Peer to Peer, the writings of a Consumer Advocate for both LGBT mental health and HIV/AIDS issues since 2004.
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Fixing relationships with those you may have hurt during a mood episode is never easy, but believe me: it is possible. And you can!
By Julie Fast
Many of us with bipolar disorder make terrible decisions when we are ill, and rebuilding our lives afterward is naturally overwhelming—especially after a massive episode, when extreme mania and psychosis might have put you in the hospital, or jail (or both). Talking with creditors, school, work, and those you may have hurt is never easy, but I can say from personal experience that life can be even better than it was before if you face the rebuilding head-on, no matter how much it might hurt.
Bipolar is such a selfish illness: My depression, my suicide attempt, my massive manic episode. But if your own personal experience is your sole focus, rebuilding will be tough. I learned this the hard way. I lost husbands, careers, friends, and a whole lot of money because of bipolar episodes. I cried, complained, and told anyone who would listen, “No one understands my pain!” This went on for years. The day I finally turned the focus off myself and onto other people and their needs, my life changed for the better.
The day I finally turned the focus off myself and onto other people and their needs, my life changed for the better.
Massive episodes—like the time I dumped my partner and took off for China on my own with basically no money—deeply affect the people around you, and it takes a lot for them to get over it. Expanding your vision to think about what other people in your life went through when you were ill and what they need during your rebuilding is critical. Even if you’re feeling fragile or ashamed, opening yourself up to the experiences of others and letting them know that you understand their perceptions can make all the difference. Here’s an example of what you can say to loved ones if bipolar just threw your life—and as a result, theirs—upside down:
I’m tired and worn out from these mood swings. I have no idea how I’m going to get through this, but I want you to know that I’m going to give it all I have. I have a diagnosis now and some answers. I know you went through something as well, and I promise that when I’m feeling better, we can explore how it was for you and what I can do to make things better. For now, I could use your help in getting this illness under control. I am thinking of you and your needs as well as my own.
Rebuilding a professional relationship takes guts, when all you want to do is hide under the nearest rock and stay there. Here’s an example of what you can say if you’re trying to salvage a career after a particularly nasty episode. Once again, acknowledge what it was like for the other person and put yourself in their shoes:
I know that my illness and the behavior it caused was very hard on you. I left work in a way that was probably confusing and very upsetting. I said things no one would choose to say to someone in a business setting. I finally have answers for why this happened, and I am open to any questions you may have. Please know that I understand that it’s now my job to keep myself well, and I have a plan in place to make sure this happens. I would like to talk with you about how we might work together in the future if I can show you through my actions that I’m getting the help I need.
In terms of relationships, especially with family and partners, people want and need—and deserve—to know how you’re going to take care of yourself when you say you want to rebuild your life. For myself, I watch my lifestyle closely, especially regarding sleep and relationships, and I understand my triggers and avoid them.
Saying the right things matters, but unless words are accompanied by action, people will tend to stay away. Whether you were just diagnosed or you need to rebuild once again, be bold and approach this with your head high. Build your self-awareness, and also your consideration of others. A life that seemed destroyed by bipolar can become a life where people want to work and be with you because you know who you are, what you need, and how to take care of yourself. This is your gift to the world, built out of your pain.