I've had some incredibly touching experiences in the midst of my struggles with bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, it's also par for the course that I've had some really shitty ones too. Over the last decade, I've heard so many things, like 'There's nothing really wrong with you, you're just an attention whore" or 'It's all in your head", and to that I cheerily reply, "Of course it is happening inside my head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” I feel like Dumbledore would be proud.
I've come up with a list of phrases I've heard over the last 20 yeas or so that you should never say to someone with bipolar disorder, and why it shouldn't be said.
"Snap out of it."
I really hate this expression because it insinuates I'm choosing to act this way, whatever way that might be. That I have a switch I can flip to go back to 'normal'. Fighting the struggles of bipolar disorder is an all encompassing job, and to imply that I'm not doing all I can to feel better is insulting. Sometimes all I can do is make it from my bed to my couch, which is the equivalent of a hike up Mount Everest when I'm depressed. When walking 20 feet is too much to handle, 'snapping out of it', is an even more impossible task.
"Why are you doing this to me?"
Talk about a guilt trip from hell. I really despise this because the person is making you feel even worse about something you can't control, by implying that yo're doing this on purpose, to be vindictive, or for any other reason. They're trying to make you own their emotions, and give you weight to carry that you don't need to carry.
"Happiness is a choice."
Oh. Ohhhhh, This one really gets to me. Yes, there are choices you can make to lead to happiness, but there is more to it than that. There are other people that can affect your path to happiness. There's neurotransmitters that affect your happiness. There are situational factors that affect it as well. I'm a fan of Viktor Frankl, who was able to find happiness in the most extreme of circumstances, the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. He even created a school of thought from what he learned there, called logotherapy. He knew that you couldn't just choose happiness, you had to work for it. Albus Dumbledore once said, "Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." I love this quote because it reminds me that what I focus on is what I see best. If I'm dwelling in the dark, I'm not going to find happiness.
"Have you thought of trying <insert random herb here>?" or "You should get off all those pills."
I know this one is well meaning, and usually brought up in a loving manner, but to me, it's still patronizing AF. It hurts because I have a doctor, and 99% of the people in my life know I have a doctor, and we work quite well as a team to keep me stable. I'm not going to risk my stability on an herb that could have grave consequences should I try it. And quitting my meds? I've burned so many bridges that the people suggesting me didn't know me when I was off all those pills. They wouldn't want to see that, ever. I know I don't.
"You've got it so good, why are you depressed?"
This one hurts, probably the most to me right now. I am fully aware of how incredible my life is, how blessed I am, and everything I have to be grateful for. I still cry big tears of sadness, and feel like I don't deserve any of it. It's possible to have a great life and still be depressed when you're bipolar. Pointing out everything great doesn't make the depression go away, it just makes me hate myself more for being an ungrateful brat.
So, what CAN you say to someone with bipolar disorder? You can say, "I see you've been struggling lately, what can I help with?". You can say, "I see you, and am here with you.". You can even just be silent, and sit, and give your presence as a show of solidarity with the person struggling. You can just listen, instead of talking. You can offer a hug. I know for me, I had one experience in the psych ward where I was just devastated, and the tears wouldn't stop coming, and the nurse on duty just came and sat with me. And listened. And just her presence was enough to calm me down. She then gave me a hug and gave me an encouraging platitude, and it was enough. I've never forgotten that, even though I'm sure she doesn't remember this at all by now. Never underestimate the power of silence.
We just want to be accepted as we are, warts and all. Treat us as you would want to be treated. And remember this above all; in a world where you can be anything, be kind.