I have heard in certain times in my life that people feel like they are walking on egg shells with me.  I totally understand this and I could see them feeling that way.  I try to imagine what it must be like to deal with someone who has bipolar and then I realize that oh yea, I am a mental health professional and I deal with people of all types of mental illness.  When I am in work mode I am very keen on peoples feelings and I tend to try to see and feel things the way they do.  I can very quickly and easily put myself into a mind state that my client or their family is in but then also have enough space from them and their problems that I can see a solution and walk them through the steps to get there.  I have the ability to be very sensitive and keen empathy as well as a full understanding of intense emotions, this among other things is why I chose my career path.

If I had a loved one who was in distress because they have debilitating anxiety and I spent all day with them, all week, all month, or even years most people would feel like they don’t want to trigger that persons anxiety.  To me this is easy, it comes second nature to me to to be caring and gentle but also assertive and realistic.  I am also not afraid to let that person go through the anxiety and be strong for them when they are weak and looking to me for help, guidance and reassurance.  I can tell what their triggers for anxiety are and I chose when and when not to support letting them face it and when to make things a little easier on them.

There are two important facts that I have realized as a person with chronic mental illness and as a professional in the mental health field.  To me every disorder has a conducive and helpful way to deal with it, there is always a person or group of people who are super helpful and healing.  It is always possible to be helpful and loving.  I also know that not every person is willing to be supportive, tolerant, and healing with a person with mental or physical illness.

I am still working through this “walking on eggshells” thing,  I feel like it is kind of unfair, at least maybe the way I am thinking about it.  That statement feels like it is the reaction of the person or people around the bipolar individual.  the people around that person could in fact be fully supportive, caring, healing, understanding etc.  But when they are frustrated, what comes out is “I feel like I am walking on eggshells with you”.  What about, “I see that you are feeling irritable, excited, or depressed what can I do to be supportive”.  This statement feels a lot less punishing and makes me, or probably any person feel a little more understood or as if the other person is trying to understand.

Now, people might be thinking, “but why do I have to deal with the other persons symptoms”.  The simple answer is you don’t have to be supportive, you don’t have to be there.  Another thought for people around the bipolar individual is “but that person is always having symptoms and its frustrating to me”. Absolutely, of course its frustrating, it wouldn’t be an illness or a disorder if it didn’t come with disorderly stuff.   Number one, imagine if you had to be that person.  Number two, you don’t have to be the one to stand by that person, its your choice.  Number three, there are ways to learn how to cope and be a supportive to a person with mental illness (classes, degrees, experience,books, youtube, bebipolar.com etc.), and  you could be making their symptoms worse by not being informed and supportive (which may mean more supportive than you think you are now).  Imagine yourself as the saddest you’ve every been and then realize that your loved one may be feeling that way today, and confused as to why they feel that way.  Imagine yourself as being  angry as you’ve ever bee,  know that your loved one may be feeling like that on a daily basis for months on end and hates waking up in the morning to be tortured by their own mind.  Imagine that you just drank a pot of coffee and are near having a panic attack because of how much energy you have and your thoughts are racing so fast that you are confused, delirious and irritable.  That may be how your loved one feels and you may not know how long they’ve been feeling that way.  If you think you’re walking on egg shells, at least you can walk away from it whenever you want.  At least you get to rest your head on your pillow and fall asleep.  At least you get to know what you’re frustrated by.  Its not just your brain going haywire, you have a reason and a solution!  Bipolar individuals don’t get to walk away from any of this.  Instead we have to take our medication, see our therapist, practice self care, and stay away from as many goddamn triggers as possible…..because we are in fact, the ones walking on bombshells.

I have experienced this with almost everyone who has ever been close to me.  I have done years of therapy and continue to work on my interpersonal relationship communication style.  I still can’t seem to get it right and still can’t seem to make people around me comfortable all of the time (and when my symptoms are bad, its most of the time).  So my heart goes out to everyone who is suffering from bipolar and their loved ones such as parents, siblings, and significant others.  Lord knows Im not even sure I would chose a relationship with myself, its gotta be tiring and it makes me feel guilty for being who I am.  This is why I am in therapy, on medication, in a club that supports my recovery, in the program of Alcoholics anonymous, have a sponsor as well as self serving extensive training and education in mental health….I want to feel okay with being bipolar.

 

Thomas