Bipolar disorder is not a piece of cake. It's a serious mental illness. Whether we like it or not, it's not something we can handle alone. If we think we can manage it alone, we are just kidding ourselves.
We are always in crisis. Bipolar disorder is so many things. It's not always just depression or manic episode. There are more to that nobody talks about. It's always feeling guilty and never feeling safe or understood. It's broken relationships, jobs gone and economic disasters. It's mental fog and being heavily medicated for your own safety. Sometimes it's harmful coping mechanisms or even psychotic episodes. Sounds a lot right? That's why we need support from different social networks. More you have the better.
I am lucky to have so many people in my life. Despite my bipolar disorder I have -against the odds - been able to establish deep friendships. I haven't cut off my family and I've managed to maintain a long relationship and marriage. I've done some harm too, but mostly took good care of my relationships.
I started to think about my social networks and came up with many different. Many would say I am lucky. First of all, I've got my family. My husband and kids, my parents, my sister and brother, aunts, cousins and my husband's family. My family is extended. Second of all, my friends. I am blessed to have more than one good friend. I'm not gonna do the count, let's just say I've got many.
What other social networks there are than family and friends? There is work community, attending medical care and different social media networks and communities. For me, those are this blogging community, another mental health forum and messenger group with some fellow mothers.
My bipolar disorder diagnosis is quite new but I've been mentally ill the most of my life. I haven't always got the help I needed. This is for several reasons. I didn't ask for help, my family and friends didn't know how to help or health care professionals didn't recognize the help I needed.
I have actually suffered a lot being left alone with my illness. Rich social networks are not always a guarantee. Sometimes, for variety of reasons, you have to fight to get help. It's quite common bipolar disorder is mistaken as unipolar depression. For me it took 15 years until doctors got it right.
Since they got it right things have improved a lot. When I finally got the right diagnosis (a year ago) it felt like all pieces of my life started to fall into places and make sense. Biggest improvement of all happened in my mind when I faced the fact that I was chronically ill. I always knew somehow that I was going to be ill the rest of my life but things really changed dramatically now that it got a label on it.
I kept my mental health problems a secret for most of my adult life because of a traumatic experience of being ignored when I cried for help. Since my bipolar disorder diagnosis I've overcome my traumatic experience and become more open about my mental health problems. I've still got some trust issues but I am able to talk honestly about state of my illness. I've recognized, it's much easier to understand depression than other features of this illness.
I haven't really got as much support as I needed. I've been really sick for the last twelve months. I've learned to be more open but also that it's OK to ask help. Asking for help is not easy for me but I understand now I can't deal with this alone. It's just too much. My family and friends are still rookies and they need some training how to support someone with bipolar disorder.
This is a five points list for my family and friends:
1. Face the fact that I am chronically ill with a mental illness. I will get better but I will be mentally ill the rest of my life.
2. Take my illness seriously. Bipolar disorder is a severe condition. If I commit a s u i c i d e it's not your fault. I've tried twice without success. Stop pretending that never happened.
3. Get educated. You need to know everything about bipolar disorder in order to understand my behavior.
4. Keep up with me. Ask how I am doing. Don't be afraid of my response. Sometimes I am better and sometimes worse. Don't make me lie.
5. Be worth trust. I need to know I'm looked after when I am no capable of making decisions regarding my treatment.
That's not much to ask, right? My illness is not easy for anybody but we need to stop pretending it doesn't exist. Open communication is a huge factor treating this illness.