How to Be Understanding With People With Bipolar Disorder
My Experience with Someone Close Who Has Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder. This mental disorder is more than difficult for the person diagnosed with the disorder, but it is often not discussed that it may be even harder on the bipolar person's family and friends. Growing up, I always knew that my loved one wasn't like most people...in more ways than one. She would have months of depression and then the next month, like a giant light-switch, she would flip a 180 and act the exact opposite. If you know anything about bipolar disorder, you will know that "bipolar" means "two poles"...more specifically a person who goes through depressive episodes and manic episodes...sometimes more than two episodes within a given year. There are different types of bipolar disorder and many different signs and symptoms that I will discuss in this hub; however, my main objective is to assist, even in a tiny way, the loved ones of bipolar people with the coping skills and empathy needed in situations involving bipolar people.
I will begin with the emotional polar extreme - mania. Amongst the many experiences with my loved one's manic episodes, one particular experience sticks out in my mind. When I was about the age of ten, my loved one spilled a pot of chili on the white kitchen floor. She threw an uncountable amount of curses around and she literally scrubbed the floor on her hands and knees for close to an hour or maybe longer...long after the chili was entirely cleaned from the floor. She was extremely irritable during these episodes, snapping at people around her for minor reasons. I never quite understood why she was so annoyed by normal everyday occurrences...and I came to think that that was just normal way to act. Now, the more I read and educate myself on Bipolar Disorder symptoms, I realize that many people diagnosed with bipolar disorder act the same way that my mother has acted all of these years, including the tendency to make spontaneous and sometimes dangerously over-the-edge decisions. There are other symptoms and signs of this disorder that are exacerbated in a state of mania or depression, which I will discuss in detail later.
During my adolescence, my loved one went through a depressive state that felt like it lasted for years. I am sure she had manic episodes in between these depressive episodes, but all I can recollect was the hopelessness and grief radiating from her every pore. In the midst of her depression, and possibly what triggered so many bouts of depression, came a menace to my her health...addiction. I believe that addiction is something that she has struggled with her entire life; however, it seemed to escalate during this particular period of time. Symptoms of her depressive state of mind included constant crying, a hopeless outlook on life, lack of motivation to perform at her job, lack of energy and constant physical illnesses. One of the worst symptoms that rears its ugly head in a state of depression is the suicidal thoughts. There were many times where I had the feeling that my loved one was going to try to take her own life...because she thought her life was that horrible.
I am not trying to discredit my loved one as a good person or shed a negative light on her by any means; however, people with bipolar disorder tend to not think of anyone but themselves because of the chemical imbalances going on in their brains and bodies. Because of this lack of awareness, the other people around them tend to suffer just as much as they do. Remember, there are ways to coping and understanding the bipolar person. As difficult as it is to empathize with a person whom you feel is just so selfish...it is possible! You have to be willing to open your mind and realize that this disorder cannot be easily overcome by willpower for the person who bears it. A regimen of the proper medications, self-awareness, and personal spirituality are great for the bipolar person to come out of the holes of depression and mania. For the family members and friends of the bipolar person...you have to learn empathy and patience and realize that they do not want to seem so "selfish" and that these feelings and actions are not always controllable.
Other Lesser Known Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
To fully understand this mental disorder you have to be able to notice and be patient with all of its side symptoms. Besides the major two symptoms of bipolar disorder, Mania and Depression, there are other lesser known symptoms that seem to be present in the vast majority of people living with bipolar disorder. In fact, some of these lesser symptoms can sometimes lead a psychologist down the right pathway of diagnosis for those with bipolar disorder.
As much as sixty percent of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder also struggle with addiction of some sort, in at least one period of their lives. These addictions can include sexual addictions, drug & alcohol abuse, and gambling addictions. When sexual addiction occurs in a person with bipolar disorder, it is usually a side effect from their states of mania. Over-heightened senses and an overabundance of certain hormones feeds the bipolar person's need to find sexual gratification. Research has shown that drug and alcohol abuse with bipolar persons seems to relate to a need to self medicate in times of mania and depression. Cocaine and methamphetamines seem to be a self-medication for bipolar people during times of depression...to elevate their mood. Alcohol and pain meds tend to be used to calm the states of mania. Unfortunately, addiction to any of these substances is unhealthy to the body...and in this case makes the bipolar person's mental state even worse. Gambling addictions are also a side effect of manic episodes...it goes along with split-second decision making and wreckless spontaneity associated with bouts of mania.
A more frightening symptom of bipolar disorder is hallucinations. These hallucinations can be one of two kinds, or both - visual and auditory. Not only are these hallucinations terrifying for the person experiencing them, but they are also terrifying for the family members and friends around that person. Studies have shown that these hallucinations usually arise when the bipolar person is in a manic episode, or on an overabundance of medications that do not fit their illness...including pain pill cocktails. When I was about sixteen years old, my loved one with bipolar disorder went through one of her manic episodes, but at that same time she was also taking too many medications. I believe her psychologist and doctor had her on a total of about twelve different medications, all at once. Anyone in their right mind would know that this many medications would give hallucinations to even a totally stable-minded person...so no doubt this plethora of pills messed with her mind the way it did. She experienced visual and auditory hallucinations during this period in time. I was worried for her physical safety and mental safety so my stepfather and I ended up committing her to the hospital to ween her off of the medications she was taking. After she was off this wave of pills, the manic episode levelled out and she did not show any signs of hallucinations after that.
Last but surely not least of these lesser known bipolar symptoms is delusions. With my bipolar loved one, they seemed to be more of delusions of grandeur during the manic times...but during the depressed times they could be dark delusions of misery. My heart aches to think of the torture that her mind has been through between the addictions, manic and depressive states, hallucinations and also delusions. I am sure that it is difficult for a bipolar person in these states of mind to determine what is reality and what is not. Delusions of grandeur are evident when people that are bipolar feel like that are unstoppable or almost super-human like in some cases. An example would be Napoleon Bonaparte. Look into his life and you will see the many times where he seemed to exhibit the signals of ever-increasing delusions of grandeur...ever heard of the "Napoleon complex"? Point and case. Delusions defined simply are thoughts about yourself that are far-fetched, and to the sane person, obviously untrue. I am sure that all of us have some sort of delusion in our lives at one point or another, but the difference is that bipolar people tend to have more than one in a lifetime...they probably experience delusions at least once a year!
Different Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are variants of bipolar disorder. Someone with bipolar disorder could be bipolar 1, bipolar 2, cyclothymic, mixed or even a rapid-cycler. Each of these types of bipolar disorder come with certain levels of symptoms.
Bipolar Disorder 1 is the first type of bipolar disorder because it is the first to be used as a diagnosis. Bipolar disorder 1 involves heavy mood swings, including severe phases of mania and depression. Bipolar disorder 2 involves more depression with less severe bouts of mania...called hypomania. A person who is considered to have mixed bipolar disorder can have mania and depression at the same time...which is quite dangerous if untreated. Rapid cyclers are known to have a minimum of four bouts of mania and depression alternating throughout a given year, sometimes they can have more than ten. This is exceedingly difficult for the people around the bipolar person...as one never really knows what to expect from the bipolar loved one. It's kind of like walking on egg shells...twenty-four seven! I believe my loved one has this type of bipolar disorder, as she has been known to have more than four bouts of depression and mania in the period of a year.
Ways To Ride the Emotional Roller-Coaster Without Falling Out
Musician Sting, the actor Jim Carey, the composer Beethoven, the inventive guitarist and musician Jimi Hendrix, the comedian Ben Stiller, and film-maker Tim Burton are among the famous and highly talented people who are living (or have lived) with bipolar disorder. If you have ever learned about the author Virginia Woolf in school or elsewhere, you would know that she suffered from depression...most likely bipolar disorder and she was unable to cope with her depressive episodes in the end. But there are ways to cope and as a society we are becoming more and more educated about psychological disorders and how they work...which in turn aids in saving those people that battle this disorder. Lately I'm beginning to wonder if Charlie Sheen isn't bi-polar...I know he says he's "bi-winning", but he seems to have all the classic traits of bipolar disorder. At the same time, I can't help but like the man! The mere fact that there are so many brilliant people in the world that live happily with bipolar disorder today demonstrates that it is possible to get on with your life, whether you are the person with bipolar disorder or the family member or friend of the diagnosed person. It is also possible to take those experiences and teach others...through writing or painting or acting. Let your experiences inspire you to help others.
I think the problem with most people that live or are close to a person with bipolar disorder is their lack of knowledge on the subject of bipolar disorder. I have been reading and studying Bipolar Disorder for a few months now and feel like I more thoroughly understand the side effects of this disease and I do not feel as angry towards my loved one for some of the occurrences when I was a child. As much as I always felt that she could help herself with these problems, I know now that she can only help herself to a certain degree. She cannot overpower a chemical imbalance within her brain...it just does not work like that! I know some people believe that through spirituality and self-empowerment that it is possible to overcome depression and mania...which that may be true. But for most normal people that are not on a specific "path of enlightment", this theory does not fully pan out. It would take a person of a very strong mind and will to overcome a mental disorder without medications and proper psychological treatment. Nonetheless, we must encourage our loved ones to do their best to understand their illness...as well as ourselves.
If you feel alone and do not know anyone who is in the same position as you (having a bipolar loved one), there are support groups all over the internet. You can get online and chat with someone who may be dealing with the same problems as yourself, or send emails with encouraging words. Read about bipolar disorder and the different symptoms that are enveloped in this illness. Whether you are bipolar or you are close to someone who is bipolar, you are not alone in this journey.
© 2011 Nicole Canfield