Bipolar disorder is a mental condition that causes mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. While I don’t suffer from this, not that I’m aware of, I have a friend that does. I used to work with her until a while ago, before I recently changed jobs. Her bipolar disorder is characterized by going in between periods of hypomania and periods of depression, but never really hitting mania or full major depression.
This is my perspective as a friend, which I’m sure it’s different from a family member. This is the way I see this illness affecting my friend,and a bit of what I do to help her out.
The endless talk
Some days she would come to work noticeably more energized and active than usual. She seemed in a upbeat mood and would start talking fast, sometimes jumping from subject to subject. This is when I knew she was going through a hypomanic episode. It seemed like her thoughts ran faster than the words coming out of her mouth.
When she’s like this I just listen to her, and let her express herself as much as she’d like. She always has some funny and interesting things to say, so it’s never been a bother for me.
She’s very intense in her emotions, particularly anger. Sometimes at work, if a rude person just came by (which happened every single day), immediately as the person left she would curse for about three minutes straight. Not gonna lie, it was pretty funny for both of us because she would come up with the weirdest insults. However, deep down she was beyond irritated. Unable to let go of this irrational anger, she then would continue to remember it throughout the entire night. Often, the next day she would come to work still hanging on to that! Some cases it would cause her so much anger that she wasn’t able to sleep.
Lack of sleep
The constant race of thoughts would often deprive her of sleep. She would come to work quite tired because she would go to bed and her mind would just keep going.
The reason she has so many stories to tell, it’s mostly because her impulsive behavior led her to them. She gets an idea and just goes for it, regardless how dangerous it seems. Almost as if something in her brain clouds her ability to make clear (and safe!) decisions. She comes up with ideas like running away from her family, and this is when I interfere and be like “Eh…how about no.”.
High levels of energy
When her energy levels are high, she wants to do everything at once. For example, she’d start tidying up the house, but her mind would skip from thought to thought, causing her to actually skip from task to task leaving incomplete works around the house.
Depressive episodes don’t come often, so it’s rare to see her completely down. There are days when she’s depressed and irritable, and be very sensitive or “touchy” about her family’s comments towards her. The motivation to fight for her family is completely gone. Sometimes, at work, she would need to step aside because the emotions would overwhelm her and cause her to “almost lose it”.
Being thoughtful about her life
At work I knew something was wrong because she would be quiet and seemed thoughtful. Nothing really mattered on days like this. She would feel like a failure as a mother and as a person. That the reason she never achieves her dreams is because every time she chased them something happened to her because her recklessness.
This is when I connect with her the most. Being constantly depressed myself, I understand her pain, lack of energy, and the hopeless feelings towards oneself.
What can you do, as a friend?
Despite the ups and downs, she’s one of the most interesting persons I’ve ever met. Her family probably wouldn’t agree with me on this, but she always has some interesting stories to tell. She blames her unfortunate events on her “bad luck”, but deep down she knows they’re mostly caused by impulsive behaviors. Not one month is alike the other that’s for sure.
It’s a hard life to live, and that’s why I admire every person that goes through this illness and fights through it, like she does.
Here are some quick tips to be of support for them:
- Listen to them when they need to rant, or when they need to talk.
- Reassure them of the positive things in their lives when they feel low.
- Be their conscience when they want to do something impulsive.
- Help them recognize their symptoms, sometimes bipolar symptoms could be cloudy even for them.
- Understand them, educate yourself on their illness.
- Please don’t take their actions personally and resist the urge to respond back if they snap at you.
At the end, my role as a friend is to listen to her when she needs to talk or rant, be there for her in her low days, talk her into some sense when she feels the impulse of doing something “crazy” and actively remind her of how much she’s accomplished and what an amazing mother she is. Her family is her life, and she fights through this illness for them which I find admirable. I’m lucky to have her as a friend, that’s for sure. 😉
Stay strong, pineapples!