Today I am excited to be introduce A. to you who blogs about her struggles with bipolar disorder over at SlippedFromTheLiving . I hope you will enjoy her guest entry as much as I have
When Kris reached out for a guest blogger, I decided I might have something interesting to say. But I ramble, my thoughts go a little crazy and I struggle to make sense of things. So I asked for a little guidance - “what to do I write about?!” and Kris asked that I write about how being bipolar effects my relationships.
My name is Alison, I’m 26 and I’m bipolar II (you can see what this means to me on my blog www.slippedfromtheliving.blogspot.com and specifically this post http://slippedfromtheliving.blogspot.com/2009_05_01_archive.html) I was diagnosed at age 19, after 7 years of treatment for depression, and hypomania that became more and more apparent.
As far back as I can remember I’ve dealt with depression, and as a teenager my inability to manage this led to alcohol and drug abuse; I slept with strangers, cut myself and spent hours, days, weeks, alone - anything to feel different. So, of course, my friendships were strained as soon as I began exhibiting symptoms. I was forced to hide who I was and what I was dealing with from friends and family, the stigma of the disease made it hard to talk to anyone about what I was dealing with, and being so young meant that none of my friends were able to comprehend what I was saying.
I isolated myself. And on the rare occasion I would make a friend, tell them everything - only to have them turn their backs on me because I was “too much”. I felt like I heard this refrain over and over for years.
When I moved away from home, and into the dorms, for college my drinking and drug use really hit its peak. I was using more than ever and my all night binges were problematic. Though, not as troubling as the rest of my erratic behavior, including going weeks without getting out of bed and weeks with little or no sleep. My roommate hated me - my tendency to stay up all night scrubbing walls and cleaning the carpet by hand interrupted her schedule, but made for a very clean room.
For years I blamed strained relationships on my age, I didn’t know how to deal with my illness and people my age didn’t either. But with time I’ve realized that even with my improved coping skills, my drug and alcohol use under control, being bipolar effects every relationship and puts stress on every part of my life.
No one knows better than me how hard it can be to manage my illness. Over the years I’ve managed to make a couple of amazing friendships, friends who don’t try to fix me - and I think that’s key. When people are trying to make you better they get frustrated, they feel pressure, but when people choose to be there, and love you just for being you it’s possible to have meaningful relationships. I am the only person responsible for my life and when people try to take that responsibility on themselves it’s not good for either party.
I am not a horribly social person, I think my experiences growing up (and being “too much”) have made me very guarded. When I’m depressed I lose my ability to connect to even those people who have been there for me through everything, I try to isolate - but most of my friends wont let me. I’m open and honest with them and with time their understanding of bipolar disorder and what I need from them has allowed me to maintain relationships even through the worst times.
Relationships are never easy, but when you throw a mental illness into the mix things can get really messy. As someone with bipolar I find that the following are helpful in maintaining relationships
* Communication: let the people you love know what is going on and how they can help. ASK FOR HELP - the people around you can’t guess what you need - and if you don’t ask you can’t be pissed that they didn’t help.
* Education: educate the people you care about (and yourself), the more they know the more support you will have
* Be Grateful: it’s hard to live with bipolar, and it’s hard to live with someone with bipolar. If I could walk away from the disorder I would, but my friends choose not to walk away from me.
* Accept: accept the fact that you have a mental illness, you are not a victim. you have the ability to take control of your life, you get to make choices, accept responsibility for those choices.
* Self-Care: take care of yourself, go to therapy, follow your treatment plan, learn your signs and symptoms, how does your perception become distorted, exercise.
And a few pieces of advice for people supporting those with mental illness
* Don’t try to fix it: your loved one isn’t broken, they are sick - and you can’t fix it. All you can do is love them - even when they are sick. Don’t tell them how to “fix” themselves.
* Listen: without trying to solve the problems just be there to listen, shoot, tune the person out if you need, but be there.
* Understand: you don’t know what your loved one is going through, don’t pretend that you do. Understand that they are trying - that what they are dealing with is huge.
* Expectations: have expectations - don’t allow anyone to use mental illness as an excuse, make them take responsibility for their actions and for their well-being.
* Boundaries: take care of yourself, nothing makes me feel worse than knowing I am hurting the people I care about. Be honest: if you need a break or if a topic makes you uncomfortable let the person know before you are at your breaking point.
Sorry for the incredibly long post, but thanks for sticking with me. Don’t forget to check out my blog: www.slippedfromtheliving.blogspot.com