How to tell family or friends I have bipolar disorder?


If you have bipolar disorder or other medical conditions, do you tell your family and friends about it? Why and why not? If you do tell them, how do you do it?

Sometimes I wonder how best to tell my family or friends that I have bipolar disorder. I am not sure whether they will understand or whether they will accept me or reject me. The people I love, and who love me, will see me at my best. When my symptoms reappear, they may see me at my worst. Bipolar shapes my thoughts, feelings and actions. My behaviours can at times be very confusing to myself as well as my family and friends, as I am very different when I am manic and when I am depressed.

My diagnosis with proneness to bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) was a relief to me personally as it helps me to understand my confusing past, and to know that my condition is actually a medical condition that can be treated and not due to a weakness in my character or my lack of faith in God. So I am now able to seek medical and other helps to manage this condition so that I can live a more stable and useful life.

I realize through my recent relapses, the importance of having the support, prayers and understandings of my family and friends, besides professional helps from Doctors, Counsellors and Support Group. So whenever possible, I will share with them my condition. I give them articles, pamphlets and books to read about bipolar disorder so that they will understand that my behaviour is not always under my control. It will also help them to understand why I am sometimes so different. Thank God that so far my family, church friends and other friends have mostly accepted me. I lost some friends along the way but I am learning to move on in my life and to make new friends.

Some months back, a church friend told me that he used to wonder why I was at times very warm and friendly but at other times very cold and indifferent. After understanding my condition and different mood swings, he was able to understand why. He is very compassionate kind and understanding. He even offered me a listening ear should I need to talk to someone when I am feeling down.

My Doctor suggested to me recently, that I should tell my family and friends that I am like a bear :-) For certain period of time in a year, I will hibernate :-) Bears hibernate during winter in which they pass the winter in inactive.

But not all my family members or friends are that keen to really know what is bipolar disorder and how it affects me and my relationship with them. I guess some are too busy with their own life while some simply think it is not an issue. I am thankful for those of my family and friends who are willing to take time to read up more in order to understand what is bipolar disorder and how it may affect me, my life and my relationship with them. I am thankful for their willingness to also talk to me to understand what I have gone through and what I am going through now. They have become very understanding, kind and supportive and I thank God for all of them. Some friends are kindly helping to recognize early symptoms of my manic or depression. They are also helping me to look out for early signs that I am overly stressed or strained as they know that these will trigger off my depression. I really appreciate their help because very often they will notice these signs and symptoms earlier than me.

I am reading and trying my best to understand bipolar disorder and how it affects my thoughts, feelings and actions. I am learning to recognize triggering factors, recognize early symptoms of possible relapses, what can make it worst, what can help to get better, what are the medical treatments and other helps available, so that I can live a more stable and useful life.

It is only in understanding bipolar disorder that I can learn to manage it. And when my family and friends understand bipolar disorder, they will be more able to understand me and help me. They will be more forgiving and understanding when I do inappropriate things during manic or depression. My church friends will also be able to pray more specifically for me.

I have found the following articles on the internet, mostly in public domain, to be very helpful in helping myself, my family and my friends to understand what is bipolar disorder.

Note: You need the Adobe Reader to read these PDF files. Download Adobe Reader to view and print the PDF files.

From the website of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). NIMH is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

About NIMH Publications

* They are free.
* They come in HTML (the standard Web format) and PDF (Portable Document Format).
* Some are “easy-to-read” (short introductions to a topic). NIMH also publishes booklets (detailed information on mental disorders and research) and fact sheets.

1) Bipolar Disorder

A detailed booklet that describes bipolar disorder symptoms, causes, and treatments, with information on getting help and coping.

a) Download this Free Booklet : nimh-bipolar-adults.pdf

b) Read the full article on this blog under "About Bipolar Disorder".

2) Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens: A Parent’s Guide

This booklet is a guide for parents who think their child may have symptoms of bipolar disorder, or parents whose child has been diagnosed.

Download this Free Booklet : nimh_bipolar_children_parents_guide.pdf

3. Bipolar Disorder (Easy to Read)

An easy-to-read booklet on Bipolar Disorder that explains what it is, when it starts and how to get help.

Download this Free Booklet : nimh bipolar disorder brochure.pdf

4. Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens (Easy to Read)

An easy-to-read booklet on Bipolar Disorder in children and teens that explains what it is, when it starts and how to get help.

Download this Free Booklet : Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens.pdf

Anxiety Disorder

    13 Kind thoughts:

    Michelle-ozark crafter said...

    I really don't tell people I am bipolar unless they really push the issue. As for family I rarely see them and we don't have a close relationship so I haven't told them. They would make light of it if I did, or avoid me more, or tell me to just pull myself up and deal with it. So why bother?

    marja said...

    I definitely think that my family and close friends need to know about my disorder. I will need them at times for support and they need to understand what is happening to me at times like that.

    My closest friends - the ones I appreciate most - have taken the trouble to learn about bipolar disorder. One of them often asks me questions to help her understand as well as she can. How I appreciate that! That in itself gives me a feeling of being supported and accepted and loved.

    I thank God for such friends. They are precious.

    JC said...

    I personally wish that people could just understand Bipolar like they could understand a regular headache. But it just isn't that simple. I wasn't diagnosed with it until after becoming a psych nurse. While I was in school, I can honestly say that I thought i understood it. I knew what it was, but i didn't truly understand it until i experienced it to the point that it disabled me and I needed medication in order to continue to function at a normal level.

    The friends I have confided in... they accept me for who I am but they don't truly understand. It even caused a distance between some of us. 2 of my friends don't even believe me. They didn't see me at my worst because I try to stay out of contact with people i know at my worst as much as possible for the fear of them knowing what I am capable of when i am truly ill.

    I have given my family only brief snapshots of what has happened to me. Mainly just my mom- even with her it has been kept superficial and never do we speak about it in the actual time of crisis. Only after the fact. "by the way. I was unable to work for the last month but i'm ok now." We just don't talk about stuff like that in my family. It's just the way it is.

    My husband and best friend know EVERYTHING. My best friend has Bipolar as well. And my pdoc knows everything.

    You guys on blogger know everything too. Nobody else.

    I hate having to explain myself. Why I don't "seem" bipolar to them. They see people like britney spears and think, you're not like her, so how can you be bipolar? Why on earth would i want to convince someone that i suffer so much? Re live it? If they don't believe me or get it, they just don't get it, and I can't be bothered to make a job of convincing them.

    I also don't like showing my mood swings to others. My moods were public domain all the way up until my diagnosis and i was criticized my whole life. And i just thought it was my personality. Now that i know it's a treatable illness, I will try and manage. I don't want to tell people because I don't want to make excuses. I do the best I can with what I have. Even if i am sick, if i wrong someone, I still say i am sorry. If i am depressed, i don't owe an explanation. It's how I feel and i am entitled to that. And it's also my private life. I don't need to tell people what my moods are all the time. It's not their business, it's mine.

    So, those are my thoughts. Everyone has a different situation, and handles things differently. Different dynamics, different families and friends, different cultures, different faiths, etc. This is just how mine goes.

    Good luck on all your thoughts & choices in this matter :)

    Spin Original said...

    Once I was diagnosed in December, I told my one close friend the next day. She got the brunt of my crap (ups, downs and everything in between) and she found great relief. I told my husband, and my Pastor (who is also my boss). Other than that, just 2 or 3 friends. That is, until about a month ago. I opened up and told my mom and some other family members that I knew would understand and not be judgemental. Since then, I've told a couple of friends. One over the phone, and one in person.
    I'm a positive person, so when I do tell someone, I try to put a positive spin on it, and not portray it as something terrible - even though I may be having a hard time with it on the inside. People tend to accept/see/handle things as we do, so if I see it positively, others will too. Then I pick and choose those I can really confide in about the stuggles I am having with different aspects of being bipolar or whatever the issue is.
    Some people I may never tell... and it's our right wether we share or not. But, when we need support and understanding, it sure is good to have friends and family around who know where we are and are not shocked at what's going on in our life. And, prayer support is always good. :)

    Nancie said...

    Michelle, it is indeed not easy for others to understand bipolar. And at times it is better not to talk to them about it if that will only affect our relationships with them in adverse ways.

    Marja, I am glad you have family and close friends who are so supportive and willing to understand. Thank God for such precious family and friends.

    Nancie said...

    Jena, wouldn't it be really nice if people can view our bipolar like having a headache. They will be more caring and sympathetic.

    I can understand how draining it can be at times to try and make someone understand what we went through. Some people will tend to undermine our sufferings and will just attribute it to a weakness in our character. I can appreciate why you will not explain. Sometimes it is better not to talk about it.

    I am glad you are able to share with your husband and best friend. They will be wonderful support in time of need. And isn't it wonderful to be able to share with fellow blogger and receive such support and encouragement? It helps us to know we are not alone and there are people who cares and willing to lend a listening ear when we need to unload our thoughts and feelings.

    Nancie said...

    Paula, it's wise of you to open up slowly to people around you and be very selective on whom to share. This way you slowly build up your support network while helping others to understand you.

    I too feel that it is important to have the support and understanding of close family members and friends. I am glad your family and friends accepts you and are supportive.

    Yes, prayer support is so good! Just to know that others are praying with and for us, can be so therapeutic and wonderful. It makes us feel that we are accepted and loved despite what we have. That's a token of God's love for us.

    marja said...

    I like what Paula said:

    "I try to put a positive spin on it, and not portray it as something terrible - even though I may be having a hard time with it on the inside. People tend to accept/see/handle things as we do, so if I see it positively, others will too."

    So much is in our own attitude towards the disorder.

    Nancie said...

    Yes, Marja, that was a very good point that Paula shared! Good of you to highlight that. Something for me to learn and emulate.

    Thanks, Marja, Michelle, Jena and Paula for all your sharing. It really helps me to understand your experiences over at your end. And it's helping me to learn to be more wiser and selective in my sharing my bipolar with others. I think my concern is my family and friends will understand why I am behaving so differently at different time. I can disappear for 3 to 6 months when I am severely depressed and then I suddenly bubbled with energy, enthusiasm, warm, etc etc. Can be very confusing to some people.

    And I think one problem with me is whenever I am well, I am kind of hypomanic. So I tend to be overly friendly and overly open. I do risk getting myself hurt or rejected by people who are not ready or wanting to hear about my bipolar. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable too that I am sharing too much with them. So I do need to be more selective on whom I want to reveal my condition to. And with some friends who are not that close, perhaps there is really no need to talk to them about it.

    This is an ongoing challenge to me. I hope to learn to manage this better by and by. I find it so therapeutic to have supports from family and friends. Maybe because I am someone who likes to show people concern and care, and so I value it very much when others do the same for me.

    And I think true friends will accept us with whatever mental illness we have because they value and love us as a person and friend. They accept us with our struggles and try to help us to grow and get better. They don't despise us nor reject us, but will all the more want to love us because they know we have gone through so much sufferings in the past and they didn't know it. One of my good friend actually felt very hurt when she realized that I have gone through so many depressive episodes over the years and because I hid my sufferings, she didn't know about it. She actually chided herself for being such a lousy friend! Now I learn to share a little more with some close friends so that they know they are very important to me and they are a tremendous support to me. It makes them feel good too :)

    Thanks again to you, all my dear blogging friends, your support and understanding is helping me very much in this journey of self discovery, of surviving and triumphing through bipolar, and learning to live a more stable and useful life. Thank God for keeping me and for giving me your friendships. God bless you all!

    Claire Sewell said...

    Thanks for your post - it so closely resembles my own inner struggle at the moment.

    I keep hoping for some eureka moment when I'll feel totally unshakeable in my pride for being bipolar; for feeling at peace with my diagnosis; for believing that I am worthwhile and not damaged goods somehow. Today I almost walked into my boss's office to tell her about my diagnosis just in order to become more open about it and stop feeling like I'm living with a dirty secret!

    Good luck to us all in this endeavour.

    Nancie said...

    Thanks for stopping by, Acorn. I know it is hard to cope with our diagnosis and our mood swings. And so hard to tell others so that they can be more understanding and we won't feel so alone or that we are living with a secret.

    The comfort is bipolar does has its good points too. And I find it helpful when I try to focus on the advantages of having bipolar. I use my strength in writing, my enthusiasm and warm to reach out to people and to do things for others, my creativity in photography and craft work to make gifts for friends.

    I do my best at work whenever I am well so that my bosses know I am a good worker. But when I am down, it is hard to function. I used to work for 3 child psychologists who understand depression and able to put up with me and help me. Now I do freelance work. I dare not talk about my bipolar with my customers or project managers as mental illness is still a stigma in Singapore. I only share with family and friend.

    Don't be too discouraged. You are not alone in the struggle with bipolar. We can all support one another and try to cope and make the best of our bipolar. We can live to the best of our potentials as we seek wellness activities. Having a positive mindset helps a lot. I am still learning. I had a quick look at your blog and will return to read more later. Take care and press on!

    Susan said...

    I think when anyone with bipolar disorder,depression,panic attacks, or any other problems family and friends should know.These are issues that need to be brought out.I think it helps us get it off our mind.I suffer from time to time with panic attacks and they are no fun.I have now just started to talk it to others.When they happen I get depressed which is no fun.I think that comes from wondering if and when another one will happen.I have been having a few health problems which will bring them on also.So my answer is yes people should know.I got to thinking one day,if we were having heart touble,stomach touble,or any other sickness we would tell someone.This is a problem like anything else it has to be worked out with medications,talking to someone,but most of all letting God know all about it.When I am having problems I get out my Bible and start reading,praying,having quite time.That helps so much to know we have someone that knows more than any doctor and can bring us though it all.His name is Jesus.When people don't understand HE does.Just walk with him hand in hand each day,talk to him and stay in the word and He will confort you.Have a bless day.

    Nancie said...

    Thanks, Susan, for your sharing. Yes, if we suffer from any other medical condition we will usually tell our family and close friends. They will show care and concern for us, and pray for us. Hopefully more of our family and friends will be able to view our bipolar, depression, panic attack or other mental health issue just as any other medical illness, and we will have no fear to share with them.

    I am so encouraged that you are walking closely with God and you go to your Bible and pray when you are in trouble. That's the right thing to do. Surely God's presence and Words are a great comfort to us. Thanks for stopping by. Have a blessed day too :)


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