I’ve said it before, and I will probably say it a million more times; if you don’t know someone with bipolar disorder, you may not get everything. And sometimes, even if you do know someone with it, it may be hard to understand things you would never think affect their life. Things like their job, their sleep schedule, their availability to hang out, or the reason they don’t drink alcohol.
Let’s start with their job. Sometimes holding a steady job can be hard for someone with bipolar disorder. Many work places in the United States won’t recognize mental health for a sick day. Or if you don’t have a doctors note, it’s a strike against you. As many of as may know, not everyone has the luxury of getting to see a doctor or psychiatrist every time they need to. That stuff is expensive. Or sometimes someone may just need to go through their episode and miss work, but without that precious little note, your job could be cut quickly. I think a big reason why jobs may not understand your disorder, is because they could easily replace you or they don’t have the time to understand it. However, with more “professional” jobs, I’ve seen they will recognize the disorder and cut you some slack (but after so many times, probably not so much).
For example, my fiancé has had trouble maintaining jobs in the past. Typically, these jobs were at a food place, somewhere they need people and they can replace them quickly. So if he had an episode, missed work, and couldn’t afford to visit a doctor, he would lose his job. Which would happen more often than you think. However, now he works at a job that is 8-5 and has documented that he has this disorder. Recently after starting the job, he was going through an episode and had to miss quite a bit. Part of the time he had a note and part of the time he did not. His main boss totally got it though.
Also, as we know with bipolar disorder, people’s mood can shift so suddenly, they may lash out at another coworker or boss. This can also result in losing a job quickly. But you may not have known that. You may have just thought that person was lazy and didn’t want to work. In reality, they were just trying the best they could.
Another thing is sleep schedule. A lot of people have sleep issues, but for someone who is bipolar, it may be different. Some medications can may you very drowsy or keep you awake. During an episode, someone may sleep a ton, or barely sleep at all.
For example, my fiancé takes a medicine that makes him really drowsy. He takes this at night, but even so it can be hard to wake up the next morning. If he doesn’t take it early enough and fall asleep early enough, it’s extremely hard for him to wake up early. If he has to wake up around 7am, he needs to take the medicine around 8pm and start to lay down for bed. I know, it sounds like a lot of sleep, but when you are that heavy of a medication, it may not feel like it at all. The person may not even sleep well either. I think that is one of the hardest things people can’t understand. I’ve had people say, “Well just don’t take it.” Without his medication, he’s an insomniac. And without his medication for several days, he will become unstable. That medicine is designed to help control his disorder. So when someone suggests to him “don’t take it” it’s honestly a slap in the face. And even if they may not understand his sleep schedule and his medication, they don’t need to chime in their advice. Because last time I checked, they were not his doctor.
Along with this, sometimes when the person can hang out with friends may be affected. Obviously if they need to take their medication early, they can’t hang out late. But someone may view that as them being rude. It’s not though.
Drinking is something that is overall not the best of anyone, but in small consumption it is fine. However, most bipolar medication warn against drinking alongside. Some people think this means, don’t drink beer while you take your medicine, but it means you shouldn’t be drinking in general if you are taking that medication daily. Alcohol is a depressant anyways, it can alter your mood and your mind even if you are not bipolar. So adding that all together, drinking is really not the best. While this can get tricky, having a single drink rarely may not negatively hurt you much. But that is not me condoning it, I really don’t think anyone should drink if their medication says not to. I would at least consult your doctor before anything.
With drinking, people really do not understand it. In general most people I know don’t understand how harmful alcohol is, and definitely not to a bipolar person. Don’t think that me or my fiancé are perfect either. While he use to drink more often with friends, he has cut back and noticed what a difference it makes. In fact, if he does drink one night, he waits longer to take his medication because he doesn’t like the way it makes him feel. For me, I’m not much of a drinker. But that may be because of all the research I’ve done with it. Either way, it’s not like I’m here on a pedestal saying everyone who has taken a drink of alcohol is going to hell. I’m just saying, watching drinking with someone who is bipolar is really important. And it probably isn’t a good idea to pressure them into “having one drink” either.
I know, that was a lot to take in. And I know it may seem like things with this frustrated me, so if this came off that way, I’m sorry. But it’s really hard when you work hard with someone to maintain their disorder and someone decides their random knowledge from a Googled article will be helpful to your situation. Because the fact is, they probably don’t know the situation fully and they probably shouldn’t be sticking their nose into your business anyway. Over the past year, me and my fiancé worked super hard to maintain and stabilize his disorder. No, I’m not an expert, but I know him and I know his reaction to things. I also know what “tips” are complete bullshit that the media produces. So when someone tries to tell me “helpful advice”, it’s not helpful at all. Because they aren’t with him 24/7 like I am nor do they have the research to back themselves up.
So, next time you want to give someone advice (and this can be toward anything too), maybe take a step back and think if it really is helpful or if it will be taken differently. And if you don’t understand something, research it first and then talk to the person. Lastly, try to think of all the possibilities before you assume your friend is a jerk when they say they can’t hang out.
I hope this helps.