly emotional rollercoastering. We are so disappointed in ourselves and feel so much pain for how we treat those we love during an episode. Forgiveness is a gift that we need to receive.
GOAL: Help us heal and recover by forgiving us for the pain we cause.
How you can help:
If you remind your loved one that you know that how they are behaving is not who they are…that it is the mania or depression. Let them know that you love them and that the mania or depression is hurting you.
Don’t let bipolar disorder be an excuse for bad behavior. Help your loved one see the difference. Therapy can be very useful to build this awareness.
I wrote this with my mom to be useful particularly for moms who are struggling with acceptance for their child struggling with bipolar disorder.
My Mother’s Story
Witnessing my child experience Bipolar Disorder
Written By Robin Mohilner in collaboration with my Mother
I never saw Bipolar Disorder coming into my daughter’s life. I believed I was seeing adolescence finally kick in as she began to be more moody, distant, and stay up late. She had the typical problems with boys, friends, and the freedoms that come with turning sixteen.
“Bipolar Disorder? What’s that?”
Robin was such a happy child. She was a very good student. She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t even rebellious. She never kept secrets from me. But in early adolescence she was wounded deeply by her peers and her relationship with her sister, watching me struggle with cancer, and her grandma’s death. She shut down and held everything in. There was nothing I could do to help her, except watch. We sent her to a therapist, but she impressed them with her self-awareness and maturity. She trusted no one with her pain.
I didn’t know that she wasn’t sleeping at night. Once in a while I’d hear something or see her light on, but it wasn’t a big deal to me because I had difficulty sleeping at night, too.
I once walked into her room and caught her with chemistry and physics books. I told her to go to sleep, but I was proud of her for studying. So I left her alone.
A while after the diagnosis, she showed me what she was doing at night. She showed me her teaching bible. She had strategically highlighted it in four colors. She said each color represented a different voice in the bible. Each color had several meanings. If I remember right, in one case blue was acceptance, pink was love, green was responsibility, and purple was forgiveness. I thought nothing of it. It turns out she was doing this with Buddhist texts, the Koran, the Tanakh, any religious texts she could get her hands on. It was then that she shared with me that while she was manic she believed she was a prophet and was to be the mother of the messiah. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time because I would never have known how to respond.
One day, I looked through her school notebooks. She had taken notes and done work, yet the pages were covered with intricate and complex drawings that she had never drawn before. They were beautiful, yet strange. I didn’t want to comment on them since I felt it would hurt her. She said they help her focus in school for school was moving too slow. But I left it alone because she’s very bright and was doing well in school. Now I know that the work I saw was not school work at all. She was devising a plan to save the world. During that time period she wasn’t doing well in school at all. Her teachers thought something was wrong in her life and let her slide.
I did know how badly she wanted to have sex. I even offered to take her to a sex toy store to keep her from acting on her urges, perhaps I should have left it alone a little and let her explore online stores, such as lovegasm or similar. She openly talked about masturbation at the kitchen table. This was alien to our family. She spoke about porn and how she visited https://www.tubev.sex/. But I didn’t know she was calling all the boys she knew to try to have sex. It was interesting that they all turned her down. They were either scared of how straight forward she was, or knew something was wrong because that just wasn’t her.
I really started seeing the changes in my daughter when we went for a vacation. I was stuck in the car with her for nine hours. Right away I could see something was wrong. So I started a journal. She would go from so happy and fun, to attacking me verbally in the car, to crying about her pain. When we were pulled over for speeding, she yelled and cursed at the highway patrolman.
When we got to our destination, I was walking on eggshells. She reacted to everything I said or did with intense emotion – intense joy, intense pain, intense rage, and intense guilt. I knew my daughter was sensitive, but this was beyond any level of emotion I had ever seen her experience. Her mood changed within the blink of an eye.
I thought I knew her, but my child was a stranger to me and I didn’t like her. In fact, while she was manic, I couldn’t stand her. We’ve joked about this now. When she was manic I wanted to, as she puts it, “kick her ass”. I never laid my hands on her because I was afraid of her. She may have thought she was a prophet, but at times she acted like she was possessed by evil. I must admit, she did seem to possess certain super human qualities. But it is hard to see the good in the same behavior that is attacking you.
One of the best things that happened to us is that I accidentally hit her with the phone. In response, she called the police to report child abuse while I was at the market. When authorities arrived, I told them about what had been going on and they wanted to arrest her for her own safety. But they didn’t because the sheriff knew her and decided to keep her safe and isolated at home.
She calmed down, but then became more and more violent. She felt trapped and attacked a door with a hammer even though the door wasn’t locked. I was horrified by her behavior. She threatened to beat up a little boy for splashing water at her friend. She got into a fistfight with her friend who was with us. I must admit that I was rooting for the friend. She called her best guy friend and told him that they needed to have sex because she’d get pregnant and their child would be the messiah. She had visions of being raped earlier in her life. I didn’t know what to believe, but she needed help.
I’d had it. I’d written down everything I knew at the time.
So we drove for another nine hours being tortured by her until she fell asleep.
It felt as though she didn’t wake up from that sleep. When we arrived at home she was a different person. There was an absence of emotion. She could hardly move or communicate. She’d get this look in her eyes of terror. She knew something was wrong with her. Sometimes she’d mumble, “I’m crazy.”
When we had her diagnosed, she was unable to speak for herself. My journal told her story.
When I looked into Robin’s eyes, I did not see her. Her eyes were vacant. There was nothing I could do to help her but pray that the medications work and that they work fast.
The medications worked slowly. It was hard for me to be there for her after all the torture she put me through. But I found a way because I knew that everything I’d witnessed wasn’t really my daughter. I could clearly see the Bipolar Disorder. I was determined to be by her side and help her reclaim her life.
I can’t tell anyone how to be a mother of a person living with Bipolar Disorder. I know I wasn’t perfect. But I can say that your child needs to know that you accept them and that you see them for who they are, and not define them by the disorder.