I’ve been active in bipolar forums and we are too often let down by those who are meant to provide us support and care. We’ve also wondered if our suicidal thoughts are related to our caregivers and often, they are. Here is some advice for support providers and caregivers.
Realise that people don’t kill themselves simply because they were programmed to. Understand that when someone is ready to kill themselves, it is because they feel they have no other option left. They often feel abandoned or alienated or simply tired of being vilified because they make easy targets. People deflect on us too much and it’s easy to repeat cycles of abuse with us.
Also realise that if a family member is mentally unwell, then the chances of others having psychological issues is very high. Bipolar disorder is often genetic and if one family member has been diagnosed with it, the chances of most other family members lying somewhere on the bipolar spectrum is high. Nothing is worse for us than declaring us THE PROBLEM without finding out if you may have a problem.
This should also make you realise that it’s easy to deflect on us instead of looking inward. It is easy to demand only one person makes changes without making changes in your life as well. It is easy to see a problem in others and live in denial of the issues you may have. You are not perfect and you have no right to demand perfection from someone who is already struggling unless you can show them how. Rest assured you won’t be able to because you are human.
Bear in mind that having a genetic history of bipolar disorder does not necessarily translate into eventually getting it. The genetics rely on triggers and families are often the biggest trigger. If you left your child alone with someone who raped or molested them, you created a trigger, not the genes.
Do not hold onto one issue and grudge us for it forever. We make mistakes and are often the first to acknowledge them because we’re taught to do so in therapy. If we are made to feel bad about mistakes in the past that were rectified, then take responsibility for vilifying us. Do not focus on the only the negatives simply because it’s easy to do so. Appreciate the positives repeatedly. Let go of something that may have happened in the past if the behaviour has never repeated itself. If you don’t do so, you will will become a negative reinforcer who will impede progress greatly. You will become an impediment to the path towards healing. You may kill off the motivation to get better.
Understand how you may be repeating cycles of abuse with us. Understand that we are as human as you. You lash out at us, we lash out at someone else if we can’t say anything to you, they complain and you immediately only hold us accountable. This isn’t acceptable to us. We are well aware when you are creating cycles of abuse and to grudge us alone without taking any accountability to yourself isn’t fair. Understand that being treated unfairly can make us unwell. We have as much of a right to dignity as anyone else, diagnosis or not.
If you drink alcohol, think about the many hurtful things you may have said to us while drunk. If you don’t remember them, don’t dismiss us as liars if we express we were hurt by them. Do not make us your targets when you’re drunk. If you are unable to control your abuse and drink, then do not grudge us for wanting to stay away from you.
If you apologise, mean it. Don’t give us an empty apology. Don’t ever apologise and then repeat your mistake. Empty apologies make us feel worse, as if we are not worthy of being apologised to after being wounded.
Make an effort to treat us as equal humans who are as worthy of love, respect and dignity as any others. Do not give us special treatment by being too stern, too enabling, too mean or too negative. We are as human as anyone else. We respond to compassion and kindness more than force just like anyone else. We also need to develop insight and understanding. Healing isn’t possible without it. Do not impede this process; aid it instead.
Do not expect us to do this alone and without support. To do so would display your ignorance towards our condition. Read about it. Go to therapy but don’t ever call our doctors without our consent unless we are suicidal. Do not call our doctors and ask for confidential information. Do not call our doctors and ask for an appointment without getting our consent. Some of us struggle to find good doctors and therapists. It takes a while to build trust. If we feel the trust could possibly be breached, we may stop wanting to go to that particular therapist or doctor. Make sure we are comfortable with it first. Those of us who trust you will not hesitate but if you’ve made too many empty promises or violated our trust too many times, do not grudge us for wanting to protect ourselves. If we hesitate, do not taunt or vilify us for it. Allow us to think it through and respect our decision. Find your own therapist. If we can do it, why can’t you?
Do not judge us for our choice in medication or wanting to manage without them. Some may not want to risk an early death because of liver failure due to taking medications long term. They may want to learn to cope without medications. Do not bully them into taking them unless they want to.
Similarly, do not judge us if we do take medications or pontificate about which ones to take or not. Do not tell us how to feel about the medications we take. We get to decide. You cannot understand the side effects our bodies are enduring. Sometimes the side effects are distressing and horrific such as temporary blindness, perpetual nausea, drowsiness etc. Don’t tell us what to eat, how much to sleep etc. We get to decide because we have to learn to cope. Do not give us your non expert advice and leave that to the doctors.
Do not tell us to explore alternative therapies if we don’t want to. Also, do not impose your coping mechanisms or views on us. Some may take comfort in religion and prayer, some may not. Do not keep telling us prayer will solve our problems. It may comfort us, but it can’t eliminate a disability that has no cure.
Do not obsessively monitor our medications or make judgements on them. Medications are awful, with many side effects. Allow us to choose which ones suit us. Do not tell us which side effects are bearable and which ones we should or shouldn’t endure. We need to learn how to take them ourselves, how to manage on our own just like any other human adults. By monitoring or wanting control, you are creating a dependency which also have negative long term repercussions. One day you won’t be around and we’ll have to cope on our own.
Always remember dependency on medications alone is detrimental to our well being. Never forget that the amount of medications we need to take is necessarily related to stress levels. The more stress we have around us, the more medications we need. This is why most of us can only work part time and many of us may need breaks from work. We value our sleep more than others because sleeping well helps us immensely.
Because some of us can’t work full time or work consistently, do not judge us for not making a lot of money. Many of us have already decided that peace of mind is worth more than wealth. If there’s any group that knows money cannot buy happiness, it is us. It can help pay bills etc, but it can’t bring anyone peace of mind. When we’re commodified and told we’re not worth much financially repeatedly, we may end up connecting it to self worth. We value the self esteem it often takes us years to build. Don’t kill it.
Create a relationship of trust which must be mutual. Your bipolar loved one must feel and believe they can trust you blindly. To ensure this, make sure you don’t make promises you can’t keep, don’t create expectations you know you can’t live up to, and don’t betray our trust. If you do, don’t grudge us for not being able to trust you. It’s only natural.
If you have a negative behaviour such as a nasty tone or are loud, and then tell us off for the same behaviour, then realise you are responsible for the resentment we may feel. It feels hurtful and hypocritical. People who live in a loud house are loud. Soft spoken parents have soft spoken children. We all model behaviour based on our loved ones. If you want to see a change, change it in yourself as well.
Do not provoke or bait us when we’re down simply because taking advantage of our vulnerability is not only downright evil, it has severe long term repercussions. Instead of wanting to reach out when upset, we will end up actively avoiding you if we fear you will not provide support. Don’t ever forget we’re very high risk for suicide and sometimes the slightest trigger may create ideation. If we can’t trust you to treat us with compassion, we will not be able to reach out to you. We will feel hopeless and abandoned. Suffering in silence is as suffocating for us as any other person.
If you’ve helped us during a suicide attempt, always remember your reaction impacts if we’ll reach out to you again or not. If you mocked us or ask us the wrong questions such as why, then realise we would rather allow the attempt to succeed instead of asking for help for fear that being kept alive will mean being subjected to the same behaviour. Too many of us have contemplated suicide because we feel we failed you, let you down, made you miserable. Instead of wanting to live for you, we yearned to die for you to end your pain.
Understand this and apply it because if you don’t, one day, you may find someone you love hanging by their fan or wake up to find a corpse in their bed. You will have no one else to blame but yourself, you will have blood on your hands.