1. Educate yourself.
The reams of paper that I printed out and asked him to read. The psychiatric evaluations he witnessed. The group therapy and family sessions he attended. And the conversations with other spouses of persons with bipolar disorder.Education is always the starting point. Because until a spouse or daughter or friend of a manic-depressive understands the illness, it is impossible to say and do the right thing.
2. Learn how to talk to your loved one.
Eric doesn’t say much when I’m clutching tissue paper, crying my eyes out. And he’s hesitant to speak when I’m manic (not that I would let him get in a word). When I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, he reminds me why I need to. And when I’m revved up, he’s the voice of reason telling me why a spontaneous trip to New York isn’t smart.
3. Make some rules.
You know all the fire drills in primary school you prayed would happen during the math pop quiz? All those times the school administrators rehearsed what, exactly, would happen in the case of an emergency? Families of bipolar persons need them as well: a plan of action for those times when the bipolar person is sick.In order to design such a strategy, the manic depressive and her loved one must compile a list of symptoms — like the smoke and burning smell of that make-believe fire in the third grade–and what action should follow them, like “call the doctor.”
4. Plan for emergencies.
Part of your plan should include a list of people who you can call for help. Of course, it is recommended that the bipolar person be working closely with a psychiatrist, and that he know how to get in touch with the psychiatrist after hours, and in case of emergencies. It’s also a good idea to know which hospital the psychiatrist works with, or if the doctor will work with any hospital in the area.
I can’t count all the times I have tried Eric’s patience with the reckless highs and debilitating lows of my bipolar disorder. When I get fired up and want to sign up for 60 new activities — not to mention losing my car keys, cell phone, and purse — it’s difficult for him not to get annoyed. But because he places my exasperating behavior in the proper context of an illness, and sees them as mere symptoms of a disease — rather than careless and self-absorbed actions — he is better able to go gentle with me.Moreover, a little kindness and gentleness toward your loved one–especially at those times that you feel incapable of affection and care– goes a long way to aid recovery.