Healthy, stable relationships can be suddenly disrupted and turned around when bipolar mania, hypomania, and depression enter the equation. When your moods become unstable your relationships often do as well.
Bipolar mood disorders put a strain on the bipolar person’s mood, daily functioning, and behaviour towards the people in their lives. Tempestuous behaviour is usually reflected in the way we treat those we love. When we are manic or depressed, we are often angry, irritable, out of control, or in an elevated state in which we don’t want to be disturbed or interrupted by other people.
Regardless of which pole we are at, we tend to strike out. We are difficult to manage and deal with – both because of our symptoms and the way we treat others. We are trying and tiring. As much as we are loved, we try people’s patience.
It’s difficult to maintain healthy relationships between the bipolar person and the friends and loved ones in their life during these turbulent times. It’s nearly impossible to strike a healthy balance. There is the abuser and the abused. The hysterical and the fatigued. The symptomatic and the caregiver. The querulous and the pacifier. The suicidal and the guardian. None of these is an equitable or healthy relationship and they can take a long-term or permanent toll on a relationship, even during times of stability and even mood and behaviour.
How can healthy relationships be maintained during turbulent times? This is the goal, after all. And this is a situation I know something about. I not only know what it’s like to be a disturbing and disruptive person. I also grasp what it’s like to have that person in my life, which gives me a very unique perspective on how to deal with the situation.
I’ll be honest. My way of dealing with bad behaviour may seem harsh. It’s just that I have decades of my own bad behaviour as well as decades of my ‘person’s’ behaviour as experience in how to cope with troublesome actions that interfere with healthy relationships.
One can always try to de-escalate situations in which the bipolar person is acting out. I have found that doesn’t work out very well, especially since these are usually extremely emotionally charged situations and the person doesn’t have a lot of control in an unstable setting. But it’s always worth a try, the first line of defence, and may become a permanent and wonderful way to stop difficult behaviour and sustain healthy relationships.
Another way in which to maintain a healthy relationship is to tell the person you are not going to engage with them and their noxious behaviour. Give them a good reason as to why you aren’t going to do this. You want a good relationship with them and fighting with them isn’t the way to go about it.
If you get to the level I was at or to the level where my bipolar person is at, you may have to take far more drastic measures. These will most probably lead to a healthy relationship during the tempestuous times, may bring about eventual stability during unsettled periods, and stop the acting out. This solution tends to take longer than in other circumstances, however, because you may be dealing with someone who is “tougher” to reach. It involves a complete refusal to engage in bad behaviour.
You can’t engage at all with these people when they lash out at you. Often, they are trying to get you to do that by being provocative in what they say. Engaging adds fuel to the fire. As difficult as it may be, and as much as you may want to respond, you have to train yourself not to do so. I know that when people did this to me, I stopped striking out and my relationships improved vastly. Doing this with my bipolar person took a long time, but the results have been the same,
One thing remains constant throughout all of this. It’s important, but not easy, to maintain healthy relationships with bipolar people in your life when they are going through turbulent times. That’s the most advantageous thing for both of you over the long run.
As always, however, protect your own mental health first and foremost. If you can’t function well, you cannot help the bipolar person in your life learn to behave better and maintain healthier relationships during their difficult times. Remember: always take care of yourself or you can’t help anyone else.
Deb Wilk writes for various publications and she runs her own blog, Living Bipolar.