Health Care, Love, Advice, Wellness

Here’s how to actually be supportive to your friend with bipolar disorder

Please, stop looking at me like I'm a ticking time bomb. I just need your help.

Lately, most of my heartbreak has come from lost friendships, some of which I still haven’t gotten any closure from. In part, this is because I have bipolar disorder. In the time that has passed, I’ve come to realize that I deserved better. I deserved to be surrounded by people who accepted me as I am and so do you.

There have been many situations where I have found myself among my friends, experiencing an episode — either depressive or manic — and felt completely alone in my suffering when a few acts of kindness could have made a huge difference.

1. Acceptance

: A girl sitting and looking out of a window.
[Image description: A girl sitting and looking out of a window.] Via Unsplash
Regardless of whether someone is a lover or a friend, don’t ever assume that they can be fixed. They are not a broken tailgate or a leaking engine. The assumption that a person can or needs to be fixed can destroy your relationship with them.

This is because people cannot simply ‘snap out of it’. This is because they are not doing it to themselves: it is happening to them.

2. Compromise

Two girls talking
[Image description: Two girls talking.] Voa Unsplash
Someone’s mental illness is not about you unless you are abusing them.

So, expecting someone with a bipolar disorder to meet you at your physical, emotional and mental level is unrealistic. This is why you have to be the one who meets them halfway.

If a person cannot come to you, then you come to them, if a person during mania episode wants to jump off a bridge or out of a window, then suggest bungee jumping or skydiving. At the end of the day, it is about finding a compromise.           

3. Improvise

Two women sitting on a rooftop while watching sunset
[Image description: Two women sitting on a rooftop while watching sunset.] Via Unsplash
Improvising is very important. There will be times when the notion of order and routine falls out the window and all you can do is wait it out. In those moments, it’s best to simply be there for someone.

Sometimes, you’ll need to take it one day at a time, and if one day is too much then take it one hour at a time.

And if that feels like too much for them, go moment by moment because sometimes, you simply need to hold them through the pain.

4, Don’t retaliate

A girl sitting down, looking sad.
[Image description: A girl sitting down, looking sad.] Via Unsplash
When someone is having a panic/anxiety attack, that is not the time to psychoanalyze them. That is not the time to pull out the receipts of all the times that you were unsatisfied with their behavior. Simply telling someone to calm down is redundant because that person is already doing everything in their power to calm down.

So sometimes, if you can’t cope, the best thing you can do for them is to call someone they trust. Getting someone a bottle or a glass of water can be helpful regardless of the fact that it might not resolve the panic/anxiety attack.

5. Be patient

Two boys hugging in a bar.
[Image description: Two boys hugging in a bar.] Via Unsplash
People who have compulsive behaviors and various tics exhibit (tap toeing, pen clicking, thigh rubbing, pacing) ways to expel anxiety. While these might be irritable and distracting to a normal person, rather than simply pointing out your annoyance, something you can do is provide the person with alternate forms of expression.

For example, if a person is pacing, you can both go for a walk; if a person is clicking a pen, you can give them paper to write on.

6. Be responsible

A man and woman playing at a foosball table.
[Image description: A man and woman playing at a foosball table.] VIa Unsplash
Social anxiety is real. It isn’t when someone is being rude, or when someone has poor manners. If you have a friend that does have social anxiety, you’ll have to compromise. If you’re inviting them to a party, you have two responsibilities that you must uphold; the first is to respect the people they choose to interact with and the people they choose not to interact with.

And the next is to respect and accept when they want to leave and ensure they get home safely. Allow your friend to gravitate towards people that they find interesting. Another option is to bring along games or cards, that way if they don’t want to interact but are interested in the games they can play them.

All relationships are hard work. While the representation of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder still has a long way to go, accepting the people among us for who they are, and helping them out goes a long way.