I didn’t know what Bipolar Disorder was until 1996, when a friend was diagnosed. Looking back, though, I knew several bipolar people during college, at work, and among my larger group of acquaintances. I doubt I was alone in my ignorance. Bipolar Disorder wasn’t then as well understood in the general population as it is today. Instead, we described bipolar acquaintances these ways:
-He blows hot and cold.
-She’s high strung.
-You never know what to expect from him.
-She’s the most charming person you’ll ever meet.
-He has a dark side.
-She has a quirky way of looking at life.
-He’s the most creative person I’ve ever known.
-You can’t really count on her; she can be flaky.
-He disappears for days or weeks at a time.
In other words, friendships with bipolar people can be difficult. In my novel, Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, in one passage Richard’s friend, Marty, explains to Matt, Richard’s son, how he handles the ups and downs of their relationship:
Marty faced Matt. “Here’s the way I look at it. Bipolar Disorder is an illness––not like the illnesses we’re used to thinking about, but still an illness. Now if your dad had asthma, I wouldn’t expect him to be running marathons. Most days we could probably hike up a mountain, but some days his asthma would be in control of him, and he couldn’t even take a walk, forget running a marathon with me.”
Matt unsuccessfully tried to suppress a smile at the thought of Marty’s running a marathon.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Marty laughed. “Bad example. But follow along with me here. If your dad had asthma, I couldn’t count on him to be able to exert himself at the same level every day. Some days asthma would affect how he functioned. Your dad has a mood disorder and it affects how he functions and sometimes I can’t count on him. But we don’t give up on our friends just because they’re sick now and then, do we?” He answered his own question, shaking his head. “I can tell from day to day when I can count on your dad and when I can’t. On the days when I can’t count on him, I kind of put him in a little park in my imagination. I just settle him on a bench there and let him rest the way I would a friend with asthma. I let him catch his breath.”
Mood disorders are lonely. Even those closest to you can’t understand why you don’t just think positively and move on with your life. Anyone with mental illness knows that it isn’t that simple or easy. There is hope, however, through therapy, medication and other approaches. If you don’t know where to turn, the website PsychCentral.com is a good place to begin. If you want to read a fictional tale of Bipolar Disorder’s effect on one family, buy my book by clicking here. You’ll learn a lot and be entertained, too.