Depression and bipolar disorder are family diseases.
Everyone sharing a kitchen and a bathroom is affected. In fact, in his book “Understanding Depression,” J. Raymond DePaulo Jr., M.D., writes that “depression … has a much greater impact on marital life than rheumatoid arthritis or cardiac illness. One study found that only severe forms of cancer affected a family as adversely as depression or bipolar disorder.”
Education is always the starting point. Because until a spouse or daughter or friend of a manic-depressive understands the illness, it is impossible to say and do the right thing.
Anna Bishop, wife of fellow blogger James Bishop (findingoptimism.com) has some wonderful advice for the loved one of a manic depressive on what to say and when:
When James becomes ill he turns into a different person. I say goodbye to my husband, so to speak, and hello to bipolar James. In a depressive episode he becomes highly irritable and usually itches for a fight. Early on he will often make comments to bait me. “All I do is work, work, work, to support your lifestyle and your precious social group.”
You can imagine what a red rag to a bull that comment is.
At this point I have 2 options:?1. Take the bait, have a messy fight and accelerate his downswing, or?2. Grit my teeth and say “it’s the illness speaking”. If I can do that then I have a much better chance of diffusing the situation. A comment like “You sound stressed about work – let’s talk” has better results and sometimes can even stop the mood swing.
3. Make some rules.
In order to design a such a strategy, the manic depressive and her loved one must compile a list of symptoms–like the smoke and burning smell of that make-believe fire in the third grade–and what action should follow them, like “call the doctor.”
Eric and I have agreed that I will call my doctor after two consecutive night’s sleep under five hours, or after three days of crying spells. A friend of mine told me that he and his wife have agreed that she will see her psychiatrist if she hasn’t gotten out of bed for three days.
As part of the above plan of action, you should consider what should happen when the bipolar person is very ill. “When you are dealing with a disease that has the potential to become life-threatening, the last thing you want is an improvised response to an emergency situation,” writes Francis Mark Mondimore, M.D. in his book “Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families.”
Part of your plan should include a list of people who you can call for help. Of course, it is recommended that the bipolar person be working closely with a psychiatrist, and that he know how to get in touch with the psychiatrist after hours, and in case of emergencies. It’s also a good idea to know which hospital the psychiatrist works with, or if the doctor will work with any hospital in the area. Ask friends, doctors, and family members for their recommendations about hospitals and mental-health practitioners.
When I think back to the days when I was very ill, crying and shaking at the dinner table and at preschool functions with the kids, no response was as appreciated as when someone simply listened. Suggestions came off as condescending, even though I know they were meant to be helpful. Advice was annoying. Many times I just needed to be heard, to be validated.
Don’t hesitate to say nothing. Because silence often speaks the most loving message.
I can’t count all the times I have tried Eric’s patience with the reckless highs and debilitating lows of my bipolar disorder. When I get fired up and want to sign up for 60 new activities–not to mention losing my car keys, cell phone, and purse–it’s difficult for him not to get annoyed. But because he places my exasperating behavior in the proper context of an illness, and sees them as mere symptoms of a disease–rather than careless and self-absorbed actions–he is better able to go gentle with me.
Moreover, a little kindness and gentleness toward your loved one–especially at those times that you feel incapable of affection and care– goes a long way to aid recovery.
“Laughter dissolves tension, stress, anxiety, irritation, anger, grief, and depression,” says Chuck Gallozzi of personal-development.com. “Like crying, laughter lowers inhibitions, allowing the release of pent-up emotions. After a hearty bout of laughter, you will experience a sense of well-being. Simply put, he who laughs, lasts. After all, if you can laugh at it, you can live with it. Remember, a person without a sense of humor is like a car without shock absorbers.”
“It can be exhausting to live with a hypomanic person and frustrating to deal with a seriously depressed person day after day,” says Dr. Mondimore. “The changes and unpredictability of the moods of someone with bipolar disorder intrude into home life and can be the source of severe stress in relationships, straining them to breaking point.”