Dating someone with a “severe” case of bipolar disorder.

What advice would you give to a person dating someone with a severe case of bipolar disorder, or a group of friends dealing with that one friend who has all the symptoms on a high level?

We’re talking mood swings, taking things the wrong way, getting violently angry and vulgar, crying in the middle of a celebration, accusing people of working against them, twisting other people’s normal comments into personal attacks… all of this unpredictability makes it very hard to deal with a person and to plan out events and such with groups of friends.

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My first reaction to this is question is automatically, “Is this person getting the proper treatment?” It just seems like with so many symptoms so often, it’s unlikely they are taking their meds and/or the meds aren’t working. But for the sake of my not knowing the situation that closely, let’s say they are taking their meds.

Having a friend/significant other with bipolar disorder is a challenge. I’m not going to sugar coat it, because it is what it is. Unpredictable becomes the predictable and mood swings blur together until you can no longer tell the difference between stable and unstable, ESPECIALLY when the person with bipolar is severe and/or off meds.

HOWEVER, people with bipolar need love too! So if you’re up for this challenge, you pretty much rock and I can promise you there will be good times in this adventure too!

As stated in the question …

We’re talking mood swings, taking things the wrong way, getting violently angry and vulgar, crying in the middle of a celebration, accusing people of working against them, twisting other people’s normal comments into personal attacks… all of this unpredictability makes it very hard to deal with a person and to plan out events and such with groups of friends.

That’s a LOT to deal with. What I’m going to do is break it down by situation and/or symptom, depending on how you look at it.

Mood Swings – Inevitable. Even the most medicated most stable person with bipolar is STILL going to have mood swings. However, if receiving the proper treatment, those mood swings should taper in the severity department.

The only way to cope with the mood swings of someone with bipolar is through patience and an understanding that “this too shall pass.”

My best advice would be the same advice I would give someone suffering from bipolar and complaining from mood swings. Enjoy the highs, and find support through the lows. It may seem simple and much easier said than done, but there really isn’t a whole lot more you can do if the person with bipolar is getting all the proper treatment and doing everything necessary to try to keep their moods level.

With THAT said … things that a person with bipolar can do to keep their moods level, as well as what you can do to help, are …

  • Staying on the right meds. If a person ever feels their meds aren’t working right they should ALWAYS talk to their doctor about it. Now it’s not for you to say whether or not those meds are or aren’t working for your friend/significant other, but you can casually make a mention of how maybe they should talk to their PDoc. Even offer to go with them. Give them examples of why you are making this suggestion. And above all, NEVER make it seem like you are forcing them or accusing them of not doing what they need to do. If you do notice a positive difference, mention that too. Sometimes hearing from someone else that things seem to be going in a positive direction can give more hope and a more positive attitude to continue on with the treatment.
  • Therapy – The majority of us hate it. Then there are some of us who love it. Regardless of how we feel, it’s necessary. With the proper therapist we can learn good coping strategies and also get a reality check when we’ve crossed our manic or depressive threshold. Though as a friend it would probably be awkward, if this other person is your significant other, I’d highly recommend going to therapy with them from time to time. That way you can discuss your concerns in a controlled setting and have someone there to help you say what you are trying to say without offending.
  • Exercise – (says the pot calling the kettle black!) Exercise is necessary. We all know it. And when you have a mental illness, exercise is more important than ever. Regular exercise helps keep us stable. It also relieves anxiety and lessens depression. Not to mention it clears the mind. I’m not too great at keeping up with it, but I can’t deny that exercise is probably my best tool in coping with mood swings. And exercise is something you can do together! Run, play tennis, bike, shoot hoops, do yoga. There are a million different exercises and who doesn’t prefer to do them with a partner! Heck, you might even find yourself becoming happier!

Now these aren’t ALL the things you can do, but it is some, and some of the best ways to keep mental stability.

Taking things the wrong way,¬†accusing people of working against them, twisting other people’s normal comments into personal attacks – *raises hand and shakes it violently* ooh ooh ooh I do this!!! Wait, that’s not a good thing is it? Unfortunately, there are those who can’t help it. Call it paranoia, call it whatever … some of us just feel like everyone is trying to upset us.

So what can you do? Reword what you have said. THINK before you speak though. With every word you use think to yourself, “how can this friend mistake these words for something else?”

And sometimes you’re just going to have to step back and let them cool off before you can explain what you meant to say or do. They key is not to take it personally. When someone takes something the wrong way, it’s usually because they are self conscious about the situation. Being unsure of oneself is a feeling, and we can’t control our feelings. The best thing you can do is validate that feeling. Try saying something like, “I completely understand how you could have taken this situation to mean what you thought, and I’d probably feel the same. However, what I was trying to say/do was …”

Getting violently angry and vulgar – NOT OKAY. no … wait … NEVER OKAY. If someone you care about is getting violent and is a danger to you or themselves, ALWAYS seek help. Violence should never be tolerated regardless of a person’s mental status. True, they may not know what they are doing, but all the more reason to get them help.

Vulgarity, not so cookie cutter, however I still don’t believe you should ever let it be acceptable. In these situations, I’d just walk away, hang up the phone, leave the situation and/or remove this person from the situation in which they are being vulgar.

Violence and vulgarity come when a person is out of control. The best thing you can do is get them to calm down or get them to a place (maybe even a hospital) where someone can help them calm down.

With my son, I do my best to ignore his rage. The more he rages the calmer I get. And eventually he starts to realize that the rage is getting him nowhere. So then we can sit down and take deep breaths together until he is calm. Probably not so easy with an adult, but believe me … keeping calm is the key to shortening these situations. The calmer you are, the sooner the other person will calm down as well.

Crying in the Middle of a Celebration – Been there, done that. Especially when drinking is involved. I don’t care who you are or how often you do it, when you cry, you cry for a reason. Whether you do it because your sad, upset, angry, or just need attention, crying is a way of expressing that you NEED something or somebody. So when your friend/significant other begins to cry in the middle of a celebration, pull them aside somewhere private. Ask what the issue is. They might not even know what the problem is. Try to comfort them. Ask them if they need to leave and let them know that it’s okay if they do. Sit with them until the weeping subsides or if they request, give them some time alone (not TOO much time) and tell them you’ll come check on them soon. (Though for safety reasons I’d still remain very close and keep an eye on them to make sure they are not suffering from suicidal thoughts. Best to leave them in a room and stand outside the door where you can still see them.)

Will this ruin the celebration? Possibly. But I’m pretty sure they didn’t mean to. And it’s good to keep that in mind.

With all these things I can completely understand how planning a group event may be difficult. Possibly this maybe a friend who you spend one on one time with instead of group get-togethers.

There really is no one thing you can do or any one way to get this person to stop being so unpredictable. The only thing you can control is your reactions and how you cope with these situations.

Is it frustrating?

Absolutely.

Does it make things difficult?

Most likely.

Does that mean you shouldn’t be with this other person?

That part is up to you. Only you can decide how much you can handle. But if I had to put in my two cents (and hey, that’s what I’m here for!) I’d say try to cope and help your friend/significant other. You may just be the best thing that ever happened to them.

HOWEVER I say that with the caveat that THEY TOO are doing what needs to be done to stay healthy and stable. You can’t help someone who won’t help themselves. And I do not believe you should put yourself through hell if they aren’t even willing to meet you half way.

People with Bipolar need love and respect, but that does not mean that they are exempt from returning that love and respect to others. Bipolar is an illness, not an excuse.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave your feedback here!