While millions of people suffer with bipolar disorder, there are even more struggling because they want to help, but don’t know how. I wish had a simple formula, a list of do’s and don’t’s to give you, but sadly there is not an easy answer.
Several years ago, I wrote When Someone You Love is Manic to offer some suggestions for people who want to help someone whose life seems to be out of control. This is quite a challenge. I remember wanting to protect Michael’s reputation by sheltering him from the consequences of his actions, but there were times that my interference kept him from realizing he needed help. This is a fine line. Surely it isn’t loving to stand by and do nothing while our loved ones make devastating decisions that can follow them for a long time? So what then are we to do? Do we interfere? Do we freeze their bank accounts to prevent them from mounting more debt? Do we cut the credit cards?
Michael was my husband. Was it wrong for me to treat him like a child in order to protect him from making horrible decisions? In short, I think it was. While I thought I was helping, I was actually enabling him. Treating him as a child was disrespectful on my part and actually hurt our relationship. So what was the alternative?
When a person is manic, there is no rationalizing with him or her. Unfortunately, the answers are not black and white. I think you have to be upfront and honest. If you choose to limit access to bank accounts and credit cards, tell them. They may not understand why, but you are respecting them as individuals in telling them. They may be angry, but they will not be able to say you are being deceptive or manipulative.
When the mania subsides, have a heart to heart with your loved one and ask them how they want you to respond if there is a future episode. Write up a plan of action and both sign it. This takes the guess work out of it for you, and if they get angry in the future, you can remind them that they agreed to the plan.
This sounds simple, and I admit there is nothing simple about it. The reality is mania is challenging and often hits a family like an emotional hurricane, sometimes leaving debris such as broken relationships, debt, and hurt reputations. No hurricane is easy to watch; it creates anxiety in the eye of beholder and leaves heartbreak in its wake.
The good news is that the storm eventually ends. You begin to pick up the broken pieces, clear out things that no longer belong, and rebuild. This season will pass. Don’t forget in the middle of the storm, to take care of yourself. You cannot help your loved one if you are consumed with fears and irrational thoughts. You have to be healthy in order to stay level-headed and make good choices during times of crisis. Click here to learn more about caring for yourself.
While I know this is difficult, do not lose hope. Your loved one is worth fighting for! When your son, daughter, husband or wife is manic, they are being controlled by the illness. The goal is to control the illness so that they can be who God created them to be. Don’t give up. Exercise patience, and love (sometimes that means tough love). Find a therapist or pastor that you can talk to for support so that you can be the best you can be during stormy conditions.
Also check out NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) for more resources. www.nami.org