Dealing with a bipolar diagnosis is hard. Dealing with parents, friends and relatives who have misguided notions about what having bipolar entails can be even harder. Help someone coping with mental illness by being open, understanding and well-informed and by nixing any false beliefs and assumptions.
There are many misconceptions about bipolar. Here are five myths and the surprising truths about a bipolar diagnosis:
Just because someone has been diagnosed with bipolar doesn’t mean that person is either depressed or manic at all times. Lots of people with bipolar cruise through long periods (months or even years at a time) without any major episodes. During these stable periods, people with bipolar lead pretty normal lives, with pretty normal moods. The goal of treatment is to make sure these stable periods last for as long as possible, with as few manic or depressive episodes as possible in between. With the right combination of treatment, lifestyle adaptations, and plain old luck, people with bipolar can fend off future episodes and minimize their severity when they do happen.
Sure, some of the things people who are bipolar say and do are directly fueled by depression or mania, but every action should not be attributed to their disorder. It can be tempting for friends and family members of people with bipolar to explain that person’s behavior, actions and personality completely in terms of their disorder—not only their flaws, but also their successes. Statements like, “She wouldn’t have won that poetry contest if she wasn’t hypomanic” or, “He’s a reckless driver—he has bipolar” can be hurtful to the person with bipolar, not to mention unfair.
Bipolar isn’t a dirty little secret, and it isn’t something to be ashamed of. If you’re curious about what it’s like to have bipolar disorder, just ask. Most bipoar would be happy to share some stories, and it helps to know others are interested (as opposed to fearful). Asking specific questions can be even more helpful: “What are some ways I can make life easier for you when you’re depressed?” or “How can I let you know when I think you’re getting manic in a way you won’t find offensive?”
Dealing with bipolar disorder can be as exhausting and time-consuming as training for the Olympics. So, be understanding if people who are bipolar need a little extra time to accomplish things that seem easy for other people.
If someone you love has bipolar disorder and is ill, that’s not the way he or she will always feel. They can recover. They can bounce back, find themselves again, and get back on track. They can have happy, productive, meaningful, awesome lives. Yes, the awesomeness will be interspersed with periods of depression and mania, but that’s just how they roll.
Hilary Smith is author of “Welcome to the Jungle: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Bipolar but Were Too Freaked Out to Ask”.