I can’t remember if I had written something like this before or not… I mean, I have written something similar, I am sure of it, but not precisely this topic. Take notes, kids! You are in a ride that the bipolar mind can sympathize with and understand, while the non bipolar mind can take note and recognize what they need to change. I feel this post is an important one to make because there are many things I have seen, heard, and experienced over the years that isolate me as a human being; I feel like I am an alien with two heads sometimes. I just want to scream, “It’s just bipolar disorder! Big fucking deal!” But then again, it’s not just bipolar disorder. It’s bipolar disorder, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Ha! Let’s get to it:
We will start with the don’ts list –
1. Don’t marginalize us.
About 0.6% of the world’s population is diagnosed with either bipolar I or II disorder. To put that in perspective, that’s 46 million people worldwide that are diagnosed. Not to mention those who can’t access proper mental health care to receive a diagnosis, so the number of those who suffer with bipolar disorder who cannot receive a diagnosis and treatment is much higher than that. In the U.S. alone, about 2.6% of the population has been diagnosed with bipolar I or II. (National Institute of Mental Health).
Chances are, you or someone you know have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or they are struggling with it and aren’t professionally diagnosed or don’t have the resources for treatment. We aren’t aliens. We are human beings with feelings and emotions, a lot of them at that! Although it is harder for us to regulate or moods and emotions at times, it doesn’t give you normal people an excuse to marginalize us and make us feel isolated and obsolete.
2. Don’t label people.
There have been so many times when someone has told me, “Oh that person has a lot of mood swings, they must be bipolar” or “It’s ok, I’m kind of bipolar too.” There are so many things wrong with both of those statements. First of all, there are a plethora of mood disorders BESIDES bipolar to give reason to why someone is experiencing mood shifts, but bipolar happens to be the most commonly known one, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to inaccurately label people. So what if they are bipolar? How does it affect you personally? And if you call someone bipolar when they aren’t marginalizes those who are bipolar. The word “bipolar” carries a lot of clout and stigma, all in one. So being called bipolar when someone isn’t can ruin their reputation and can affect how others see them. It’s hard enough for those with bipolar disorder because we have to deal with a tarnished reputation when our “bipolar shows” and the true effects of the disorder. There are so many other words to describe someone who is being emotional or having frequent mood shifts besides the word bipolar. Bipolar is not an adjective for a person, it is a noun; so stop using it as a descriptor!
As far as when someone says, “Hey, [being bipolar] it’s ok, I am kind of bipolar too,” makes it seem like the disorder is a fashion statement, not a true mental disorder. No bipolar person wants to hear about your occasional insomnia or impulsive decision you made one time or how you are “moody” in response to our diagnosis. If you are diagnosed or in the process of getting diagnosed with bipolar, then it is ok to respond to my diagnosis with your own, and then we can bond over our experiences.
The correct response if I tell you that I am bipolar is, “ok” “I still love and care for you all the same”, etc. You may ask as many questions as you would like, I encourage it. But to sympathize by making it seem like it’s the common cold; everyone gets it sometimes is NOT ok.
3. Don’t assume.
Assuming makes an ass out of you and me. Never forget that. Don’t assume everyone has equal or equitable access to healthcare. I am very privileged in the fact that I can go to the doctor or see my therapist as often as I need to, I can pay for my mental health medication, have positive outlets of self expression in my life, and have extremely supportive family and friends. This right here should be a standard, not a luxury. But it absolutely is a luxury and I don’t take advantage of that. I know not everyone can receive a diagnosis of bipolar who needs one because of affordability reasons.
So if someone discloses to you that they have bipolar disorder, don’t assume they go to therapy or take medication for it; they may have had to pool in some resources to even go see a doctor to get an actual diagnosis. If they say they don’t go to therapy for cost reasons, support the person in whatever way you can and drop the topic.
As far as assuming goes, don’t assume you know everything about a person’s struggle with bipolar because you read a book on it once or see it on TV or in social media. Each person’s story is vastly different and should be treated as such. Ask questions about the bipolar person’s experiences and perspective. From conversation about the topic, you can stem your beliefs from there rather than having an opinion based off assumption.
Now we can end with what to do!
1. Do be an ally.
Being a mental health ally is very important to those with bipolar. We are easily outnumbered by you normal people, so when I say we need advocates for us, we really do. When I or someone with the disorder confides in you about their bipolar, we ask you to be there for us, defend us when need be, and speak up and out against ignorance for those who can’t speak for themselves.
Part of being an ally is educating yourself by reading academic journals, but also reading other another bipolar person’s story or stories in regard to their struggles. You can’t ask your friend everything or you may not want to, so by having a balanced combination of information and resources, you can better defend and advocate for those most vulnerable.
2. Do keep including your bipolar friend in activities.
This seems almost obvious. But there have been so many times when I was no longer friends with someone because I tend to say no to hanging out and I am horrible at texting people back. Once you get invited to do something enough times and say no, you stop getting invited to stuff and that feeling sucks.
So my advice to you normal people is to keep inviting and including your bipolar friend in fun activities, even if they have said no the last 5 times, they may say yes to the 6th. Your efforts don’t go unnoticed. It makes us feel special and when we are able to, we will repay you in some way for your diligence.
It’s hard for me at least to go out and socialize, and being an introvert on top of being bipolar doesn’t help. So when you say let’s go to karaoke or go bowling with a group of friends, two activities that I love, I still might say no unless you or someone else pushes me to go because I know I will have fun, but motivation is lacking.
3. Do put your own mental health first.
After seeing Diego deal with me for the past 6 years, I know and can see when Diego is exhausted from helping me and has no more help left to give. When that is the case, I usually do things for/with him that he likes to do such as cook for him, play Pokémon Go, clean the house for him, etc.
It’s my way of showing him I appreciate him. In regard to my bipolar journey, he often goings to my therapy sessions and medication doctor’s appointments, he communicates and works with me, invites and includes me in fun activities, encourages me to do my creative outlets,etc.
That is a lot to do for one person! Not to mention he has a job and friends he wants to hang out with. So make sure you as a bipolar person take care of your non bipolar friends and family too.
Hopefully this helps you navigate the ropes of the bipolar mind!
Til next time,