What It Is Like To Love Someone With Bipolar Disorder
It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it’s worth it.
Almost everyone in their lives has heard of bipolar disorder, but there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about the mental illness. It’s not as straightforward as having mood swings of highs and lows that effect you on a regular, yet random basis, as some believe. It’s a mental illness caused by a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine) in the brain that results in changes in your mood as well as energy and activity levels, which can make everyday life difficult for some.
Now, of course I can’t claim to know how it feels, but having a brother five years younger than me who was diagnosed with bipolar at age nine (as well as ADD/ADHD at age six) I have seen and felt how it affects everyone around him, and it is not a walk in the park.
Like I said, it’s not being happy and then suddenly sad, it’s much more complex than that.
It’s us going from laughing, listening to music, and joking around to him being hostile, full of attitude and spewing hurtful words in less than a minute for an unexplainable reason.
It’s watching our mom leave the living room to go hide the tears that are streaming from her eyes.
It’s him going from asking me to build a fort and watch a movie one night to not talking to me the next.
It’s him telling me to kill myself while camping because I’m enjoying our walk and he’s not.
It’s him randomly hugging me out of nowhere and saying, “I love you, sissy!”
It’s him asking me to go on a day trip to the beach but me being apprehensive that his mood will change.
It’s trying with all your power not to become snarky to him like he is to you.
It’s explaining to your friends how cruel he can be, but them not understanding.
It’s him calling our father names when he asked him if he was hurt after falling off a chair.
It’s constantly asking yourself, “What will his mood be like today, or in the next hour?”
It’s listening to him apologize time and time again, because he does feel sorry, but knowing that he’ll repeat it all soon enough.
Not only is it all of the above, it’s also being there for him, especially when he needs it the most. There was a time when I called in to work for a family emergency and drove 250 miles home from college to be with my brother during one of his manic episodes. Manic episodes can range from minor to severe and occur differently based on which form of bipolar disorder a person is diagnosed with.
In my brother’s case, the episodes are not constant, but he has a pretty severe one about three times a year. When these happen, they last around five to seven days and consist of him not sleeping for days on end. Because of the lack of sleep, he can sometimes hallucinate — he told me once he saw circles on the ceiling and heard voices, including mine, when I wasn’t even home. He believes he has “psychic powers,” such as being able to predict what may happen in the future, or that he knows what you are thinking. With that said, there have been studies done on the relationship between bipolar disorder and intuition-like feelings based on the creativity and deep thoughts that the chemical imbalances can bring, so he’s one of many that feels this way. He speaks ceaselessly, using much larger words than he’s used to, about the meaning of life and other intellectual thoughts. This is odd in itself, but it’s even more bizarre because he is usually a very reserved and quiet person. Even though these episodes are rare, they are a scary thing to encounter, and it creates a lot of stress and worry for our entire family.
Regardless, no matter the day or the condition, we love him and care for him unconditionally because we know he never truly means the things he says or does. When he’s rude, it’s hard, but when he’s loving, oh man, is he loving.
Living with someone who has bipolar disorder is not easy. It’s not enjoyable. It’s not simple. But it is worth it.