January 10, 2020

To Those Who Love Someone With Bipolar Disorder - A Final UnapologeticMessage

As you are likely now aware, I am in the process of sharing my final thoughts with the world, one personal message at a time. This message contains my final words and thoughts to those who strive or struggle to love those of us with bipolar disorder.

Yesterday I wrote a similar (yet very different) message to those who have bipolar disorder. I actually really suggest everyone here reads that message before you read this one so that you have a better idea of what bipolar is to those who have it. And with that…

Dear friends that love someone who has bipolar disorder,

I’ll be honest with you right up front, and please don’t take this the wrong way… I am not going to apologize to you today for the pain that I, or others with this disorder, have brought to your life.

We already struggle enough not to hate ourselves (for that which we literally can’t control) to turn anything else into another “sorry I suck and my brain sucks so badly” message.

Before I go on, here’s an interesting bit of information for you… I only decided that it was time to write my final words to the world after I came out to the world for having bipolar disorder and trying to talk about it openly and honestly. Yes, there was indeed a lot of love and support that came my way. The comments were filled with them.

And then there was my inbox, which was nowhere near as supportive as the public comments. I quickly began to fear going anywhere near it. It was those private messages after sharing each post about my bipolar journey that officially made me shut off wanting to share for good. I came to truly appreciate just how difficult it is to be open about this illness.

There was the occasional uplifting message that I received in my inbox, for sure.

There was also a barrage of people wanting to tell me in private just how fucking hard their lives were with people who have bipolar disorder, and another barrage of people wanting to diagnose me with something completely different altogether.

Those messages just sucked the life and willingness to keep sharing right out of me, and they are very much a magnification of the stigma and assumptions that we who have the disorder hear and see every single day.

Mental illness is really fucking hard for loved ones to deal with sometimes. I am never going to take that away from you or tell you that it isn’t the truth. I have dated and been in relationships with people who have mental illnesses, and the bad times were never a picnic in the park. You are allowed to be frustrated by the disordered actions of those with mental disorders.

That being said, time for some tough love.

We are going to hurt you, and we are going to hurt you repeatedly. Real love for someone lasts long enough that even the most healthy of us will do something because of our disorders more than once in our lives. Even with dialed-in medication it is inevitable.

I am saying all this because today I also want to give you some advice for how to still love us despite the painful things we put you through. I want to give you some perspective that might help you through those times. I want to help alleviate some of the natural resentment that surely must build over time. The only way to do any of that is to have a frank conversation about what the relationship between bipolar people and the people who love them really is.

The answer for functional coexistence isn’t to expect us to learn how to think like “normal” humans, and it certainly isn’t to expect us to act like “normal” humans when we are going through one of our bipolar episodes.

The answer is actually to communicate at a time when your bipolar loved one’s brain is working properly, and don’t try to communicate as much when it isn’t.

So often, people wait to communicate until the shit hits the fan, but with all that emotion and a disorder literally stopping functional life and thought from happening, beneficial communication is just a pipe dream.

The first way to get us to communicate openly with you is to give us a safe place to do it. That means you don’t drill into us how much our bipolar behavior hurt you while it was happening, and you also don’t start looking for a laundry list of other problems we might be having. Let us feel safe, and forgiven, and free to explore that which so many of us have feared even looking at in ourselves.

Remove the stigma from your own mind, and let us know with love that it is gone. Bipolar disorder can be really embarrassing for those of us who have it. We don’t like hurting people we care about, and we literally can’t control it when we do. Let us be okay with ourselves and believe there is real goodness in us.

So, communication is key, but what type of communication will help?

I can’t speak for all people with bipolar disorder, but now that I know what I have, I can actually feel my mind start to shift into a manic or depressed state. This can happen with the simplest of triggers, which can be the simplest of thoughts. The point is, I can feel it begin to take hold. It takes a bit to fully hit, and I am now tuned into it enough that I can tell the person I love that I am entering a bipolar state.

If the person you love can feel it happening the way I can, let them feel safe giving you a heads up that they are headed there. Laugh together beforehand about what you’ll do when they tell you; this will help remove the stigma for them so that they can warn you without fear of you fearing what’s next.

“I’m gonna log us out of Amazon for our own good. I’m gonna tip toe over to you, give you a hug, and tell you I love you. Then I’m gonna get the hell out of dodge for a hot minute so that I can mentally prepare for the turd biscuit moments or the overly exuberant moments about to come.”

Make other plans ahead of time with them, too. Talk about your own needs together in a “let’s all be healthy together” sort of way, and get a firm commitment that they will understand you needing to leave from time to time when they have their episodes.

When someone has a cold, you don’t insist that you stay in their physical space. You get the hell out of their way for a while and give them as much space as possible, away from you. Bipolar disorder is an illness that is triggered whenever it happens to be triggered. It’s okay for you not to be involved every step of the way once it does.

If the bipolar person you love doesn’t love you enough to be okay with that, then guess what. That’s not the bipolar disorder making them selfish. That’s the person you love being an asshole, and you shouldn’t put up with it. Your needs are important. Your feelings are important. Your sanity is important.

One of the things I have noticed is that people who at one point struggled to love someone who had bipolar disorder tend to blame everything negative that happened in the relationship on the disorder. People with the disorder also seem to start blaming all their negative behavior on the disorder. But people forget that bipolar disorder comes in swings. It is not an illness that is always present. People are still the people they are, whether the disorder is showing itself presently or not.

In other words, as you learn to communicate, also learn to differentiate attitudes, behaviors, and actions that are caused by the disorder from those attitudes, behaviors, and actions that are character-driven. Don’t let us blame our hurtful, character-driven flaws on our disorder. I promise we’ll want to. It’s a lot easier than working to fix and change those parts of us.

Also communicate about how you are going to handle the “let it burn” or the “invincibility is mine!” phenomenons that happen deep in the depression or the mania.

I’m just going to tell you this. Don’t let us argue this point, either. When our bipolar triggers, and we get lost inside of it, we cannot be trusted with financial decisions. Bipolar disorder has a way of making us say, “let it burn!” which is really to say we don’t care if we make stupid financial decisions that cost us and our financial security dearly. We gamble more with what we do. We take bigger and bigger risks. And the worst part is that we don’t even really care when we do it, even though we care deeply any time we’re not in a swing.

“Let it burn!” can happen whether in a depressed or manic state. “Invincibility is mine!” tends to accompany manic states. These are the behaviors we have in those states when we think we can do anything, achieve anything, or be anyone we want to be. Sounds awesome in some ways, but it has its serious pitfalls, too. We take too much risk, we purchase things we never should have purchased, we can easily gamble our money away, and we threaten the security of those we love most. Turns out super fun me isn’t all that fun, am I. I promise you that I have had to put so many safeguards in place to keep myself from being absolutely stupid with money when my bipolar swings happen.

Communicate about how you’ll handle those moments together when they happen so that the disorder (not the person) doesn’t do something they will regret that can hurt more than just them.

Communicate about how you’ll deal with long bouts of depression… Together.

Communicate about how you’ll deal with manic episodes… Together.

Communicate about how you’ll keep yourself sane and happy… Together.

Communicate about as much of it as you possibly can, while you’re both logical and sane, and before the next episode happens.

Also, remember that bipolar disorder is different for everyone. Some people have simpler episodes that are quickly over, others have complex episodes that can last for a really long time.

Listen. We with bipolar need your love. We really do. But you should never stay with someone (romantically at least) whose sickness threatens to destroy your life, your safety, or your eventual sanity. If you have done everything you can to communicate, and help, and love unconditionally, and you are absolutely miserable… It’s okay to let go and walk away. Sometimes it’s the only way they’ll go and get the real help that they need.

I’m also here to tell you that that won’t be the case for most of us who have this disorder. The drastic and sometimes terrifying stories of the few don’t represent the many. Most of us want to be as healthy as possible, as often as possible. Most of us would like to make life easier for those who love us. Most of us just want to feel loved, accepted, and forgiven. Most of us are willing to put in some real work to keep those we love in our lives.

If you are willing to communicate openly and honestly, and to let go of the hurt and the stigma, chances are we will do what we have to do to make life so much more awesome for everyone involved.

After talking to so many people with this disorder now, it is my personal belief that real communication and care for each other’s needs rarely happens during the balanced times for people in loving relationships involving bipolar partners. Fights break out during episodes at a time when nothing can be controlled. Anger and resentment build on both sides. Self-esteem piddles to nothing. Waiting to communicate until it’s too late doesn’t just make communication impossible, it also makes communication at a healthier moment improbable.

I have really messed-up a lot of relationships, not knowing I had bipolar disorder, but I’ve also had a lot of beautiful relationships to mess-up. I have had absolutely incredible weeks or months with beautiful and incredible women. I have had real love and given real love. I have had all sorts of healthy goodness in my life.

What I never had, since I didn’t know I needed to have it, was completely honest and open communication that would save us when the time inevitably would come that my brain would be super stupid-weird for a while. There were several relationships, looking back, that I honestly believe communication could have not only saved, but let thrive.

I could probably write for days to you all on this topic, but I will just share two more thoughts…

First, most people with bipolar disorder feel like they fuck up their entire world sometimes, and sometimes they feel it often. We probably need a little more love and reassurance than the average human, if I’m being honest. I very purposefully chose to begin this “Final Words to the World” series with my bipolar messages because I don’t want this topic to be the last thing I write about. My bipolar disorder is not what I want to be remembered for in this world. Because of that, this will be the very last time I likely even mention it.

That being said, mental illness is fucking hard sometimes. Instead of unloading that burden on the mentally disordered, please find a support group online or in person that you can vent everything to openly and honestly. You deserve to vent. You deserve to have support. You deserve to feel human in your thoughts and struggles.

Second, and this will be the last thing I ask of you before I wrap this message up. Please do one exercise for me.

Let go of any hurt for the moment, at least.

Let go of any resentment.

Let go of any negative emotion about bipolar disorder.

Grab a pen. Grab a piece of paper. And start making a list of all the reasons you love your person with bipolar disorder. Write down their strengths. Write down their accomplishments. Write down the goodness in their lives. Remind yourself that life really is good sometimes, and then share that with the world so that we can all begin to chip away at the negative stigma surrounding bipolar disorder.

It is only when the negative stigma is neutralized that people with bipolar disorder will actually feel safe enough to share their experiences, their needs, and their personal techniques for dealing with all of it. The more we all share, the more we all grow. The more we all grow, the more manageable it all becomes. The more manageable it all becomes, the less worrisome it all will be.

Best wishes. Happy communications. You are amazing. You are loved. You are important. Your needs matter. I really want you to know that.

Dan Pearce | Dan Pearce Was Here (formerly Single Dad Laughing)