Without a formal diagnosis, I believe my sister, age 39, is bipolar. For years I have tried to get her to acknowledge she has a problem. I have talked to friends who are psychologists and thus believe my sister is bipolar.
Of recent concern is the fact she lost a job, and then just had to drop out of school because she supposedly missed a grant deadline. As a result, she has no money, cannot pay rent and bills and just announced to my parents she is going to a shelter in a few days. My concerns are:
1 – she has a 13 year old son; my nephew is the greatest and an amazing young man. I fear for his emotional and physical well-being; she has a history of yelling at him (and others) for no reason, hitting for no reason, leaving medication about the house at his reach when he was a child; she uses him to get at other family members, threatening family can’t see him and the like.
2 – I fear for her; she cannot seem to develop independent survival skills, although she has lived on her own for several years; when her son was a toddler, she would stay in her room, in the dark, not socialize with family or anyone (she lived with my parents then); it was a depression. She cannot seem to recognize she needs help with anything; she is the “life of the party” with friends and strangers but mean and angry with family; she blames everyone else for her shortcomings, despite the fact her 4 siblings have made successful lives for themselves (in other words we had the same parents and all turned out “fine”); she blames my parents, particularly my mother for anything; she is very opinionated about and critical of others but unable to be critical of herself.
I live in NJ; she and rest of my family lives in MA. Of all of us, I would say she is closest to me as she has “talked” to me about other things. For this reason I feel I am the one who can most help her but I don’t know how to do this.
Anything you can offer is greatly appreciated.
I love sisters. And without knowing you, I already know you are amongst the best of them. The fact that, despite all these faults of hers and all that she has done wrong in the past, you STILL want to help her and you still love her … it let’s me know that you are amazing. Sisters ROCK!
Moving along … Unfortunately, I am not a clinician nor a diagnostician (Yet!!! 3 Cheers for College!), so I do not feel comfortable saying whether or not I believe your sister does or does not have bipolar. With that said, I do believe it is obvious she is suffering from some sort of mood difficulties … whether or not it is bipolar, I am unsure, but for the sake of this post, let’s pretend it is. 🙂
When a person suffers from depression, mood disorders, personality disorders, etc. it is hard for them to come to terms with the fact that something might be WRONG with them. I mean, why would there be something wrong? She probably believes she’s normal and all of you are crazy! (not that she’s crazy … but I think you understand where I am coming from) Well, maybe believe isn’t the right word … more like she’s convinced herself that she is the sane one.
It’s easy to shift the blame elsewhere when you are too scared or embarrassed to admit you have problems. You don’t have to have bipolar or a mental illness to do this. Heavens, alcoholics do this, drug addicts, sometimes I even do it when I have a cold!
I’ll be all like, “What? I don’t have a cold. That’s just allergies. I don’t have time to REALLY be sick.”
Many times alcoholics and drug addicts will blame their addictions on anything/anyone other than themselves. I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard someone or seen someone on TV say these things …
“I don’t have a problem. You’re over reacting.”
“I’m not the one with the problem, you are.”
“You’re the reason I do this stuff!”
“I drink because I’m bored.”
“I smoke pot to calm down.”
“I snort coke because I like the smell.”
No one WANTS to admit there is anything wrong with them. No one WANTS to be a drug or alcohol abuser. No one WANTS to be sick. No one WANTS to have a mood disorder. No one WANTS to be depressed.
Just the same …
I don’t WANT to be short, I just am.
I don’t WANT to be thirty, but my birth year insists its true.
I don’t WANT to be broke, but I’m going to school and a stay at home mom … nuff said!
I don’t WANT to have trust issues with dairy, but I do.
I DEFINITELY DON’T WANT to have bipolar, but unfortunately my little brain and all it’s chemistry says otherwise.
I think it is important to help her realize that staying in denial and placing the blame on everyone else is only hurting her more. Heck, maybe she doesn’t WANT to be a mom (or at least I know there are moms out their who’d rather not be), but I’m pretty sure she birthed that amazing little boy, so not wanting the parental responsibilities doesn’t negate her from actually having them. Same goes for her moods and her actions.
Denial is a fickle little devil. It can hang on the coattails of some people throughout their entire lives. The sad part is, denial destroys us. Fear of accepting the truth destroys us. The inability to see that admitting to having problems, illnesses, addictions, etc. is OKAY, that’s what destroys us.
It’s OKAY to admit we are sick.
It’s OKAY to admit we have problems.
It’s OKAY to admit we have addictions.
It’s how we respond to these obstetrical that really define who we are, not having the issues themselves.
So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it … your sister … who is probably a beautiful and amazing woman beneath all her flaws … is in denial. She is afraid of what happens once she admits SHE is the one with a problem. She is afraid of what happens when everyone knows that she knows it’s true. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you … she’s terrified. Whether or not she is even aware of it, subconsciously she KNOWS that her entire world will change just by saying those 4 little words,
“I have a problem.”
Getting help for having bipolar may seem easy. You might believe it’s ridiculous not to try. I mean it makes your life better … right?
But to someone who has never admitted to their issues, to someone who has never sought out treatment, to someone who has spent their whole life in denial and blaming everyone for every little thing they do wrong … getting help might actually seem like the enemy.
However, it’s actually the What If’s that are the enemy.
What if I get help and I get better, but then I fall again? I’ll disappoint everyone!
What if I start to hold down a job? Suddenly there will be all these expectations and pressures. What if I just can’t keep up with that!?
What if getting treatment doesn’t help?
What if there really isn’t anything wrong with me?
What if people look at me differently once they know I have a mental illness?
What if I look at me differently?
What if no one wants to love me anymore because I’m not “normal”?
What if it is my fault and not all the peoples’ who I’ve been blaming?
What if those people hate me because they were right and I was wrong?
What if I lose who I am?
What if I stop being so fun to my friends?
What if I end up in the hospital?
I don’t know about you, but I’m overwhelmed just thinking about all those What If’s!
The only thing you can do is be ready for them. You need a What If to argue each one of hers. The conversation should go more like this … or at least this is how I would respond 🙂
HER: “What if I get help and I get better, but then I fall again? I’ll disappoint everyone!”
YOU: “What if you don’t? And even if you do, I disappoint people all the time. They get over it! Because you’ll get right back up and start again. And I’ll be there to catch you each and every time you do fall!”
HER: “What if I start to hold down a job? Suddenly there will be all these expectations and pressures. What if I just can’t keep up with that!?”
YOU: “What if you meet all those expectations? How will you feel? Won’t you be so proud of yourself? But if you can’t keep up, that’s not necessarily because you are mentally ill. People fall short all the time. Sane people get fired every day. What you will do is, you’ll move forward. You’ll find a job that is better suited for you. And if you aren’t proud of you, I will be!”
HER: “What if getting treatment doesn’t help?”
YOU: “Then we’ll try something new. Maybe it’s just the wrong treatment for you. We’ll find a treatment that DOES help, and I’ll be there with you until you do!”
HER: “What if there really isn’t anything wrong with me?”
YOU: “Then at least you’ll know. At least you can stand up straight and tell the world, ‘Bite Me! There’s nothing wrong with me!’ And you can be sure of it and not have doubts. You’ll actually have the proof to back it up. And besides, even if you do have bipolar or something similar, that does NOT mean there is anything wrong with you. It just means your brain chemistry is different than other peoples’. Not everyone has the same color hair or skin, why should their brains all work the same. That’d be BORING!”
HER: “What if people look at me differently once they know I have a mental illness?”
YOU: “What if people look at you differently because you are beautiful? What if people look at you differently because you are smarter than them? Do you really think that makes you the one with the problem? There is nothing wrong with being beautiful and smart, and there is nothing wrong with having a mental illness!”
HER: “What if I look at me differently?”
YOU: “The only way you should look at yourself differently is with pride. You should be proud that you overcame your fears and did something about it.”
HER: “What if no one wants to love me anymore because I’m not “normal”?”
YOU: “I will love you, because there is no such thing as normal. And our family will love you. And your son will love you. And everyone who is truly worth your time and effort will STILL love you. Normal makes you boring. Normal makes you just like everyone else. Normal makes you blend in with the crowd. I hope no one thinks I’M normal!”
HER: “What if it is my fault and not all the peoples’ who I’ve been blaming?”
YOU: “Then you can apologize. You can gain forgiveness. You can show everyone that you are capable of taking responsibility for your own actions. Who wouldn’t be in awe of that!”
HER: “What if those people hate me because they were right and I was wrong?”
YOU: “Number one, people love being right. You’ll actually have gained their favor. Now as wrong as that is, it means it will blow over. And what if they respect you more for having admitted you were wrong? What if they are proud of you? What if they are just happy to not be blamed for everything anymore? What if that makes you the better person for admitting your faults when they most likely can’t admit their own!”
HER: “What if I lose who I am?”
YOU: “You’ll never lose who you TRULY are. Your soul will always be the same. You’ll actually gain recognition of the person you can be. And what if you like that person more? And seriously, I lose who I am every other year. An illness doesn’t do that to you, life does. What is important is how you go about finding yourself again!”
HER: “What if I stop being so fun to my friends?”
YOU: “What if your friends only like you because they think your fun? Does that make them real friends? And what if they don’t stop believing you are the life of the party? What if, because you are finally getting treatment, you come out of your dark holes and become even MORE fun?”
HER: “What if I end up in the hospital?”
YOU: “What if I end up in the hospital for breaking my leg or getting in a car crash? Everyone ends up in the hospital from time to time. You went to the hospital to give birth to your son. I don’t see where that is a problem. Hospitals are there for a reason. They help you get better. No matter what hospital you go to, I can guarantee you it will be flooded with people. And what if you go to the hospital and see that for the very first time, you don’t feel so alone? Now that I’d be envious of!”
The point I’m trying to make is, it’s all in how you approach the situation. You need to be prepared for her to be angry, to have doubts, to be scared. You need to be prepared to calm her anger, ease her doubts and let her know it’s okay to be scared. And the best thing you can do is find a way to relate to her! Give her examples of times you were angry, self doubting or scared. Because everyone goes through those feelings, just over different things.
And another key element …
NEVER … under ANY circumstances … INVALIDATE your sisters feelings. We can’t control our feelings, they just happen. Feelings are NEVER wrong, they just are what they are. There is nothing in the world worse than being told “your feelings don’t matter”, or “you don’t really feel that”, or “I know you can change how you feel”, or the absolute worst “my feelings are more important than yours”. Nothing invalidates a person’s feelings like telling them yours are more important. NOBODY’S feelings are more important than another person’s. They are all equal. And unless you make it clear to her that you understand that, she will continue to push you and everyone else trying to “help her” away.
One last thing.
Share this post with your family and her friends. Be all on the same page. Make sure everyone has a sense of what she is going through and how she is not trying to be difficult, she is just scared. Try to convince them to be supportive. Make sure they know that she will succeed AND she will fail, time and time again, it’s just part of the mental illness package. And the more support she has, the easier it will be on everyone.
If it helps, try picturing someone in detox … cuz believe me, admitting and accepting a mental illness is just as agonizing. It may not be physical like trying to quit a substance, but the mental anguish is almost one in the same.
I hope this helped, and if you have ANY further questions, please do NOT hesitate to ask.
OH ONE MORE THING … A BIG thank you from all of us with sisters for being an Awesomesawce sister yourself! You too are amazing!