Bipolarlife Victoria will be running a series of Bipolar Information nights around Melbourne in 2019. We need to educate communities and individuals about bipolar, particularly with the undiagnosed. Everyone will be welcome at these evenings.
We also have Bipolar Workshops planned in 2019 with a primary focus on self help strategies. The workshops will be 4 sessions over a 4 week period.
Bipolar books – We are about to order more books for each support group library. These books can be borrowed by our members free of charge.
by Natasha Tracey
At some point, those of us with bipolar need to tell others we have bipolar disorder; but the question is, how do you tell someone you have bipolar disorder in a way that avoids negative outcomes? This is something I have wrestled with and it’s something I get asked about a lot. Here are some tips on how to tell someone you have bipolar disorder.
The first thing you should do is look at why you’re telling someone you have bipolar disorder. Most reasons are just fine, you just want to identify them because they dictate the outcome you are looking for from the conversation.
For example, are you telling a friend you have bipolar disorder because you need his support? Are you telling someone because you want to be honest and authentic? There are many “whys” and it’s helpful to identify yours.
Once you know why you’re telling someone you have bipolar disorder, it leads you to understand what you want from the conversation — your goals.
Your goals might be:
Or it could be anything else that is important to you. Your goals are important because they’re what you’re having the conversation for.
Remember that the person likely has little-to-no knowledge about the facts around bipolar disorder. The person probably only knows what he has seen on TV or in the movies. Remember, you were once in that situation, too. Consider what you would have wanted to know when you were in that situation and let that help guide this new conversation.
Also, remember that telling someone you have bipolar disorder is scary for him and not just for you. Finding out that someone you care about has a possibly-lethal diagnosis is frightening. Let the person have that feeling. Honor it. It’s real too.
Additionally, consider that when you tell someone you have bipolar disorder, his reaction may not be ideal. For example, once you tell the person you have bipolar, he might say, “No you don’t!”
That really happens. It sounds crazy, but it’s just a part of the acceptance process for the other person. This is just the shock of the moment talking. This information will be very surprising to telling the person. It’s understandable that he is going to act shocked and this may prevent the person from being supportive in the way you would want. Understand this going in. When you tell someone, for the moment, it is about the other person and not you. Acceptance of bipolar disorder is a process for you and for him.
Finally, have your own supports set up for after the conversation. Have a person to call or a place to go. This conversation may go well or it may not go well. You want to have someone to turn to if you need to. You need to support yourself through what might be difficult. Sure, you may not need emotional support afterward if things go really well but it’s better to have the support and not need it rather than need it and not have it.
Once you’ve thoroughly considered the above, here are some tips on the actual conversation when you will tell someone you have bipolar disorder:
Try to find a quiet place where just the two of you can talk. Don’t ever have this conversation in a car (for a whole host of reasons).
You want to allow lots of time for this conversation. The person you’re telling might have one question or they might have 50.
Once you break this news to a person, that person may need some time and space. This is okay. As I said, this can be a shock for people. If the person needs to take a walk around the block, let him.
Just telling someone you have bipolar disorder isn’t enough. You are going to have to explain what that means. “Bipolar disorder” may sound scary to the other person or it may sound like a punchline, you don’t know, so you need to be prepared to supplant this confusion with facts.
Just the facts (such as: “bipolar disorder is a mental illness comprised or extreme mood states called . . .”) isn’t usually enough to help people understand. Try and be ready with examples from your own life as to what bipolar disorder is really like. Pick examples ahead of time that you are comfortable sharing.
Just like explaining the facts of bipolar disorder is important, it’s also important not to over-explain. You want the person to have a basic understanding of the terms but you don’t want his head to explode.
Because you really can only explain so much in an introductory conversation, I recommend leaving the person with additional reading material. There are also many great bipolar websites.
I know talking about bipolar disorder can be emotional and I know that we can be an emotional bunch, but if you can, stay calm. Try to stay grounded and stick to what you want to say. This allows for space for the other person to feel what he’s feeling. (If you can’t stay calm, don’t worry, you’re human, it happens.)
This is a lot of tips on how to tell someone you have bipolar disorder, I don’t think you can expect to remember them all in a difficult moment so plan out ahead of time what you want to say and how you want to say it. This is your conversation, so make it what you’re comfortable with but consider the other person too.
When you tell someone you have a serious mental illness he may not react well. The person may be combative, disbelieving or even abusive. (This is why you need your own support for this conversation.) Try to remember that in time, that reaction can change. Sometimes the person needs an hour and sometimes the person needs a month, but how the person really feels about the situation may take time to come out. Even if the person initially reacts badly, it doesn’t mean he won’t be a wonderful support down the road.
In short, it’s tough telling someone you have bipolar disorder, but it’s not the kind of thing you can hide forever from those with whom you are close so plan on having this conversation — many times. Sometimes this conversation will be uneventful. Sometimes it will facilitate you learning something new about the person you tell (like that he has a mental illness too — it happens more than you’d think). And sometimes it may be negative. Nevertheless, it’s important to have this conversation to facilitate your best life with bipolar disorder. You need support and you need to feel free to be your real self around people and this conversation may help get you there.
Sue was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 in 2004 and has been hospitalized 8 times with mania.
In 2017 she had a turning point after she stayed in hospital for her bipolar condition. She had a great doctor who got a bit stern with her before she was released back home and told her she just simply can’t keep going the way she has in the past.
It was crucial to her to manage her stress to avoid her manic episodes, as she can get complete blackouts and won’t know the next day what happened to her.
For example, a way she learned to manage one of her major stress triggers was, that she would finish the bookwork she had to do for three different companies within the given deadline and spread out her workload, compared to how she used to do it, by leaving it until the last minute and then using her manic episode to finish the work, which caused her to getting very unwell.
Unfortunately, during episodes of mania, she would upset friends and family, but she has learned that it’s crucial to own up to your behavior and apologize for upsetting your loved ones. She also suggests that it’s very important, that if you’ve become disconnected with family and friends to use Christmas as a time to write a card with a separate note apologizing about your behavior and for causing pain or embarrassment.
Sue’s father has bipolar 2 and vascular dementia and she’s his main carer. He has struggled with his medication and Sue, with the help of his doctors has changed the doses of his medications and moved them from morning to evening. He can now communicate much clearer, which became a real issue as no one could understand what he was saying, and he no longer shakes uncontrollable when he drinks a cup of coffee.
Sue strongly believes, if you have too many side effects or not doing well with your prescribed medications you should change the doses under the watchful eye of your doctor or psychiatrist. It’s very important to find the correct medications which work for you, so you can live a fulfilled and happy life.
A big impact on Sue’s life with bipolar has been, that she always has worked, which keeps her connected to the real world. She believes it’s important to work or study, even if it’s working as an Uber Eats driver or simply dog sitting, if you get involved with something that gives you a purpose and connects you with people.
Her advice to deal with bipolar better is, that it’s crucial to look after yourself, rest and repair when needed, be aware of triggers and manage them early to prevent your high or low episodes.
Achieve your goals in 2019!