19: Friends and Family: It’s Not Just All About Me

Finally, my first ‘proper’ post on a bipolar related topic!  I’ve taken way too long over writing this… I need to speed up for the others!  I’ve chosen this one to start with because it got the highest number of votes in my poll – so really I didn’t choose it at all.  I’m not actually all that certain where to start with this subject, but let’s have a crack anyway!

Being Bipolar is something that, like any long-term illness, doesn’t just affect the person with the illness.  Pretty much whatever your situation, it has an effect on your family and your friends.  Of course, I can only really speak for myself, but in general terms, it can make a difference in how people relate to you, and how you relate and act towards others.

Does having bipolar, a mental illness – one which is gradually becoming more generally known – change the was that people look at you, once they know?  Probably.  Not always in a negative way, but often enough.  I’ve been lucky enough to only have had one really bad experience with a now ex-friend who “couldn’t deal” with the way I was when I was manic.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know I was manic, because I was in that stage where everything is brilliant … and annoying as hell to anyone on the receiving end of it, I’m sure.  Yet, if this friend had said to me that I was being kind of insane (you know, in a tactful way), I would have realised what was going on – I wasn’t so high that I wouldn’t have recognised it with a little outside help.  And in fact that’s what happened a short while after the ex-friend told me where to go, with a nudge from someone else.

Other than that, I’ve been lucky – my friends have been wonderful and very understanding of my illness and the resulting failings as a friend that it brings.  I can be somewhat unreliable, for example, if I drop into depression and can’t drag myself out of bed, let alone the house.  I can seclude myself for long periods if I’m down, and not talk to anyone for weeks or longer.  Or conversely, I can talk a mile a minute and not be able to shut the hell up – that can be amusing, but it can get really annoying.  I get annoyed with me!  I need friends who aren’t afraid to tell me when I’ve started talking really fast.  Luckily, I have people like that, because that stops me getting worse and therefore making things worse for all of us.

As for family, once again I’m really lucky.  From conversations with my Mum, I know it was difficult for her and Dad to accept that I had the illness (it was difficult for me, too, but in a different way).  She’s told me that she’s felt as if she somehow failed me, maybe by passing on a gene that predisposed me, or by doing something “wrong” in my upbringing.  Dad was in a bit of denial for a while, I think (clearly where I get it from!) – neither of them wanted their little girl to have a life long condition like this.  Mum of course knows logically that it’s not her fault… but she and Dad wanted to be able to make it magically better, as I guess you do for your children.  Mum has come to terms with it now.  I think Dad did, but he’s not with us any more so I can’t ask him.

Mum now generally comes with me to my psychiatrist appointments, and she’s done a course for carers and family members that was run locally.  Most of the others on the course had family members who were schizophrenic rather than bipolar, but there are plenty of common areas, and she found it very useful.  She’s not there at my appointments because I’m not capable of going on my own (well, unless I’m down and freaking out about leaving the flat!) or talking to the psychiatrist.  She’s mainly there so that I have a back-up brain in the room – I forget things that happen when I’m in one state or another, sometimes.  Or she can let him know how I’ve been when talking to her on the phone, which I do most days even if I’m badly down.  In fact, she’s the main person who will point out to me when I’m sounding manic or depressed, and will prod me until I call the CMHT1 if I don’t get better in a day or so.

The main thing that she’s done is take over supervising my finances.  One of my worst problems when I’m manic is over-spending.  Obsessively buying every book on the one thing I’ve fixated on, for example (Ooo, cable knitting!  Ooo, Stargate!  Ooo, shiny things!!).  Or spending £800 on sock yarn in 3 months when I didn’t have anything remotely approaching that coming in.  This is a pattern that’s been repeating for years, and Mum and Dad had to help me out on more than one occasion.  It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with bipolar that I knew why it was happening… but I still couldnt’ stop!  So in the end (after the yarn incident), Mum stepped in.  She doesn’t manage my money, but it’s a kind of joint effort.  I gave her my debit  and credit card, and cheque book, and we worked out a strict budget.  I only spent cash, or occasionally on the credit card with pre-agreement.  Within a year, my enormous overdraft was paid off.  There’s no way I could have possibly done that without Mum.  Not a chance!  These days, my budget is a lot less constrained, and I have my credit card back in my purse.  I still speak to Mum first if I’m going to spend on it, but it’s mainly a sort of double-check system, to make sure that I’m not trying to spend out on something silly.  It does mean she has extra work to do, keeping an eye on me, and I feel bad about that… but I’m not sure I’d feel confident in having complete control again.  Which is weird, because I generally like to be independant.  I spose the thing is, when I spend while manic, I feel so horribly out of control.  This is stopping that, it’s stopping that stress for me, and it’s stopping eventual stress for Mum.

The other main person affected is my brother.  Me being bipolar means that he is the sole executor of Mum’s estate should anything happen to her – not because Mum doesn’t trust me, but because she doesn’t want to put the extra pressure on me in that situation.  It means that he has to come and pick me up when we go to Mum’s for dinner every week, because not only can I not afford a car any more, but my driving licence has been medically revoked.  (This is also another partial reason why Mum takes me to my psych appointments)  He has also become aware that he has to ‘look after’ me a bit sometimes, which is really sweet!  For example, we went to see the new Harry Potter film last week, and when we got there it looked like the cinema was going to be pretty full, despite it being 11 in the morning on a Thursday! (We were trying to dodge hordes of kids and foreign exchange students by going to an out of town showing in the morning before the schools broke up!)  As it happened, I was absolutely fine in myself, but he thought to ask if I was going to be alright in a crowd.  Sometimes I can’t be doing with too many people, you see.  He was quite willing to turn around and go home if it would be too much.

So, um, I think that’s about it.  If you’ve got any questions or thoughts about this, please leave a comment!

1 Community Mental Health Team

Author: Lou

Geeky fangirl and knitter, owned by large black mog. Sometime web designer. Lapsed musician.

3 thoughts on “19: Friends and Family: It’s Not Just All About Me”

  1. What was diagnosis like? How did you get it all sorted, because from what I’ve heard, it’s really hard to get a proper diagnosis of bipolar, what with most people not seeing doctors during manic phases.

    I know I have depression, but I’m pretty sure I’m more Cyclothymic than anything.

    1. There’s a pretty long answer to that, so I’ll answer it in a post.

      I was diagnosed with depression to start with, because I went to the doctor (GP) first when I was depressed. It was only later than I got referred to mental health services and diagnosed with bipolar. Have you spoken to your doctor about having mood swings?

      1. I don’t have insurance at the moment so I’m not actually seeing anyone at the moment.

        And my mood swings are, well, I have spending issues in both my depressed and my possibly manic phases because I try to buy myself out of being unhappy when I’m depressed and I NEED. EVERYTHING. RIGHT. NOW! because everything is so awesome during possible upswings. But aside from that, my upswings generally include annoyingly speedy talking and deciding to paint my walls at 3am and sleeping 2-4 hours a night, tops. But I’m not, aside from monetarily, endangering myself or anything. So mostly, I need a job that pays $6 million a day and then I’ll be fine! Or something.

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