Some three percent of adults in the United States have Bipolar Disorder. Maybe one of them is a member of your family? If you’re taking care of a bipolar family member, you know the extreme changes in mood, energy, and activity levels first hand. You probably have observed your loved one flipping from mania (extreme joy) to depression (deep sadness) within seconds many times. Due to these symptoms, living with someone that has Bipolar Disorder can cause a lot of stress and tension in a family. You may struggle with guilt, worry, anger, and helplessness. Or at times, your patience may simply be wearing thin.
How can you strike a balance to keep life as normal as possible?
7 Ways to Keep Life Normal When Caring for Someone With Bipolar Disorder
1. Accept your bipolar family member’s limits.
No matter how much they would like to, your loved one can’t control their moods through self-control, reasoning, or willpower.
You will have to accept the illness and set realistic expectations. When you begin feeling frustrated or guilty, remind yourself that it’s nobody’s fault. Be patient and optimistic. Bipolar Disorder is an unpredictable, long-term condition and families must adjust their expectations to an illness that can change week to week, day to day or even hour to hour.
2. Don’t take their behavior personally.
During a bipolar episode, your loved one may say or do things that are hurtful or embarrassing. It may be hard not to take some things personally, but you have to remember that their behaviors are simply symptoms of a mental illness. In the course of a manic episode, they may become impulsive. Be prepared to face some aggression and hostility when you’re unwilling to hand over their cash or credit cards.
3. Be ready to listen and give assurance.
Communicate with your bipolar family member openly and honestly. Share your own concerns in a kind way and make an effort to really listen to them. Your loved one may sometimes feel completely worthless and that the whole world is against them. They need you to assure them that you are on their side and to remind them of their strengths and positive qualities.
4. Stay involved in their treatment.
Having you accompany them can greatly reduce stress for your loved one. But you don’t have to necessarily be in the room during their appointment. Asking to be part of the treatment team will allow you to be involved in medication management, case meetings and therapy progress summaries (with client permission). This will help you to better understand what to expect.
5. Reduce stress – both for yourself and your bipolar family member.
Stress makes bipolar disorder symptoms worse. Reduce stress for your loved one by establishing and enforcing a healthy daily routine — a schedule for sleep time, wake time, and meal times.
If your family member needs more help than you can provide, ask others – relatives or close friends – for assistance. Caring for a loved one with a mental illness can be very painful and isolating. Seek out emotional support to help you cope, like a trusted friend or a therapist.
6. Understand your own limits.
You can neither rescue your bipolar family member nor force them to take steps to get better. All you can do is offer your support. Recovery is in their hands. Set realistic boundaries about the amount of care you can provide without getting overwhelmed. Don’t lose sight of your own life, nor give up your friendships or the things that give you joy.
7. Make plans ahead of time – for coping with daily life and emergency situations.
Have a plan for getting through the days between episodes, one for coping with mood swings, and one for days when your loved one’s energy level is low. Have an emergency plan for severe episodes. Be prepared to handle destructive or suicidal behavior. Include a list of emergency contact information and the address and phone number of the hospital where you will take them.
Recovery is a process. There will be good days and there will be bad days. Sometimes really bad days, where you want to give up because you are so frustrated and overwhelmed. The important thing to remember is that you must practice self-care regularly or you won’t be able to provide the support that your loved one and family requires of you.