This Bipolar Life: The Dance

Better to dance with the devil you know than the one you don’t, right?

If I had known how things were going to turn out there are some choices I might make differently. What I’ve discovered though is that mistakes are lessons to learn. These might be painful to recall and process (with or without therapy) but the truth is just that. Facts can’t be discarded based on what I hope was different. What’s happened has done so and cannot be changed. However, improvement is always available and even a small step forward is sometimes the tiny bit of “oomph!” to give me what I need to keep going. 

I have chosen to see my bipolar disorder as something I treat and effectively work with while pursuing a successful career and relationships. To me it is a dance. One step forward and sometimes a step or two back, but always dancing forward regardless, just not always sure of the tempo.

It’s not something I would like to do and it’s cost me a metric ton of losses over the years but I’m getting better and managing the fancy footwork. Bipolar wants to twist my steps, pull me down or skyrocket me up and I refuse to let it, at least as much as is possible, because I want a stable life. As my therapist and psych dr. both say, I’m pretty stable and my bipolar is being treated successfully. Apparently this means I’m now strong enough to get my shit together, grow up, get a backbone where a wishbone once was and start contributing more intentionally and frequently.

I was resistant at first because I’ve been dancing with my demons for at least 15 years and didn’t think I would ever get out of my entrenched patterns. The truth is I still have a hard time and although I’m working diligently to improve it’s not always forward progress. Due to an excellent therapist and self-knowledge efforts, I know where I’m going but sometimes it feels like I’m just going ‘round and ‘round in circles, you know?

When someone brings a character or behavioral issue to me I try to keep an open mind and be receptive to respectful critique. That’s generally not what happens though. Usually I get immediately defensive and stand my ground regardless of whether I’m right. I tend to think whatever my opinion or version of something is the truth. I forget that my memory is not what I would like and sometimes (ok, lots of times) I need to be reminded to accurately recall something or realize I don’t truly “get it” and finally defer to other people’s memories. As I’m sure you can appreciate this is extremely frustrating, but it is a reality of my disorder.

I survive it. I will continue to do so. As above, it’s better to dance with the devil you know than the one you don’t. At this point I am intimately aware of all the ups and downs of bipolar and ready to two-step anytime. I’m the boss of my bipolar.

This Bipolar Life: Tell Me Can You Hear Me?

My Gram used to say that people first seek to be understood and the older I get the more I realize the wisdom of those words.

 To me, hearing and listening are two different things. Hearing is something done automatically as part of our body’s sensory integration system. In fact the New York Times published a full article on the issue. I can be hearing you while not listening to a word you say. Let me say, this doesn’t win me any favors. People want to be *listened* to. They want to feel validated and assured that their feelings are real and have merit. This is especially true of people with bipolar.

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So how can you help someone with this issue? Speak clearly and in a calm voice, share that you are wanting to hear their feelings and to feel heard yourself, focus on your loved one while talking, look them in the eye so they can see your facial expressions and reach out and make physical contact if it’s appropriate to the situation, reassure them that you are just trying to have clear communication, ask the person with bipolar to repeat back to you what they have listened to and make sure it’s what you are trying to share. If it’s not, then ask if it’s okay to share again, perhaps expressing that you don’t yet understand them or feel heard yourself. Be clear that this is what you are seeking and that mirroring (repeating in a summary fashion what you just thought you heard) helps both of you feel that.

It’s okay to be challenged when trying to have clear communication with someone who has bipolar. It’s not uncommon for us to struggle with this and many people with bipolar are open about their challenges in this area. If your friend or family member doesn’t want to be “pinned down” by their diagnosis when it comes to talking it’s okay to not mention that you are trying this approach because of their bipolar but merely because you really want to make sure your feelings come across fully and are understood. Share that it’s important to your relationship with this person that you are both clear about what’s going on. 

It’s normal to want to feel heard and understood so keep trying until you both do. It may take a few (or several) tries but keep making the effort. Remember that we want this for you and us also despite our difficulties in getting there. We will appreciate you trying even if we don’t or aren’t able to say so. Trust me.