Advice and Tips on Talking About Bipolar
Christian and Becky offer their advice and tips on talking about bipolar disorder with your loved ones.
At some point, there will likely come a time when you have to have “the talk” with the people in your life about the fact that you have a mental illness on the bipolar spectrum. Talking about bipolar can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be.
Regardless of where you stand on the spectrum, there is a good chance at least some people will not fully understand and possibly be a little frightened when one of those keywords (mental illness, bipolar, schizoaffective, cyclothymia) are brought up.
As the character, Yul Brenner said in the movie Cool Runnings, “People are always afraid of what's different.”
Why Even Have the Conversation?
Thanks to the image the entertainment industry has painted of mental illness, some people fear us. Others just feel we're being overdramatic.
What's the point of even having the conversation about mental health if the people in your life might not care? What's the point if nobody believes you are sick?
In reality, there's no way to know how people will react until you have the talk, which may be voluntary or involuntary.
You might bring it up because you feel the time is right. Maybe a close friend, or even your boss, might sit you down after an intense episode and want to know what is going on with you.
In either case, you can either lie, as I used to, and downplay the severity of the situation by saying something simple like, “I'm sick.” Or you can be honest.
In my personal experience, simply telling people you’re sick doesn't result in much more than continued scoffing. I would recommend being as honest as you feel is necessary to get the people in your life to understand where you are coming from.
Mentally Preparing for the Talk
First and foremost, do not disclose this information if you are not ready. There is no rule stating you must tell people you're bipolar.
Make sure you can trust the people you are going to be telling. People tend to gossip, especially when it comes to stuff like this. This is a harsh reality many of us have to face. Before you do anything, make sure you are prepared to face the consequences posed by the enduring stigma against the mentally ill.
Hopefully, you have some very understanding people in your life. This will make this conversation go smoother, plus you won't have to worry about losing anybody close to you out of fear of your illness.
All that said there is also a chance that your friend or loved one will be very caring and be accepting of your situation.
You should never psych yourself out when it comes to things like this; you might miss out on a great, deeply personal conversation with somebody who might even become a closer friend than before.
While you are mentally preparing, I would suggest reading up on the disorder from a more professional perspective. Below I have listed some of my favorite resources to provide a vast array of information on bipolar disorder that may prove useful.
Depending on the intelligence level of the person you are talking with, your conversation may be as simple as saying, “I'm bipolar.” However, chances are even the most well-read friend you have will still have questions about your illness.
The Mayo Clinic website offers a wonderful section on bipolar disorder, which provides basic information, symptom descriptions, and more.
One book I would recommend is “Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families” by Francis Mark Mondimore. This book is written by a professional and does a great job at explaining bipolar disorder from a professional perspective.
And lastly, if your friend or loved one is more visually inclined, a simple search for “bipolar” or “bipolar disorder” on YouTube will result in numerous videos, both from the perspective of those living with bipolar disorder as well as professionals. Two channels on YouTube I would recommend are Kati Morton for a professional perspective and Raw Sammi for a channel recorded from personal experience.
Though websites and books offer great overviews of the illness, everyone experiences bipolar differently. Do not rule out your own experiences — you may wish to use them as examples of how bipolar has personally affected you.
Having the Talk
Have a clear direction of where you wish to take the conversation. Remain mindful of the conversation you are having, and yourself. That is, realize that stuff happens and, even if it doesn't go as well as hoped, it's not the end of the world.
It's entirely up to you as to how much information you wish to disclose during the talk. You may very well wish to leave it at the basics without going into too much personal detail about your symptoms, and that is perfectly alright.
You can always give the basics and then direct your friend or loved one to one of the resources as mentioned above and continue the conversation once they have a basic understanding of bipolar disorder.
This will give them some time to develop clear, appropriate and legitimate questions you can then answer honestly.
Remember, unless you are backed into a corner, you are having this conversation because you feel the time is right. Even when on the defensive, don't let yourself be treated like a criminal.
Don't Be Afraid
You are not on trial here. You are opening up about a very personal illness, and if the people you are coming out to can't handle it, that's their problem.
If anybody tries to make you feel worthless or like you are less of a person, there is no shame in getting up and walking away. Bipolar disorder is something you will live with for the rest of your life; by opening up to the people in your life, you are making yourself very vulnerable.
Don't let people take advantage of that vulnerability. Instead, show them you are comfortable in your skin; this will hopefully make them more comfortable in having this conversation with you. Best of luck!