So, you have just found out that someone you know, or even love, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. You might feel confused, you might feel worried. I try to remember how I felt before I was diagnosed how it felt when a good friend told me that she had bipolar. I know for sure that I had no idea what it was and it did kind of scare me. What should I do with this information? What is the expected response? What is the response she needs? What kind of attention do I need to give to this, in order to ensure that our friendship didn’t change just because she happened to have a little extra ‘something’ that lots of others don’t?
Mental illness is taboo. There is no other way to put it. Nobody wants it and those that have it are most likely to hide within their diagnosis. Usually they will be very wary and careful about who they share this news with. There are underlying reasons for this – the first being the most obvious. People don’t understand, and what people don’t understand can scare them. The many other reasons pretty much stem from that very one reason. It is taboo. It is scary. You might feel like you never really knew this person at all. However, chances are that they are still the same person they were the day before they were diagnosed. Chances are that they’ve been living with this all of their lives. The only thing the diagnosis does is give that person the chance to get well, the access to medications and services that they haven’t had access to in the past. They have been given the chance to finally, maybe, stabilize.
Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Don’t diminish their feelings. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is happening to us so therefore it is a reality. It may sound irrational to you but sometimes, some things sound so completely right and rational to us that it is better to just open your ears and shut your mouth.
Up until I decided to share my truth with the world (sounds dramatic eh? Well, if you know me you know that I have a knack for the drama) I was so terrified that I would be judged. Actually, not judged – misjudged. That people would back off and I would be left all alone. News flash peeps. The absolute opposite has happened for me.
So now you know this very personal thing about the person you know, or love. What should you do next? You could ask questions. Listen. Ask them about it. Ask how they feel. Tread carefully. Most of all, don’t be scared. The person who has this condition has trusted you with something that most people probably will never know about them. Don’t tell other people. Keep it to yourself. If you are worried about them, talk to them. Be straight up. We have a sixth sense when it comes to this kind of thing usually and let me tell you, while I am more than happy to put myself out there in order to bring more awareness, 99.99999999% of others are not. It is not your news to tell. It doesn’t need to be the next 6pm news headline.
From time to time, if you are really close to the person who has shared this with you, you will notice different behaviour patterns. This is normal and to be expected from bipolar. Everyone who has bipolar is very different, so don’t put us all in the same basket. If you do notice a behaviour that is out of the ordinary (increasing spending habits can be a big one, withdrawing from social events, there are a gazillion things that can be warning signs that things are on the up or down), don’t ignore them. Talk about it with the one that trusted you. Once again, tread carefully and no no no unsolicited advice. The person who has trusted you will hopefully have a team of educated professionals that offer medical assistance to them to aid their rocky road to stability.
Your job is to just be a friend.