Bipolar Disorder is Not A Choice: When Friends and Family Don’t Get It

Periodic emotional ups and downs are usual or “normal.”

But the highs and lows of bipolar disorder are neither.

Every day, you manage the best you can. Some days are upsetting and some nearly out-of-control.

The sudden shifts and pivots of your moods irritate, and sometimes even infuriate, family and friends. They hear you say “I’m bipolar” but don’t really get what it means.

They don’t get your struggle to balance the rollercoaster in your head. One that is marked by distinctly manic exuberance and then the depths of hopelessness and despair.

To them, it may look like you’re persistently and recklessly turning life upside down.

To you, their apathy and inability to understand how hard it is to manage bipolar disorder hurts.

On top of the emotional pain and exhausting work, it takes to cope and overcome your mental health challenges, your presumed support system doesn’t get you.

So what do you do? How do you get through to them, should you keep trying? How do you take care of yourself in the meantime?

First things first: Initiate safe, therapeutic work with a professional

Whether your loved ones see your behavior as a choice or not, it’s essential that you take care of yourself.

Reach out to an experienced professional who can provide the therapy and support you need.

Don’t wait for family or friends to come around to take charge of your health first.

Reach out to an experienced professional who can provide the therapy and support you need. Don’t wait for family or friends to come around to take charge of your health first.

Then, learn to be your own best supporter.

When you feel misunderstood by those who know you best, it’s easy to internalize the negativity.

You might start thinking, “something’s wrong with me” or  wonder why you “can’t get it together.”

Before you know it, you’re harder on yourself than the unsympathetic or uneducated people around you. Don’t add to your own suffering. You have enough work to do coping with the bipolar disorder.

Instead, practice being loving and gentle with yourself. Keep your self-talk positive. Negativity will only feed your depression and make you question your right to feel better.

Worse, it could disrupt your treatment progress. Remind yourself that you are not broken.

Tell yourself these facts as often as you need to:

  • Bipolar disorder is biologically-based, not a character defect.
  • You are doing what you can to get well.
  • Getting well is hard work and seeking support is not too much to ask.

In the meantime, you will hold on and encourage yourself with the support of your therapist.

Next, seek out a solid, compassionate community.

You may wonder whether anyone else would possibly want to be there for you through all the complications of the bipolar disorder.

Especially if your own long-time friends and family aren’t willing. The depression will try to convince you to isolate. Don’t fall for it. Resist the temptation to question your worth or importance.

Continue to embrace your desire to belong and be understood. Just because your family doesn’t get you right now doesn’t mean you don’t belong with anyone.

Don’t underestimate the benefit of a community whose members share your circumstances.

People in support groups or online forums will “get it” from the start. You don’t have to convince them that bipolar is real.

You can start from a place of understanding and grow together.

Also, allow your loved ones their own perspectives and reasoning.

There is no question, not having your loved ones come alongside you is tough. You want your tribe to find a way to understand, However, you might do well (and save yourself some grief or hard feelings) to try and look beyond the inconsiderate responses of your loved ones. You may try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Your loved ones may be sympathetic but simply not emotionally strong enough to cope. Or, their behavior toward you might actually have roots elsewhere. Their feelings and actions may have very little to do with you at all.

Perhaps the stigma of mental illness is frightening for your loved ones on the whole, so they try to remake it into something more palatable and fixable by encouraging you to stop it, get over it, or choose to “get better.”

Their feelings and actions may have very little to do with you at all. Perhaps the stigma of mental illness is frightening for your loved ones on the whole, so they try to remake it into something more palatable and fixable by encouraging you to stop it,  get over it, or choose to “get better.”

It’s okay to share your disappointment in their reaction. It’s also okay to leave them to it. The key, for you, is to remember that you need not buy into their well meaning advice or disapproval of your diagnosis, you’ll do better to find the support you need through other means.

Acceptance on your part may be the best course of action, it can help you feel less hurt, soothe tensions, and create time and space for reflection on both sides.

Finally, use your emotions to foster inner strength and positivity.

If people don’t get you and persist in being hurtful, let them go or limit contact. You need to stay strong. Avoid relationships that drain you or take your focus off getting or staying well. You are worthy of respect and sensitivity.

With your therapist, self-care, and chosen community secured, channel your emotions into doing something positive. You may not have chosen bipolar disorder, but you can choose healthier relationships and a life of forward movement. You are not alone.

If you would like some extra support and are looking for a psychotherapist, please contact me here for a free 30-minute consultation to learn about how I can be of service.

About The Author

April Lyons, MA, LPC is a somatic psychotherapist and currently owns a private practice in Boulder, CO. She specializes in PTSD, eating disorders and child counseling. April is trained in EMDR Therapy, Trauma Informed Care, and is certified as a Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapist. To find out more about April click herePsychotherapy Boulder.

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