Those of us with bipolar are often unaware of the effects the diagnosis has on our family and friends. Watch as my parents and I discuss this together.
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Understanding Bipolar as a Family
When a person has bipolar disorder, their friends, family members, coworkers, and everyone in their lives is also influenced by their brain-based health condition. This is in part because bipolar, like all mood disorders, influences how a person thinks, behaves, and interacts with those around them
Sometimes, undiagnosed bipolar can put a strain on relationships; having a better understanding of the condition allows for healing and strengthening of those all-important ties that bind.
Gabe: Hello, my name is Gabe Howard with bphope and bp Magazine…. For this vlog, I have brought along my parents, Susan and Gary! (Believe it or not, I am related to them!)
What we are going to talk about is if they had any inkling that I had bipolar disorder and how we got through some of the tough times.
So I’m going to throw it over to my mother, first.
Mom, when I was younger, did you suspect that I had bipolar disorder?
Susan: No, I knew nothing about bipolar.
Gabe: And when I got sicker and sicker, did you think that it was any sort of mental health condition? Or did you sort of side with Dad that you could “punish” these symptoms out of me?
Susan: Hmm, never really thought about it. We knew that you were either up or down, and we suggested counseling at that point.
Gabe: That is true, you took me to a psychologist when I was, what, 14?
Susan: When you were eight.
Gabe: When I was eight? But that was for lying, if I’m not mistaken, right? Now, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as an adult, I hid the symptoms for a long time because I didn’t understand that there was anything wrong.
Dad, you were definitely on the “we can punish Gabe into submission” train because you didn’t understand that there was anything wrong.
Gary: Well, I always thought that, if you do a strict enough punishment, [children] will correct themselves. But, after a time, you have to back up and figure out what is going on.
Gabe: So, one of the things I think people would want to know is it’s not uncommon for this to happen. Many parents, and many families, think, “They acted out; we punished them; they kept acting out, and we didn’t know what to do.”
After you found out that I was sick and you thought back to all those punishments, how did that make you feel?
Gary: Not good. Because some of the punishments I did were way overboard. I thought it was just you acting up and not the bipolar.
Gabe: So it turns out that if you understand what is going on you can move on to—
Gary (interrupting): Deal with it.
Gabe: Yeah, you can deal with it.
A lot of times, what we talk about in mental health advocacy is that it’s not about doing nothing—it’s about doing the right thing.
I was lucky. I had a good, supportive family, and they have not (yet!) abandoned me. I’m very grateful for that.
So having a supportive family really allowed me to get better, and having access to medical care allowed me to get better. And that’s something that a lot of people don’t have. So, thank you, Mom and Dad.
What I would like to throw out there for all the parents and everybody out there is this: What are some things that parents and family and friends can do to help their loved ones who have bipolar disorder lead better lives? We have to bridge the gaps so we can all move forward.
Originally posted January 10, 2017
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