I’ve compiled a list of what not to say to someone about Bipolar. I have heard variations of all of these at some point and they either make me sigh, make me angry, or I just burst out into laughter. Sometimes what people say seems helpful from their side, but actually they are pointing something out I have tried before, or already doing. I often get the same advice time and time again, when what I really need is a listening ear or a normal chat to take my mind of things. We’re all guilty of making assumptions about mental illnesses, so it’s vital we educate ourselves and understand the illness from the sufferers point of view.
I’ve heard all of these; “Snap out of it!” “Look on the bright side!” “People have it worse then you.” “What have you got to be upset about?” It’s one of those cliches people come up with when they don’t know what to say. They feel like they have to say something to make you feel better but they’re just making it worse. It’s like telling someone having an asthma attack to pull themselves together and just breathe normally. They can’t and all they need is help.
“I’m a bit Bipolar sometimes.”
Mood swings are not the same as experiencing Bipolar episodes. Mania and severe depression are totally self destructive and debilitating. You’re probably just in a bit of a bad mood, a bit tired from a night out and then drunk loads of coffee and energy drinks that made you kind of hyper. Mania and depression can last for weeks or months, or cycle rapidly from one to another.
“Are you a creative genius?”
I definitely believe that when I’m manic! I say to myself, “I’m amazing!” “I can do anything!” “I’m the best at everything!” But really we’re all just normal people. We don’t have a predisposition to being creative. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. Personally I am creative, but I’m pretty average. I like to write and sketch but I don’t believe it’s anything special.
“Are you sure you have Bipolar?”
I am very very sure. It took over ten years for me to be diagnosed. I had to write a journal for my psychiatrist and I looked at it and go “Oh yeah, it makes sense.” I can see the pattern. Bipolar has caused massive upheavals in my life. Everyone thinks they are an expert. When someone asks this question it’s not ignorance, but a lack of information and education. Before my diagnosis, I never thought it would be me with Bipolar. It never even registered it could be a possibility.
“You don’t seem like you have a Bipolar.”
I’ve become very good at hiding it. I’m not sure what people mean when they ask this question. Do they think I should be running around screaming and shouting and being ‘wacky’ and ‘crazy’? Or huddled in the corner clutching my head swaying backwards and forwards? Maybe I need a tattoo on my forehead to make it easier for you?
“Is this the Bipolar talking?”
I have my own thoughts, feelings and personality that aren’t governed by my Bipolar. Everyone has mood swings to a degree, everyone has good days and bad days and it’s the same with having Bipolar. It’s extremely difficult when people are constantly second guessing or trying to interpret what you are saying or how you’re acting.
“Have you taken your meds?”
I find this very insulting. It’s a way of saying my feelings aren’t valid and any emotions I feel must be connected to my illness.
“Have you tried to commit suicide?”
It’s not ok to ask if you hardly know me! It always seems to be people I don’t know very well and they sort of blurt it out. Why would you ask someone that? Would you ask a person who didn’t ask who didn’t have a mental illness this question? No you wouldn’t. If you’re already depressed this can be very triggering and make you further spiral down. It triggers ideas, plans and previous thoughts. It’s like if you have Bipolar you are a curiosity, or people think it’s a faze, or a fad.
There are many more things that shouldn’t be said to someone with Bipolar and I will explore them in part 2.