Here’s a very VERY interesting article by John Hopkins called “The Truth About Cancer.” Cancer affects one in three of us. Please take the time to read this and forward it to your friends and family members. There is considerable overlap between the content of this article and our bipolar-friendly foods section, which we’ve just updated. Follow THIS LINK to find out more on how we can help ourselves to manage our moods nutritionally.
Respect to you. It can be a nightmare caring for a bipolar loved one. Trust me, I’m bipolar.
During the extremes of our bipolarity, we are incapable of seeing things from your perspective. We are relentlessly inconsiderate of your feelings. It’s always ten steps up, twenty steps down with us. We’re exhausting. And the worst of it is: when we’re wrapped up in the chaotic irrational thinking that heralds our extreme mood states, believe me – you and your feelings don’t enter our minds for a nanosecond! Not when we’re so far removed from our personalities. And what you don’t understand scares you. Sometimes, you’re frantically trying to protect us by predicting our thoughts (you’re not even close, Mystic Meg), tortured by premonitions of behavioral worst case scenarios that haven’t happened yet, and probably never will. You’ve been tippy-toeing on eggshells around us for soooo long in your own home, you now have a permanent limp and secretly fear you’re the crazy one. And by the way, if you think you’re “normal”, you could probably use some therapy yourself.
Whether we’ve retreated into our second womb (our bed) for days, or we’re bouncing off the walls, just so elated about everything, caring for a bipolar loved one during the extremes of bipolarity can be strenuous. If your own mental health is suffering, or in serious jeopardy, it’s time to step back from the fire. Sacrificing yourself to support us is not doing either of us good. While your support is invaluable to our recovery, we need YOU to be healthy and strong, not pretending to be healthy and strong, like a bad vaudeville actor. We’re bipolar, we’re not stupid.
So, how can you realistically help us without damaging yourself?
The first way you can help yourself is to research our disorder. It won’t make you an expert on what we’re going through, but it will clarify that it’s not personal, it’s an illness of the mind.
The second most important thing you can do for us (my own bipolar point of view, of course) is offer us endless hope and encouragement by believing in the hope and encouragement you proffer. It’s a mathematical certainty with bipolar disorder that any abnormal psychology that we’re experiencing will pass, so you can be utterly genuine in reminding us we won’t be feeling this way for long, while retaining your own healthily detached perspective – and you can be absolutely certain that you are right.
If you’ve got the time and energy to do it without sacrificing your own needs, you can also help by keeping a track of our moods – how long they last and the symptoms. By doing so, you become a partner in our treatment, without becoming a nag. This is reassuring for both of us. We’ve all got our own limits and unless you’re a clone, your limits will be entirely different to your friend’s limits or another family member’s limits. Don’t think “Ooh, maybe I should be doing more?” Set healthy realistic personal boundaries based on your own limits. We want you to be healthy and well, so we have someone to turn to, even aspire to. We want you to support us, but not as malfunctioning robots.
We need you to encourage us to seek support and continue our treatment, even when we’re feeling miraculously “cured”. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Because when we’re deludedly and psychotically euphoric about how amazing our life is, how well we are, and how enthusiastic we are about everything and everyone, the last place you are likely to find us is a doctor’s surgery, waiting patiently for a check up or repeat prescription. Remind us cheerfully not to run out of meds. We need you to be our emotional compass. Preferably without pissing on our enthusiasm, because we’ll remember your sarcasm the next time we’re “GOING DOWN!!!” to chronically depressed. I’m a rapid cycler, so you may find it helpful to think of me as a high-speed elevator. Got the picture? Okay, good. But whether we’re elevators, or take the stairs, it’s the same old shit we experience over and over again.
NEVER wait to see if we get better. If we’re suicidal, or doing the loop da loopy, encourage us to see a doctor and get treatment straight away. It may just be our regular personality shining through, but if you’re concerned, don’t take risks. With severe bipolar depression and mixed episodes (when we’re simultaneously manic and depressed), there is always a risk of suicide. Be as patient and soothing as you can, without driving yourself to a nervous breakdown.
If you can’t afford to pay for your loved one to see an expensive psychiatrist, there are other free, hugely beneficial things you can do to help. You can find out the nearest bipolar support group in your area, drive your loved one there yourself, call the Samaritans, find your nearest bipolar charity. You can cook them a delicious meal full of naturally mood stabilizing ingredients, suggest vitamins, and you can encourage us to get outdoors. We need Vitamin D. Even if we’re weeping and wailing, or lashing out verbally (if we’re being violent, call a health specialist immediately), we’ll by humbled by your support once our extreme moods stabilize. And they will stabilize. We often enjoy long periods of mood stability, where we’re more grounded than you are, between our extreme ups and downs. This is one of the main difficulties we face in achieving an accurate early diagnosis.
You’re not responsible for your loved one’s mood, but you can help us to help ourselves. Support groups are our chance to open up about our struggles, experiences and ‘enthusiasms’ to a sympathetic bunch of bipolar people who have been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Ok, they’re not clones of your loved one with identical personalities and experiences of bipolarity, but they still have a far greater chance of being able to offer constructive advice and support than you do. And even if your loved one’s not in some kind of therapy, chances are they are. We also offer one-to-one peer mentoring, where we grab a coffee (ironically since caffeine’s bad for us) once a week and speak on the phone. Family members of a loved one who is struggling with bipolar disorder are also invited to attend support group meetings. We can help your loved one manage mood swings and offer any crisis support.
To summarize, dealing with our bipolar ups and downs can be hugely testing, traumatic, and extremely difficult when we’re experiencing severe extremities of mood. The important thing is not to do it on your own. Encourage your loved one to take advantage of all the support he or she can get their hands on without bankrupting yourself or them. (Mind you, there is a good chance we will have already bankrupted ourselves thanks to our irrational impulses to spend spend spend when manic.) Make sure you are kind to yourself; set responsible healthy boundaries based on your own limits, and encourage us to do the same. Don’t be our emotional crutch. Help us to help ourselves. You’re only as stressed as you allow yourself to be. Accept our illness for what it is and don’t confuse our character with our moods. It’s not personal, it’s an illness. Resist the temptation to denounce our enthusiasm, or tell us it’s not real. If you trample on our hopes, we will become hopeless. Encourage us to lead active fulfilling lives, but don’t force us to smell the roses. (We’ll smell them if we want to – and not everybody enjoys the stench.) When we’re coping, we’re coping: trust us to manage our moods without you. Don’t waste your time wondering what’s going on in our minds. Be mindful of your own mind. Be our encourager, not our jailer. The past is history. Yes, our illness, especially pre-diagnosis, is likely to mean we’ve behaved reprehensibly, shamefully, deeply hurtfully, perhaps unforgivably (that’s your choice to decide, not ours). But the future a mystery. If we’re already accepting treatment, don’t worry endlessly about things that haven’t happened yet and probably never will. It’s up to all of us, individually, to mend, build or destroy bridges. The present as a gift.
You may not feel it deeply enough, but on behalf of myself, and your bipolar loved ones, WE ARE SO ETERNALLY GRATEFUL FOR YOUR LOVING SUPPORT!
Mania warning signs and symptoms
Inexplicable elevated mood (though if the bipolar person’s a natural optimist, this can be tricky)
Speaking rapidly (yackety-yack-yack-yack) and more loudly than usual
For me, and several other bipolar people I’ve encountered, MANIA has an unwanted and dangerous side-effect: SLEEPWALKING. In fact, for months at a time, I have led an exhausting double life: My Life Awake and My Life Asleep. One of my lives makes no sense at all. And the other only occurs when I’m asleep. But before I give you some examples, I should assure you there is NO PROVEN SCIENTIFIC LINK between sleepwalking and bipolar disorder, unlike bipolar mania and insomnia, so don’t panic that because you’ve recently been diagnosed as bipolar, your neighbors will stun you with ludicrously far fetched revelations of your secret nocturnal life. Like how you woke up your entire neighborhood at 3am whacking a hockey stick on your neighbors’ doors, naked, of course, and – whoops, I’ve piled straight into a story, having said I wouldn’t – but yep, that happened to me, not that long ago. If you happen to live in Sai Kung, you’ve probably heard that tale before.
Backtracking swiftly, it’s widely accepted that insomnia is as natural to we bipolar types during manic episodes as eating figs naturally relieves our bowls (strange analogy – and I, too, don’t believe it works in this context), but for many of us, it’s much worse than that. If insomnia is natural to the manic individual, sleepwalking, or my experience of it, is supernatural. At least while you’re tossing and turning with insomnia, you are still you, or a pissed off version of yourself. When you’re sleepwalking, you’re somebody else entirely with a brand new set of values. An example from my own past: When I’m awake, I’m a vegetarian. When I’m asleep, I can more often than not be found standing by the fridge scoffing slathers of raw bacon straight from the pack. What does it taste like? I can’t tell you. I was asleep. Chicken, probably – rooster testicles, raw.
My boyfriend, alerted by the fridge, which was bleeping warningly, attempted to tug what was left of the raw bacon away from my greasy trotters, which led to an argument. You’d think conversation would be limited when you’re in the land of Nod, but I am quite the barrister when I’m asleep – lucid as Lucifer. I can hold detailed conversations about subjects I know nothing about – or assume I don’t when I’m awake. Quite often, it’s really hard to tell if I’m asleep or not, even to those who know me best. If confronted on the topic, I will vehemently deny that I’m asleep in my sleep. I’ve ordered confused staff at 5 star hotels back to bed after starting a minor fire in the hotel kitchens, dangled off fire escapes in my sleep, literally walked for miles around foreign cities in my sleep, driven a boat in my sleep and woken up on a 747 plane after a non-eventful flight, congratulating myself on sleeping the entire journey, to discover myself straightjacketed to an empty row of economy seats. My reaction was understandably furious. I had manically purchased myself a first class ticket – and here I was, trussed up in economy, the last turkey in the shop, remembering nothing. Open mouths and pointed fingers, now my friends are dead and gone.
I was subsequently arrested by the police at Heathrow. I’d apparently caused quite a commotion, refusing to return to my seat during turbulence, taking childish delight in being thrown around the aircraft like a grenade. I’d also repeatedly attempted to break into the cockpit, presumably to land the plane myself. Thanks to 9/11, this sort of behavior is now strictly forbidden, whereas in the 90s everyone was doing it. One of my fellow passengers had accused me of openly taking cocaine in the aisles to the police, which was undoubtedly an easy assumption based on my behavior. I was 90% certain I’d been wrongly accused, although I wouldn’t have put it past me to order a gram or two of coke in my sleep, or perhaps steal it from the cabin crew. After rigorously (and painfully) searching me and my belongings for evidence of cocaine, the police eventually branded me a liability and released me without charge. The cabin crew apologized for their role in my arrest and being British, I replied the pleasure was all mine: All I needed now was a nice cup of tea. As two burly police officers escorted me out of the airport, presumably to be absolutely certain of my departure, the female one commented she’d never arrested a passenger who’d reacted with such blasé indifference to drugs charges before. I confessed, truthfully, that this sort of nightmare happened all the time. Sure enough, three weeks weeks later, I was arrested at Malpensa Airport in Milan.
I’ve only become conscious of having been sleepwalking – rudely awoken, if you will – once, when I awoke in a North London garage in February, barefoot and wearing a flimsy nightie. The man in the garage had astutely decided there was something not quite right about my appearance (surprisingly, for London) or my behavior. He was shaking me rigorously out of my nightie when My Life Asleep abruptly ended and I snapped back into consciousness. Startled and furious, I panicked, hit him over the head with the packets of bacon I’d opened and attempted to devour (fortunately missing my mouth and using the rashers to decorate the floor). The man informed me I had to pay for the bacon. I still wonder where he thought I was hiding my wallet. Explaining“No cash – sorry mate!” I sore-footed it back to my apartment. I’d locked myself out, naturally. But my boyfriend eventually woke up and let me back in. I was less fortunate with similar situations that arose after we split up. (Yes, he dumped me.) When my nocturnal meanderings regularly led me to awaken on the filthy, festering door mat, to the communal entrance to my apartment. It amazes me that I have the poorest sense of direction of just about anyone I know when I’m awake. I can literally get lost right outside my home. And yet I always manage to find my way home in my sleep, or even to a random hotel I’d checked into hours earlier. Does a chink of my bipolar brain function as an inbuilt GPS when I’m subconscious? In which case, why doesn’t the GPS chip work when I’m awake? My early-riser neighbor would find me balled up asleep on the communal doormat and generously allow me to sleep in her bed until the locksmith arrived. The smug expression on my dog’s face, as he gently stretched his paws and lifted his head from my pillow to watch me stumble in, bits of straw doormat tangled in my hair – scarecrow chic – was infuriating.
So, after rambling on for a while, possibly in some kind of sleep-writing auto-pilot (it wouldn’t be the first time), what can we realistically do to prevent ourselves sleepwalking? Go to sleep at the same time every day (I’m not a machine!), don’t work too late (i’m working late because I failed to do what needed to be done in the day, not because I want to), never get stressed (I never know I’m stressed until the stress has magically been removed), relax (boring!), meditate (this I do consciously find very stressful). My shrink (but he’s a liar) tells me one of the most effective medications to reduce sleepwalking is lithium. I should probably mention that since I’ve been diagnosed as bipolar, my sleepwalking misadventures have occurred less frequently (but just as severely). Although I try to laugh it off, whenever I am made to listen to someone’s excruciating account of my life asleep the impact is mind-shattering. Perhaps I’m lucky. I rarely suffer hallucinations that are not sleep-induced. But each time it happens, it leaves a footprint on my waking life. Waking up with deja vu, I become a bad impression of a super-sleuth, obsessively attempting to piece together the mystery of My Life Asleep: Why am I compelled by impulses to wander? And what does it mean? Is my subconscious mind smarter than my conscious mind? I already know it’s got a superior sense of direction. Which should I ultimately trust? Instinct or rational thinking?
Are you bipolar and an occasional or chronic sleepwalker? Share your stories!