Recently I was contacted by someone (let’s call her Ms. X) who wanted to end a friendship with a bipolar person and asked me how to do it with the least harm possible. I talked with Ms. X and it appears that her bipolar friend had been doing some very hurtful things. I asked Ms. X if she had talked to her friend about these things. Ms. X said that no, she hadn’t.
So why is terminating a friendship preferable to talking about the problem?
Bipolars Behaving Badly
I have bipolar disorder and I know that my mood leaks into everyday life, no matter how much I don’t want it. I’m very conscientious when it comes to keeping my bipolar hidden from others, but let’s face it, sometimes I fail. These failures don’t tend to be very dramatic, but it doesn’t mean that other people never get hurt. And for some bipolars, their mood swings can be very hurtful indeed.
It’s not much fun to be around someone with:
- Negative thoughts
- Obsession with suicide
- Self-harming behaviors
- Severe irritability
- Distractable, irrational thoughts
And so on. Each person with bipolar has their own special list as to what bipolar symptoms slip into their lives.
Can’t We Just Talk About This?
It’s true that when a person is in the midst of a depressive or manic episode discussing their behavior may not be all that helpful. It’s difficult for someone in the middle of a brain storm to pay attention to anything other than the lightening in their head. Nevertheless, at some point, someone needs to say something.
While actions committed in an episode can be more indicative of the disease than of the person, it can still hurt nonetheless.
People though, seem extremely reluctant to just say so. For some reason they don’t want to say they were hurt by the actions of the person with bipolar disorder.
But I’ll Break Them!
That’s not really true. You can’t cause bipolar any more than you can cure it. Now I’m not suggesting that a raging fight with your significant other will have no effect, but I am saying that discussing how you feel, asserting yourself and defining boundaries are reasonable things to do and when done calmly and lovingly, are good for both of you.
Won’t They Just Figure Out Themselves How I Feel?
Now that’s just silly. No one can read your mind. And a bipolar most especially can’t do it when they’re in the grips of their illness. No, you’re going to have to be a big boy or girl and actually talk to them.
So, How Do I Discuss A Problem With a Person With Bipolar Disorder?
Pretty much like you would discuss it with anyone else you care about, I’d expect. Try to get your thoughts together, and then find a quiet time when you’re both OK to sit down and rationally discuss the problem. A good sentence is:
“I felt hurt when you ____. That was not OK with me.”
You may wish to follow it up with something like:
“I understand that is part of your illness, but I still need to express my feelings around it.”
And then finally,
“How can we can work together to prevent this from happening again?”
That’s how I would deal with anyone. A mental illness doesn’t make the person a block of C-4 explosive.
(This is not to suggest that some people don’t have anger issues and won’t react well to this sort of conversation. If you feel that is the case then I recommend having the conversation in a therapist’s office. Again, that’s not specific to bipolar disorder, that’s just a fact for some people.)
Why Should I Bother?
Well, that’s a question left to the reader, but what I will say is that if you care about this person, then they deserve to know what’s going on. They deserve to know how you feel. They deserve to know what hurt you. They deserve the chance to make it better. They deserve the opportunity to prevent this in the future.
It betters both of you to deal with an issue openly and honestly. You can let go of your hurt and anger, the person with bipolar disorder has the chance to improve themselves, and your relationship becomes stronger. Everybody wins.