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Walking on Eggshells Around A Person With Bipolar Disorder

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.

eggs_in_cartonIt’s not much fun to be around someone with:

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.

puzzleWon’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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

42 thoughts on “Walking on Eggshells Around A Person With Bipolar Disorder”

  1. I have friend who I believe is BP. She is also experiencing bad grief after the loss of her domestic partner 2 years ago. I really want to remain friends with her. Our families are close. I have a hard time with the eggshells moments and the times of shutting me off and not speaking to me. I try not take it personally but it is so very hard, especially when she seems to be not shutting out others. I really do love my friend and want to be a supportive good friend, but I’m not sure if this is what she wants. She makes statements all the time about how she has no friends or that she doesn’t want friends. It can be so hurtful when I have been that good friend to her. She claims that she shuts me out because she doesn’t want to hurt me. She told my brother this. Please advise.

    1. Hi Jennie,

      I can’t say why your friend is choosing her actions, what I can say is that the best thing you can do is have an open and honest dialog with her and then believe what she tells you. If she needs some time, let her take it. Tell her you will be there for her in the future if you like. We all push people away sometimes. Sometimes this is a good idea and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, you will have to accept it if it’s what she says she really wants.

      – Natasha Tracy

  2. I have been married to my husband for thirty something years only the last seven he was diagnosed with bp and somedays I do not know If I will make it through the day. I am very depressed as well but try to uplift myself most of the time . He says very hurtful things to me and does not seem to care. I am very happy. for the most part but with his bp he makes it hard to be happy. Now my daughter in law has bp and somedays they clash and oh boy that is horrible.

  3. I was seeing someone with bi polar for 2 years. During the time together he conned me out of a lot of money, lied to me repeatedly, pretended to be in love with me and was contemptious of my friends and life. As time went on his ability to rein in his outbursts got harder and harder and by the end he was having raging fits at me, screaming in my face, saying horrible things about me, swearing and slapping his head as he talked at me. I knew his next step would be physical abuse cos he was happy to do the former in public!!!. Peope would stand open mouthed watching him. He’s a very large man tho so noone dared challenge him.

    I tried to talk to him but everything I said he twisted around to being my fault. He said he shouted cos I was annoying, he swore at me cos I deserved it. He wasn’t like this with anyone else. I was the one with the problem,

    He has carefully crafted his life between two countries and is now conning people in another country and there is nothing I can do to warn them as I don’t speak the language and he does. He uses people in churches for his own ends by pretending to be a Christian, has no job and no money of his own and bums off people for as long as they will put up with him. He lies about his past and has an uncheckable history. He self medicates with alcohol and food.

    I have no contact now but life with him was scary and he ultimately tried to drag down my self esteem. He was only with me for what he could get off me…money, a place to stay etc. He refuses to take medication and was diagnosed 10 years ago. He came over as charming and personable when i first met him but I quickly discovered the truth…that and he only showers once every month or so and is like a narcassistic toddler.

  4. It’s a truly hard road to travel with a person with BP. My relationship with my daughter, at age 50, has suffered tremendously. She needs to be treated with kid gloves, every word I say is twisted and turned into a an argument. She is manipulative and can ask me questions that are very repulsive. I very often forget that she has a mental illness and that she is acting hatefully and antagonistically toward me. I blow up at such moments, but willing to forget and forgive her illogical acts and thinking, remembering her BP condition. Our relationship has rarely been smooth and long-lasting and very irregular.

  5. I’m seeing somebody with bipolar disorder..it’s been 1 year that we’re together.. It has been difficult but i like him very much..lately he has been feeling very low & has pushed me away..we are in the same institute so i see him everyday..its tough as he ignores me, flirts with other girls,picks random fights etc..amongst all these what hurts the most is that he keeps flirting with this girl when I’m around & when he already knows i don’t like him talking to her like that..everytime he does it more & more..so my question to you is that whether he does this deliberately to see me getting hurt?? I always thought that whenever he is having bad moods he is unaware of his actions.. And if he comes back this time is it okay to tell him what has been upto? Knowing that he might do it even more the next time he feels low..?

  6. (asserting yourself and defining boundaries are reasonable things to do and when done calmly and lovingly, are good for both of you.) That’s what I had hoped, because he was walking all over who I am. Couldn’t even salt the food correctly, use the right mixing spoon, say the “right” complement, give the right glance to his friends, etc. It was endless at times. I wanted us to work out and put all heart into it. I so wish this “strategy” were true in my relationship. Even though I was very calm, loving, constructive, asking for help from him to understand him, letting him know that when he said certain things that it would freeze me up, or make me think he just wanted to start a fight but I didn’t want to, I wanted to have fun or relax and enjoy him…and that I wasn’t mad at him only frustrated and he just needed to help me know how to react. He took this talk as me “cutting into him” and everything went downhill after that. Before it, I was just “taking it” and shutting down, but once I asserted myself he saw it as me being mean – disrespecting him, NOT seeing him for the special person he is. It didn’t matter what I said after that day of “sharing my feelings” I lost him, and I lost him for good. He has since acted as if he hates me at times. That I broke his heart even though he broke it off with me. I’ve read every BP site I can find, and I know I used very good sense to communicate and deal with his un-wellness periods… I told him I wanted to rekindle with him, that even if he was unwell I wanted to and chose to — even knowing he’s unwell and saying so he won’t budge. We bump into each other” in public” – he acts as if he’s never said hurtful things to me, and acts like he’s flirting with me, but then he is nasty to me in an email or text. He says very mean things then apologizes, and then becomes very cold and distant, just to be all smiles in public somewhere. He told me that it’s because of “what I said that day” that we can never be together again, that that crushed him and all chance of us being a couple. I now really dislike BP because if it messed up our once-amazing connection then others suffer from this too – it’s the worst feeling to lose someone you adore, love to be with, and completely lose due to this illness. I have so much more compassion for both parties in a relationship with this type of communication gap since I’ve experienced the heart ache. Good luck to others…

  7. I’m glad to see these remarks.bFor 2 1/2 years I’ve had a bipolar friend. I looked aty journal the other day and we’ve had 10 incidents and 8 or 9 reconciliations. Each time I say “That’s it! I’ve had enough!” Then comes the knock on the door, we talk, and I see the torture he goes through.
    This last time he went three weeks before he decided to stop the medications ( he developed a liver abscess). I was on board- those drugs are horrific. Now, he is in seclusion; won’t answer texts. I feel powerless as well as on “Yellow Alert” 24/7. Its exhausting. ” How do you go on day after day?” Sometimes I wish he’d just move away.

  8. My sister is bipolar (manic). We go through a lot of cycles with her, she’s on meds, doing great then suddenly, she’s “cured” or it was a “misdiagnosis” and she gets off meds. She then loses a ton of weight, (like skeleton skinny, she begins to act super hyper, sexual and then gets violent if a) things don’t go her way, b) you mention bipolar or being sick, or c) you just look at her wrong or get in her way. She’s 30, still lives with our patents, no job and it’s taking a toll on my family. My mom is almost 70 and should not be dealing with this stress. My brothers can’t take her because of the violent spells and they have kids, and my husband is not kean on having her live with us. We plan on having our own kids and we can’t have her up until 3am, dressing permiscuisly and having violent outbursts. I’m worried for her future. What’s going to happen when my parents pass on?
    I guess something I’m looking for advice for right now is, she just had a horrible outburst at my parents house. She screamed at my mom and my niece and nephew were there. I went to see if I could calm her down because I did not want the kids to be tramatized by the way she was acting. Bad idea, she just flipped on me. No self control and honestly I feared for my safety. That was not my sister; something had taken over… long story short, I left. She yelled sarcastically what a great sister I was, wouldn’t even stick around to celebrate her birthday. Nope. I texted her later that I will not tolerate her speaking to me or anyone that way and until she gets that under control, I will not be coming around. She apologized the next morning via text and has been calling me often since. I don’t really want to just say okay and let it go. There needs to be a change. I don’t know what to say to her. I could really use some help on a next step.

    1. Hello! I read your comment and noticed that it has been a while since you posted it. I also have a sister who was (recently) diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It is really hard on my parents especially and nothing has gotten better. She’s 19 and living at home and I’m only 15. Thinking back it started when she was around 10 and had only gotten worse and I’m worried it will continue going that way. She has absolutely no relationship with my dad anymore and by now I see that happening with her and I down the road. I just wanted to ask if your situation has gotten better and how did you/your family handle it? Thank you!

  9. I was diagnosed Bipolar 8 years ago. I live a mostly stable life with the support of my mother and the government. I lost many friends due to psychotic episodes, and more to my self imposed isolation, but a few remained. I use medication to balance me out and make me more stable. Being bipolar is hard, but I am lucky that I have a good support group. Encourage your loved one’s to seek treatment; therapy, medication, support groups.

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