I recently saw a list at "The Bipolar Spouse" about how not to interact with loved ones who have the disorder. Since I can't seem to link to the page, I thought I'd share them in a condensed form. After looking around the internet, this is the best list I could find on the subject. I have also had to learn the hard way about all of these issues, and I wholeheartedly agree with what he says:
"1. Ignore Suicidal Behavior or Tendencies
"2. Fight Back Over Irrational Arguments
"When the bipolar cycle shifts into a manic/hypomanic or depressive state, the mood and mindset of our loved on may slip into a very irrational state and the basic sense of reality may also deteriorate. Such arguments may arise that include topics or concerns that are normally not a concern or a threat and there may be no indication as to why the topic has been brought up at all. Choosing to fight back on such topics can be damaging to both parties and can enable our bipolar spouse to view such topics as a true threat and may inhibit some intense reactions and dangerous results if not resolved as soon as possible.
"3. Blame Your Loved One for the Disorder
"Bipolar disorder is developed over time and may generally be handed down genetically from the family tree. Those afflicted with the disorder never ask to be affected, nor have they chosen to host the disorder so it is not fair to simply place blame for the disorder on our loved one and how it affects the relationship. Given the progressive appearance of the relationship, younger individuals may witness the slow appearance of the disorder over time and make false assumptions that the changes are planned out by the afflicted individual. This is not the case and blaming our loved one for allowing the disorder to hurt the relationship is simply not fair to the individual.
"4. Enable Abusive Behavior and Disrespect
"There is a fine line between “acceptance” and “abuse” and unfortunately, even our bipolar loved ones can learn to cross this line during an episode if supporters are not willing to place an appropriate amount of accountability into the relationship. There are indeed occasions where our loved ones may make some irrational decisions and lash out without merit, but if we do not make it known that there is a line that must not be crossed, we as supporters can quickly being to advertise that we are willing to take any amount of such factors without much consequence. Although the disorder can push our loved ones over the edge, we must still maintain respect and love in the relationship.
"5. Digging Up Old Bones
"Bringing up the past can trigger off some intensive anxiety which may induce an expected episode and introduce either old arguments, or previously resolved tensions. Rehashing past mistakes or events can repaint an image that was once forgotten, and during an full-blown episode, that past may become the present again.
"6. Pass Judgment on Irrational Behavior
"Along the lines of placing accountability, we must keep in mind that bipolar disorder’s most common symptom involves driving the afflicted individual to act out on irrational decisions and present very ordinary behavior. Although some of these decisions can be managed, mistakes can be made and if we are willing to forgive and/or forget, this must be an all-or-nothing agreement. Mistakes are just that, mistakes…and they must be become an identifying factor of our loved ones.
"7. Support or Offer Self-Medication
"8. Use Physical Restraint or Violence
"During some manic/hypomanic episodes, frustrations and outright anger may ensue during an outburst or argument. Unless there is a threat to human life, it is imperative that physical restraint or violence is not introduced into the situation (unless performed by a paramedic or other trained professional requiring restraint). Confining or restraining one during an episode may result in firing a trigger which may make the episode ever worse.
"9. Leave Loved One Alone During Episode
"The worst time for our loved ones to be alone is during the high or low end of an episode. In some cases, when left alone due to a walk-out after a fight, abandonment anxiety may set in and spur feelings of worthlessness and a feeling of being unloved. It is during these times that irrationality may take over and dangerous decisions and actions may be made that could potentially be life-threatening.
"10. Making Condescending Statements
"Such remarks that may appear insulting or condescending in nature can only add to the challenges of a bipolar relationship. "Some examples of these remarks are:
“Snap out of it.”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
“So you’re depressed. Aren’t you always?”
“It’s your own fault.”
“You do this on purpose.”
Worst of all, do not say, “I know how you feel…”
True confession time: I used to raise my voice (OK, yell) at David or slam doors when I was frustrated with his irrational behavior and arguments. Unfortunately, all that accomplished was adding more contention and frustration for both of us, as well as for the children. I eventually learned better ways to react, but it was a long, slow learning process. Now when he's in one of his bad cycles (they do happen even though he tries so hard to control them), I listen to what he means, not necessarily to the words he's saying, watch his body language for clues to his mood, ignore insulting comments and irrational arguments and/or change the subject. When he tells me I'm yelling at him (and I'm not!) I calmly remind him that I am not yelling, I am explaining how I feel. It works MUCH better for both of us. The key is to remain as calm as possible to help him work through his mood swing, especially the dark ones when he says he's feeling "angry and hateful."
I also found some good suggestions on how to deal with biplar disorder at ehow.com. I especially agree with the counsel to NOT take anything he says when in one of his moods personally. He doesn't mean it, and most of the time doesn't even remember what he said.
Even though this illness is hard to deal with on occasion, there are also many happy moments and a strong bond developing between us that makes it worth all the hard work.