bipolar parent

Tips to Manage Romantic Relationships with Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

If you suffer from bipolar disorder, then you may already know how difficult managing romantic relationships can be. Even being a partner with a bipolar disorder sufferer is difficult.

The manic and hypomanic phases of the disease can include lapses in judgment, promiscuity, overspending, risky behaviors like alcohol or drug abuse, and other problems which can wreak havoc on any relationship, especially a romantic one.

Depressive episodes can be frustrating for everyone involved because a person suffering from depression may withdraw from the world. If you’re partnered with a person going through a depressive episode, you may not be able to draw them out of their shell.

So how do you manage a romantic relationship if you have bipolar disorder? Here are some tips to do just that.

Tip #1: Communicate Honestly

Everyone involved in a romantic relationship needs to communicate honestly with their partners, but this is especially true when bipolar disorder is involved.

If you have bipolar disorder, be honest about your everyday feelings, and let your partner know when you’re tripping into mania or slipping into depression. Bipolar episodes can be disorienting to anyone, not just the sufferer, and especially when people are unprepared for them. Your partner needs to know if you’re becoming manic or depressed.

Financial concerns are also something to be honest about. If you don’t tell your partner that you overspent during a manic episode, he or she might be counting on money in the budget that you don’t have. Similarly, you need to be honest if you’ve cheated on your partner when you’ve been manic because you need to maintain trust in the relationship.

If you are partnered with someone with bipolar disorder, be honest about whether you’re overwhelmed by the disease. You can’t always be a rock, and your partner needs to know when you feel overwhelmed. Do your best to separate the illness from your partner and try not to judge him or her for suffering from bipolar disorder. But be honest with your partner about how the mental illness affects you.

Tip #2: Stick With Your Treatment Plan

Adequately treating your bipolar disorder with talk therapy and/or medication is crucial for managing romantic relationships. If you don’t have your disease under control and aren’t handling your mood episodes properly, then you run the risk of destroying everything you’ve worked for when it comes to your partner.

If you are dating or married to a person suffering from bipolar disorder, regularly ask your partner how they’re feeling and if their meds are working for them. Managing mental illnesses is much easier with an appropriate level of support. Oftentimes, the partner is the one who spots the manic or depressive episode.

But try to avoid nagging. Set up rules about communicating ahead of time, such as “I can only bring up meds three times, and then I need to let it go.”

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

Self-care isn’t limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. Self-care is taking responsibility for your well-being. If you can’t take care of yourself, your romantic relationships will suffer. People suffering depressive episodes especially need to commit to a self-care routine, as they tend to neglect themselves.

So, whether you have bipolar disorder or are partnered with someone with bipolar, practice daily self-care.

If you do these “big six” self-care steps daily, as outlined by a post about self-care at WellandWealthy.org then you will see improvements in your physical and mental health. These improvements will help you be a better spouse.

Every day, try to:

A special note for the partners of people with bipolar disorder: one way to practice self-care is to not be your partner’s only support. Make sure that he or she has a therapist and/or a psychiatrist to talk to, as well as supportive friends and possibly family. The more you can spread the support around, the better.

You can’t be everything to your partner. Setting up a codependent relationship will only harm you and him or her in the long run.

For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Final Thoughts

Managing romance when you suffer from bipolar disorder is not impossible. It just takes a little extra work and self-awareness from both people in the partnership. If you can communicate honestly, stick to your treatment plans, and practice the “big six” daily self-care tenants, then you will be able to better handle your romantic relationships.

I wish you well in your journey.

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bipolar parent

5 Tips to Make (and Keep!) New Year’s Resolutions with a Mental Illness

Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash

Have you ever failed to keep a New Year’s resolution?

You’re not alone. Studies show that 92% of Americans who set resolutions fail at keeping them, and up to 80% fail by February.

But was your mental illness to blame?

For a lot of us, setting resolutions sends a shot of dopamine straight into our brains, but it’s hard to make plans–and keep them!–when you have unpredictable brain chemistry.

As a woman with bipolar who has historically overextended myself during the holidays, I’ve started most new years of my adult life in the midst of major depressive episodes.

As you know full well if you’ve ever had depression, that sucks. It puts a damper on the whole year.

So this year will be different. I’ll not only plan my holidays effectively and with my mental health in mind, I’ll also take steps to thrive with bipolar disorder during the hustle and bustle of December.

But what does that mean for New Year’s resolutions?

Well, I can set good ones and keep them despite my mental illness putting obstacles in my way, and so can you.

Here’s how.

1. When Making Resolutions, Prioritize Your Mental Health

Celebrate the new year by taking charge of your mental health.

Fixing your sleep hygiene, taking your medications daily, seeing a therapist regularly–these are the kinds of resolutions people who struggle with their mental health need to make.

And make sure not to set resolutions that interfere with your health. If there’s a resolution that forces me to sacrifice sleep, encouraging me to sleep less than 8 hours a night, that is not one I’ll even entertain.

My resolutions in this area are twofold:

  1. Monitor myself better for signs of depression and mania, and
  2. Seek help at the very first signs of a bipolar mood episode.

I have a treatment team waiting in the wings ready for me to call on them. If you don’t, getting one in place would be a great resolution. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.

2. Know Thyself

Not everyone knows what challenges them most, but a lot of us have a gut instinct as to what those issues are.

Before you make a resolution to hit the gym everyday that you’ll balk at when it comes time to put your nose to the grindstone, sit down and figure out why you balk.

Do you not like the gym because you’re overwhelmed by all the options? Ask one of the employees to recommend a class to you.

Do you not like the gym because you have to get up early? Try a walk after dinner instead. You can even take the kids!

Do you not like the gym because of social anxiety? Try practicing meditation and go to a therapist to conquer that problem first.

And so on.

Know what challenges you the most and work around those issues. Starting with something that makes you more comfortable and that you feel you can tackle first will give you confidence to handle the next step.

My plan in making resolutions is to list the barriers that will get in the way of me fulfilling those resolutions. Be they internal, like social anxiety, or external, like my need for childcare, I will list them out and figure out ways around or through the obstacles.

My resolution for this area is to sit down and identify trouble spots when it comes to treating myself right. To prevent myself from sinking into a depressive episode this January, I need to figure out where I’m struggling.

My resolution in this area is to start keeping a daily gratitude journal. If I can find out what I’m grateful for on a daily basis, I can hopefully also identify where my challenges are.

3. Break Resolutions Down into Steps

When I’m depressed, most of the time I’m completely overwhelmed.

I am usually unable to see past the seemingly-insurmountable mountain of dishes, and I simply cannot think my way past that into “do one dish at a time.”

On the flip side, my past resolutions have been monsters. “Lose weight.” “Be fit.” “Eat healthy.”

But “eat healthy and lose weight” are too big of resolutions for me, especially when I’m depressed. They’re not specific, measurable, or time-sensitive. “Eat one salad a day” is much, much easier.

Rather than “eat healthy and lose weight,” my resolution in this area is to eat salads or vegetables for lunches every day.

For a more extensive post on how to break things down into bite-sized pieces when you have depression, click here.

4. Start When You Feel You Can

You don’t have to start on January 1st just because you’ve made a New Year’s resolution.

For example, if you’re not ready to conquer your social anxiety–if you don’t buy into the process of learning how to do a goal and then doing it–then you’re not going to.

To stick to a resolution, you need to have the mindset that you can keep this, and you need to be ready to start making progress to goal.

If you need to wait until summer for your head and your heart to be in the right places, then wait until summer.

My resolution in this area is to start a gratitude journal as soon as I’m ready to do so.

5. Know That Quitting Isn’t Bad

If you make an impulse buy when your resolution is to spend less money, don’t be filled with self-loathing. Just recognize that you’ve made a mistake and move on.

And if you do make a mistake, take some time to reevaluate whether this resolution is worth keeping at that point in your life. Sometimes things we try fail because they no longer make sense to do.

There’s no shame in quitting something that no longer works for us, even when the action used to be objectively good. That’s true of everything in our lives: from our resolutions to social media to our jobs and even our relationships.

And just because you’ve put time/energy/money/work/resources into something that used to be objectively good doesn’t mean that you have to keep doing the same thing that doesn’t work now.

Keeping on the same path that doesn’t work now just because you’ve been walking it for a while is called the ‘sunk cost fallacy,’ and a lot of people get tripped up by this way of thinking.

Don’t fall into that trap. If a resolution used to work but isn’t working for you anymore, examine why that is and figure out if it’s still worth striving for.

My resolution for this area is to give myself grace when I mess up and try again on the things that are truly important and working for me at that point in my life.

Let’s Recap

With these tips and specific, measurable goals, you can stick to your New Year’s resolutions.

First, when setting resolutions, prioritize your mental health. Next, know what challenges you’ll be facing and work around them. After that, break resolutions down into steps. Start when you feel you can. And make sure to recognize that quitting isn’t bad.

Give yourself grace this year, and strive to make positive, wholesome changes in your life.

You can do this.

I wish you well in your journey.

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bipolar parent

How to Handle Intrusive Thoughts

headache.jpg
Credit to flickr.com user openDemocracy. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Trigger Warning: Suicidal ideation.

“Intrusive thoughts are my best friends!” -My mother

Intrusive thoughts are part of the human condition. They are thoughts that everyone has that are inappropriate, bothersome, or downright dangerous, that feel out of your control. Surveys given to healthy college students revealed that they had all thought about harming people close to them or engaging in sexual violence. Suicidal thoughts are also common.

This does not mean that those college students wanted to hurt anyone, even themselves! Quite the opposite. These thoughts are not impulses, they’re just thoughts, and they’re usually easy to dismiss for most neurotypical people. But for people who suffer from mental illnesses, these thoughts can become an obsession.

These sorts of thoughts dramatically affect my day to day life. I often have–and dismiss–thoughts about driving into oncoming traffic, or what would happen if I fell down the stairs. Another thought I suffered a severe amount of anxiety from was due to the fact that I had to take a rectal temperature from my febrile infant. My intrusive fear was that the thermometer tip would break off inside of her. Dread clenched my belly and my heart turned to ice; I was unable to take the temperature in that manner.

I’d like to stress that these thoughts happen to everyone. Sometimes they can create a negative feedback loop in anxious individuals, by feeding into their fears and causing more.

There are a few ways to deal with intrusive thoughts:

  • Recognize that you are in control of your impulses
  • Know that these thoughts are automatic and ignorable
  • Accept the thought. Don’t try to push it away, as that only makes the obsession worse. These thoughts will go away on their own
  • Breathe deeply until your anxiety leaves

This can all be very difficult, but after a few weeks of trying, you can see improvement. I hope that these tips will help you conquer your intrusive thoughts the next time they strike!