Social networks and bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is not a piece of cake. It’s a serious mental illness. Whether we like it or not, it’s not something we can handle alone. If we think we can manage it alone, we are just kidding ourselves.

We are always in crisis. Bipolar disorder is so many things. It’s not always just depression or manic episode. There are more to that nobody talks about. It’s always feeling guilty and never feeling safe or understood. It’s broken relationships, jobs gone and economic disasters. It’s mental fog and being heavily medicated for your own safety. Sometimes it’s harmful coping mechanisms or even psychotic episodes. Sounds a lot right? That’s why we need support from different social networks. More you have the better.

I am lucky to have so many people in my life. Despite my bipolar disorder I have been able to establish deep friendships. I haven’t cut off my family and I’ve managed to maintain a long relationship and marriage. I’ve done some harm too, I’ve got some skeletons in the closet, but mostly took good care of my relationships.

I started to think about my social networks and came up with many different. Many would say I am lucky. Not everybody has a luxury of a big and close family. First of all, I’ve got my family. My husband and my three kids, my parents, my sister and brother, aunts, cousins and my husband’s family. My family is extended. Second of all, my friends. I am blessed to have more than one good friend. I’m not gonna do the count, let’s just say I’ve got many.

What other social networks there are than family and friends? There is work community, attending medical care and different social media networks and communities. For me, those are a parent-child support group, a blogging community, few mental health forums and a messenger group with some mothers across the country.

My bipolar disorder diagnosis is quite new but I’ve been mentally ill the most of my life. I haven’t always got the help I needed. This is for several reasons. I didn’t ask for help, my family and friends didn’t know how to help or health care professionals didn’t recognize the help I needed.

I have actually suffered a lot being left alone with my illness. Rich social networks are not always a guarantee. Sometimes, for variety of reasons, you have to fight to get help. It’s quite common bipolar disorder is mistaken as unipolar depression. For me it took 15 years until doctors got it right.

Since they got it right things have improved a lot. Well, not my health but my relationship with other people. When I finally got the right diagnosis (2,5 years ago) it felt like all pieces of my life started to fall into places and make sense. The biggest improvement of all happened in my mind when I faced the fact that I was chronically ill. I always knew somehow that I was going to be ill the rest of my life but things really changed dramatically now that it got a label on it.

I kept my mental health problems a secret for most of my adult life because of a traumatic experience of being ignored when I cried for help. Since my bipolar disorder diagnosis I’ve overcome my traumatic experience and become more open about my mental health problems. I’ve still got some trust issues but I am able to talk honestly about the state of my illness, hiding nothing and without leaving anything out or lie. I’ve recognized, it’s much easier to other people understand depression than other features of this illness.

I’ve been really sick since I got the diagnosis. I’ve learned to be more open but also that it’s OK to ask help. Asking for help is not easy for me but I understood I can’t deal with this alone. I’ve been hospitalized three times over a short time. I had to learn to ask for help because my husband was trying to hold everything together alone while I was staying in the hospital.

I decided to come up with a five points list for my family and friends what I want them to know and consider. This could be useful for anybody whose family member or friend has a mental illness.

This is a five points list for my family and friends:

1. Face the fact that I am chronically ill with a mental illness. I will get better but I will be mentally ill the rest of my life.

2. Take my illness seriously. Bipolar disorder is a severe condition. It’s not just highs and lows. There’s a whole variety of symptoms from delusions to attempting suicide.

3. Get educated. You need to know everything about bipolar disorder in order to understand my behavior.

4. Keep up with me. Ask how I am doing. Don’t be afraid of my response. Sometimes I am better and sometimes worse. Don’t make me lie.

5. Be worth trust. I need to know I’m looked after when I am not capable of making decisions regarding my treatment.

That’s not much to ask, right? My illness is not easy for anybody but we need to stop pretending it doesn’t exist. Open communication is a huge factor treating this illness. At least for me open communication has been a major contribution to recovery.

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