Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bipolar

Inspired by a recent conversation at a family gathering...

My brother is Bipolar. It does not make him less of a human being. It does not make him a loser or a criminal. He may have made many manic-induced bad decisions over his lifetime, but that doesn’t mean that he’s stupid or deserving of ridicule and eye rolling.

I don’t claim to be an expert and sometimes I get just as aggravated at him as everyone else, but I am tired of the judgment and criticism of him. From members of his own family. From people who have never taken the time to learn anything about it. People who equate “not feeling good” as being hung-over. Being manic does not equate being drunk.

In my experience, people who are not familiar with mental illness, bipolar or otherwise, tend to have skewed images of the issue. Perhaps the view they have is due to the numerous shows on TV which portray the mentally ill as criminal or dangerous. Maybe it is just ignorance. Either way, it’s not justifiable. If there is someone in your family, immediate or extended, someone at work, or maybe just a neighbor, there really isn’t any reason not to learn a little about their affliction. There are countless sources online or at the library. http://www.nami.org/ is an excellent source of information.

Bipolar Disorder, also known as Manic Depression, is characterized my major shifts in mood, energy and the ability to function. The cause is unknown and it effects men and women equally. The shifts can be subtle or dramatic, last for days or for weeks. While manic, behavior may include elation or extreme irritability, increased physical and mental activity, racing thoughts and increased talking at a much faster speed. In my brother’s case, his vocabulary also changes when he’s manic. Risk taking and impulsiveness are also characteristics. While in the depressive stage they have low energy, have no interest in anything or anyone are often easily annoyed. They suffer prolonged sadness, worry excessively, have abnormal feelings of guilt and worthlessness. They often contemplate suicide.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 10 million Americans suffer from bipolar. It’s more common than you’d expect. This number does not, however, take in account all the families of those who are effected by bipolar family members. Spouses, parents, siblings, who all try their best to “be there” and to understand. And there is nothing more disrespectful than the uninformed who undermine the family’s intentions.

While that sounds harsh, it is exactly what happens when someone says something thoughtless. It puts the family member on defensive and they immediately feel to need to protect and explain, which often falls on deaf ears. Due to my brother’s rapid cycling, he is often absent from family gatherings, either because he is too manic or has fallen into a deep depression. Trying to explain his absence is very difficult to people who have not taken the time to understand. To his immediate family, when one of us say “He had a bad night”, we instantly understand. You say that to someone else and they smirk and comment about his drinking and give each other knowing looks.

Even in this day and age, when technology and the medical field have advanced so far, there is a stigma to bipolar and mental illness. It’s really inexcusable.

If you want to be a help to the family, the main thing is to be understanding. Ask questions only if they are an honest attempt to understand. Be there and be willing to listen. Do not judge and don’t offer advice.

Sometimes, the only thing the family may need is a compassionate, fellow human being who will not judge and make assumptions. Someone who makes an effort to understand.

23 comments:

SparkleFarkle said...

Thank you. You'll never know how much I appreciate your sensativity. Then again, I think you probably do. Thanks again, for dedicating an entire blog to a topic it wouldn't hurt everybody to know more about. Your brother is fortunate to have such a caring and loving sister.

Sissy said...

I know exactly how you feel. Some very close members of my family suffer from it and it irritates me to no end how incredibly dumb and insensitive people can be.

Martha said...

Thank you for this blog post. Everything you said is so insightful. I have Bipolar I and the pain of my family and myself trying to explain my condition is sometimes just too much thanks for understanding your brother and sticking up for him.

Brian Miller said...

nice post. i have a couple kids i work with that are bipolar...but treally that is secondary to how we treat those that are different...with love and understanding or...

AngieB said...

Excellent post - it needed to be said! A friend of mine did a similar post for her extended family and friends explaining your daughter's battles with being bipolar. She compared being bipolar to being diabetic, said medication and monitoring are necessary, and behaviors may be odd when control is less than optimum. They have an insulin-dependent diabetic in the family, and I think that comparison really helped some of them put it in perspective.

Sharlene T. said...

Thank you for a wonderful posting... it's so sad that those different from ourselves become targets... getting others to educate themselves about problems that are not theirs has always been an uphill battle... and, frankly, until people stop engaging in gossip and making fun of others, it's not going to change... using themselves as the litmus test for what is right and good in the world, they always find flaws and fault in others... your brother is very lucky to have such a loving and caring sister... you could always mention to those that think he's been drinking himself stupid something like, "Oh, goodness, you've shared too much. Now, I'll always think you've been drinking when you say you're tired! Heeheehee!"...

Bethany @ Organic Enchilada said...

Excellent. And good for you for saying it.

Tractor Mom said...

Awesome post! I just hope that your family reads this and tries to understand more of your brother's bipolar. My son has ADHD and it's hard for others to understand what is happening to him when his medicine starts wearing off. Thanks for being so honest and sharing!

Come by when you can...

www.frugaltractormom.blogspot.com

Angela said...

Though I'm not bipolar, I suffer from a pretty profound anxiety and panic disorder that only one person in my family really understands because she has it, too. Nobody else has bothered to learn about it or understands that some days, you really can't make me get in a car.. or go across a bridge.. or whatever it may be. It's frustrating, and it's impossible to explain to people that your brain just won't let you do something, whether you really want it that way or not.

I think it'll be a long time before we see a wider acceptance of people with mental/emotional issues and disorders. I function just like everybody else, and unless you catch me on one of those bad days, you'd never know it, anyway. I try to be very open about it on my blog when things happen to me, but I don't think anybody ever really reads and says, "Maybe I should read more about that...."

Maybe some day.

Kristy said...

It is very frustrating to deal with family members with this illness. It takes a lot of patience and understanding. My dad carries that diagnosis, but is now in a "phase" in which he does not believe it is true and takes a whole lot of oxycontin to cover up/mask issues at hand. It is not an easy relationship to put it mildly. I'm about the only one in the family who will communicate with him.
Say, to completely change the subject, I am here to let you know that I tagged you in a meme! Come check it out if you're interested. I am still linking people so it will be a few minutes before it is up!
http://www.pampersandpinot.com

Willoughby said...

Wonderful post. I agree, your brother is lucky to have such a supportive sister.

There is a young man who works at a local restaurant where we eat from time to time who is bipolar. He's very open about it and works with an awareness group to inform people. The last time we ate at that restaurant, we got talking to him about music. He immediately sat down at the piano and played a mini concert of classical music and Beatles tunes for us. It was amazing and I was thought it was great that he was giving people a different way to view someone with bipolar.

Aging Mommy said...

I think there are so many reasons why people either unintentionally misunderstand mental illness or deliberately choose to. Fear, embarrassment, a belief that mental illness equals lack of mental ability, all sorts of things. Educating people about such tragic illnesses can only help so this is a wonderful post, filled with detail and underpinning it all is the very clear love you have for your brother.

Sole Sister Salma said...

I suffer from anxiety and boy did it take a long time for me to accept that people don't want to accept it or cannot accept forms of illnesses that they do not understand.

Kudos to you for being a supportive, loving sister, and for sharing this.

姚吳宗瑞家弘 said...

Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today..................................................................

AmyLK said...

Wonderful post! Mental illness is very misunderstood by many in society.

Bryna said...

I feel bad for my cousin who has had to be the "adult" since she was a little girl due to her mother's manic episodes. As a family member of someone who is bipolar, it's been a hard battle to understand, but I think we all get it. We just wish SHE would understand. When the family memeber is the bipolar and is in denial, I think it's even harder...

Erin said...

You are so wonderful for taking the time to educate and inform people about this---and to be so brave and honest about it. My grandmother was Bipolar and depression runs in our family (i.e. me!). So many people just don't get it. I think if more of us really started talking about it, it would help. So I am so glad you wrote this. Beautiful!

That One Mom said...

Well said, Dawn. Mental illness takes so many forms and the general population is so ignorant about it.

My daughter suffers from ADHD and ODD, both mental health issues, and has been in inpatient care three times because of it. Yet because she looks "normal" people are intolerant of her behaviors and outbursts and jsut label her as a bad kid.

I think it is our job as the loved ones of people with mental illness to make the world aware of what mental illness really is. It is not something to sweep under the rug and ingnore. My children are fatherless due to that archaic mentality.

Susan Fobes said...

I don't know much about this but I do know how hard things like this can be on families, especially when people are cruel. Hang in there.

fumblingtowardsnormalcy.com said...

Great post. People are often rude, insensitive assholes. I'm sorry that you have to deal with that when your time could better be spent helping your brother. I agree that in this day and age people should be more aware. Thank you for doing a little bit to help with that.

fumblingtowardsnormalcy.com said...

Great post. People are often rude, insensitive assholes. I'm sorry that you have to deal with that when your time could better be spent helping your brother. I agree that in this day and age people should be more aware. Thank you for doing a little bit to help with that.

sona said...

Thank you! Love you!

Theresa said...

I truly appreciated ready this post. My cousin was BiPolar and decided he could no longer live with it. He took his own life in January of 2005. Not a day goes by that I don't miss him. He was the brother I never had. He had been a part of my life since the day I was born and I loved him so much. I miss him fiercly. People didn't understand though. They would look at him and shake their heads and say "Oh it is so sad, Greg could have done so much." It is so unfortunate that that is how they wanted to look at him instead of "Look what he is doing with his life!" People suck sometiems, even family. Thank you so much for a heartfelt post.

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