The most frequently used search terms that usher visitors to my blog are: bipolar disorder stereotypes, bipolar stereotypes, negative stereotypes of bipolar disorder, stereotypes about bipolar disorder, negative stereotypes of bipolar, stereotypes of bipolar disorder – and they occur every. single. day. I googled ‘bipolar stereotypes’ and lo and behold, my most visited post ranked first. It’s time to expand on that ole thing. Stereotypes breed stigma, which can have terrible (and in some cases even terminal) consequences. Everything gets an ism, dear reader, and the applicable one here is ableism.
Remember the local bipolar guy who attempted suicide? He’s still in an induced coma and has run out of medical aid. Apparently he took a month and a half’s supply of whatever meds he’s on, washed down with alcohol. They suspect there’s brain damage from it all. Fucking awful for his loved ones.
What could have been said?
He dwelt in an isolated house,
because he was a leper.
I don’t think it’s only me who feels that way at times, right?
So you wanna help a loved one with a mental neurobiological illness?
This is so important, I almost made the text bold. It isn’t your responsibility. You didn’t cause it. You cannot fix it. Dont invalidate us by saying it will all be ok. It might not be. You can certainly help though.
Do not let it all fuck you up and make you ill. Take good care and get help and support too.
Stick around, even when we are silent, grouchy, asleep and hell bent on isolating ourselves. Just keep reminding us that you’re there. Some of us prefer text based messages rather than visits and phone calls. Just ask. But don’t take our shit.
Educate yourself about whatever disorder it is – we appreciate that a lot. Let us waffle on and on about it, because that helps a lot too. Never, never, ever try to talk us out of allopathic treatment and medication and into some sort of shoowah hippy bollocks. Really, don’t do that. Read the science and biology of these things.
We don’t hear negatives (humans, not just us) – saying you are not inadequate is pointless, because we will just hear you are inadequate. Rather say you are whatever you want to say.
This is paraphrased by Will Schwabe in The End of Life Book Club, he got it from a book called The Etiquette of Illness – I think it applies to us too:
1. Ask: “Do you want to talk about how you’re feeling?”
2. Don’t ask if there’s anything you can do. Suggest things, or if it’s not intrusive, just do them.
3. You don’t have to talk all the time. Sometimes just being there is enough.
The other bit of advice I really love is this one:
If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.
The last sentence makes me want to weep with pain and joy at the truth and kindness of it.
Helping someone who’s got their panic/anxiety on can be simple:
Give us a snack; low blood sugar = anxiety.
Offer to get us out of whatever situation we are in, or if you have that sort of relationship, just do it.
Offer to make phone calls, drive, shop – all the practical/admin stuff that seems mildly annoying to you, but can turn people like me into a gibbering, terrified wreck.
Don’t touch us without asking first.
Never ask what caused the episode, there often isn’t a tidy situational answer to that.
Just be there, quiet can be good. But not always, so ask if they would like a natter.
Here’s how medical professionals handle suicidal people, you can too:
Suicidal – listen, ask if there is a plan.
Suicidal + plan – time to see a medical professional.
Suicidal + plan + the equipment etc to do it – as above and hospitalisation will very likely be necessary.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide, it’s just thoughts and peeves and gratitude I’ve had over the last few decades and so it is, of course, very subjective. But then, everything is.
Lastly – thank you! Whether you get it right or wrong, thank you for giving a shit. And you are loved for it by people who are good at extreme emotions. (I almost added a smiling or winking emoticon there.)