I know that people in my life are generally well meaning when it comes to advice. But for a person who lives with Bipolar disorder, sometimes even the most well intentioned advice comes across as hurtful and insensitive. I don’t open up very easily – it’s difficult for me to put into words my own thoughts and feelings (especially when they are running around my head at a million miles a minute). But when I choose to speak – I’m not looking for a “fix me”. I don’t want advice. I just want someone to listen to what I am saying, to really listen to me, understand me. I want them to be in the moment with me, so I can get stuff out of my head and hopefully make more sense of my world.
One of the classic things my dad says when I’m trying to explain what it’s like when I am depressed is “we all have our good days and bad days”. I know what he is trying to say. I know he is trying to show solidarity and let me know that I’m not alone. But he doesn’t have a mood disorder so all I’m hearing is “stop complaining and get over it.”
I can’t just get over it. I’ve said it before – I think too much. I obsess over every thought, every action, every detail. I deliberate and overthink the intent of such a simple statement. And of course I feel my skin crawl, my mind preemptively jumping into defence mode, arms at the ready to scream “I can’t get over it”. I know logically that’s not what he means – but knowing it doesn’t invalidate my feelings.
The other piece of advice I get is to “just breathe”. I get that from a colleague at work when my anxiety levels start to rise. I feel like shouting “I am fucking breathing – I haven’t collapsed from a lack of oxygen!” Again I know she means well, that regulating breathing can help calm a person. It’s not like I don’t already know what I need to do. But my mind first of all needs to process what precisely is happening before I can figure out what I need to do about it. Jumping into a “solution” before I’ve identified the symptoms will not speed up recovery time. And the day I fucking stop breathing is the day I am dead.
It also bothers me when someone who hasn’t experienced Bipolar disorder tells me they “know how I feel” and rattle off some story about the time they decided on a whim to do something ‘outrageous” and then cried about it for a week. Yeah. You don’t know how I feel. I can only wish my condition was that simple.
There are a few people in my life that I could kiss though. One of them is my former supervisor . Whenever she could see I was struggling because of my mood disorder, she would pull me aside and ask me “how are you feeling?”. And she would listen, just listen. And when I was done talking she would say to me “tell me what I can do to help make things easier for you.” This is the kind of help that I need from people. This is what makes me want to actually be involved in human interaction, not just watching from the sidelines.
I know I have other things to mention on this topic, but my thoughts are not slowing down long enough for me to grab onto them.