Perceiving the world through the eyes of a Bipolar person is a difficult thing to do for those with typical minds. This is especially problematic for the people who love or are friends with a Bipolar person. The question I hear most often from these folks is, “How can my loved one do such horrible things to me when they claim to love or care about me?”
Let’s explore that conundrum. Bear in mind I’m using the following example in an extreme to hopefully drive the point home. Many of us Bipolars usually float around in middle ranges unless we’re severely unwell.
Sarah and Jack are a married couple. Sarah is Bipolar. The two share a healthy, loving, attentive relationship while she is well. She loves Jack with all of her heart. A Bipolar unwell period warps the perception of Sarah. Her mind starts feeding her misinformation about the world and her life around her.
Her mind starts picking apart everything Jack does. Did he spend too long smiling at a waitress? He wants to sleep with her. Did he answer a wrong number late at night? It was the woman from work that he’s sleeping with. Late coming home from work? I knew he was sleeping with her!
The longer Sarah is unwell, the more her mind will play with these thoughts and feelings; spinning them out of proportion. Then her mind may start dredging up all of the other things from her life with Jack that didn’t go as planned. Didn’t get to finish college? Jack’s fault. Miscarriage? Jack’s fault. Work a job that she hates? Jack’s fault.
Most likely this will culminate and explode. Sarah will get into a huge fight with Jack or find some other way to lash out at him for all these wrongs that her unwell mind convinced her that he is responsible for. Now comes the verbal barbs and possibly worse. “I hate you. You’re horrible. You’re worthless. I wish I had never met you.” and liberally lace it with profanity.
This is the point that many people get wrong. They ask, “If my loved one knew they hurt me, why wouldn’t they apologize?” Because they haven’t rebalanced yet or they don’t know what to say.
When was the last time you apologized to someone you hated? At this point in time, Sarah hates Jack because her brain has fed her lies and twisted her perception about the way their life has been. She doesn’t love him right now and may take it out on him in a number of ways- a revenge affair for his “infidelity”, physical and verbal abuse, or whatever her mind may cook up.
An unwell mind will normalize eventually. She will return to her baseline and be just as in love with Jack as she always was, except now- she has this laundry list of whatever horrible things she’s said and done to him while she was severely unwell. And at this point, most of us Bipolars will be watching the ashes of yet another important thing in our lives slip through our fingers. A number of us will go silent on the matter if we don’t understand our illness very well because what can you really say? What could possibly make up for those horrible actions? “I’m sorry” is often a pale shadow compared to the wound.
That does not mean that this is how things have to go- it’s just the way they normally go because people don’t educate themselves enough on the Disorder and how to manage it.
If you are Bipolar- you need to learn to identify the indicators that you’re getting unwell. Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness; as an illness there are symptoms that signify when you are getting sick. When you are getting sick, you can then begin to pay more attention to your own thought processes to rationalize your way through them. Almost all of the above examples could have been derailed if Sarah had realized she was getting unbalanced and stopped to really examine what she was thinking. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, you won’t always get it right. But you can prevent a whole lot of damage by being critical of your own thoughts if you identify that you may be getting unwell.
If you can, look into Cognitive Therapy. A therapist can help you learn and refine these skills. You will have to work hard to learn how to manage and defuse these thoughts but it is a skill-set that you’ll use the rest of your life. You either own Bipolar Disorder or it owns you- there is no in-between.
If you are a friend/loved one- you need to know you and your limits very well. The Bipolar person in your life will probably push them and walk all over them. Being called obscenities by someone that is normally loving can be a shock; but ultimately they are just a couple of words. Keep an eye out for drastic changes in behavior. A big change in sleep patterns is a very common indicator. Any major change in moods or personal habits could be indicative of an unwell swing.
And that leads me to communication and trust. The Bipolar person needs to be able to accept that they are Bipolar, they will have drastic mood swings, and they need to be able to communicate with their loved one if they are getting sick. The well person in the relationship needs to feel comfortable with bringing up that they think the other may be getting unwell. You can learn to read and identify your partner’s symptoms. Communication can prevent a lot of needless hurt stemming from unwell thought processes because the well partner can introduce facts and reality that the unwell partner desperately needs.
Loving someone with a mood disorder isn’t always pleasant. Never take on more than you are able to. Each person has their own lines and limits that they know can’t be crossed. It’s not unreasonable to expect the Bipolar in your life to work to minimize the damage the Disorder does. Just be aware that they will probably fail horribly at it from time to time. We all do. But- the Disorder can be managed and you can have a fairly normal relationship/friendship with the person. Every relationship has challenges, ours are just a bit different than typical.