November 9, 2008

Great shot you did with your post “Keeping a Cool Head when Bipolar Heats Up” If you’d like to take a title for my story, I thought about something like “Take action to change your partner’s reaction.”

I can approve the fact that staying cool by yourself is VERY important to deal with your partner’s bipolar disorder. And staying cool is also what influences a lot in which way and how intensive a mood change may then actually appear (and how you experience it) and how long it will stay. I can say (my girlfriend has bipolar II and some other issues resulting from years of mental abuse in the last relationship) that I found very fast a way to deal with her mood changes, so I saw that my reaction, like you described, is making a big difference. Depending on the situation (and that is I guess something really person-related) I do not doubt to interrupt her also strict and to ask clearly “WHAT IS WRONG?” looking with a question mark in my face, and also showing with the body language (open hands towards, no aggressions showing) that I REALLY do not understand.

It’s no silver bullet, but it does work very often. If it does not help, and I cannot figure out what is the reason, I start asking questions regarding the last hours that might illuminate the reason and in case she over-talks me, I either stop talking and don’t comment and wait for a reaction on that, or I continue speaking without getting loud what I wanted to say (or even in some cases irrational things to reflect my opinion about “not being on the same page”). I also agreed with her in silent times, about a keyword for each of us to make the other aware of not being happy with how the “discussion” is going (I use STOP, she uses ATTENTION please). It does not work 100% but if it works once and an issue can be resolved satisfactorily, it will work more and more often.

Also joining a local support group does make sense, to see, learn and share with others and their families how to deal with it. We found our support group (and are very happy about) through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. They also have some good information and media. I personally do not see it as an illness, but just as a part of her, and putting some efforts in learning about your partner, may even result in a much deeper relationship than you were used before!

So here’s what I can add to your advice:

  • Start using a personal calendar together with your partner. Don’t leave her/him alone with it (you find them Googling or on the mentioned website, just search for calendar) tracking all related things, visits, supports, medicine.
  • A mood calendar tracking mood changes through the day, leaving enough space to note the reason, time, duration, the level of mood, what was done to resolve it, what can be done to avoid it. She has always one with her, to be flexible with that, and we make a short re-cap in the evening (and yes, there are days where you do not make any note, and that is GOOD when nothing appeared). Collect these mood trackings – they are great in understanding situations and avoiding stupid “edge points” in the future. And your partner will be sometimes speachless, reflecting herself or himself and learning understanding. Also for the therapy and the medication it may have an unexpected impact, so it can be much better expressed (documentation) what was happening and what the personal needs maybe really are.
  • Find a local support group, learn and share, get specific support if needed.
  • Discuss with your partner your feelings and worries.
  • Agree on a keyword (you one to make your partner aware of you being out of context, your partner one, to make you aware that even if her/his mood is right now explosive, she/he needs your attention, something important seems to bother her/him).
  • Use not only words, but the body language and mimic to express yourself.
  • Ask frequently how she/he is doing . When being told about the day and what he/she did listen and when you think a happening had some impact, ask if you are right with what you think.
  • Make compliments if you begin to sense that a situation which was “taken wrong” before had no impact anymore (mood trackings help).
  • Offer solutions and don’t ask questions like “what do you want me to do?” in case of a surprising situation. If your partner would know it, she/he would tell you.
  • If something hurt you , discuss it later in an open and not blaming way.
  • Set some borders (when necessary) and address them with your partner in a silent moment. You are still her/his partner, and he/she should be aware of the fact that some things are just “not ok” like, for example, insults. In case it appears, use the agreed word(s) to make her/him aware of it. If she/he does not react, stay strict but calm (so not aggressive, raising the voice is not screaming) and repeat your complaint (for example: STOP! if over-talked… STOPPPP now! As soon you have for a little moment the attention, describe the agreed-upon boundary that was crossed. For example, you might say something like “Do you remember how you just called me twice? I do believe you just went a bit far, didn’t you? So before you really hurt me and in the end yourself, now you can still stop it!” If the issue was discussed before, I can say, it worked/works great. There is no need of to take a devote/submissive position and accepting certain treatment (anger management and the support groups may help there).
  • NEVER try to put yourself into the victim position in front of your friends or family.
  • Help your partner if he/she wishes to talk about this to someone.
  • Do not talk around about it with others. People do not listen properly and can turn around your words easily. It may be a big trust issue, when your partner hears from a friend who heard from a friend that you told a friend that your wife always before getting the monthly period turns into a blood-leeching monster who only can be drugged into normality. And you told someone that this month it was pretty hard to stay calm, so your wife was very sensitive due to her headache)… again a local support group is a great deal.
  • If you hear some rumors, confront them. Your partner is not mentally retarded and a psycho. He or she just gets sometimes the wrong direction and was brave enough to deal with it. Stay calm but direct, nobody has the right to make a talk show out of it.
  • People with a sensitive skin, need a higher sun blocker, people who have an allergy need to avoid confrontation with the substance. The same with BP, take preventive actions, and see the improvements.
  • Respect, care, ask, ask twice, reflect, support, understand, discuss, research, ask professionals, listen, suggest, laugh, hug, smile, flirt , kiss, love, share, give , take, live your life, and enjoy your partnership! I wish you all the best! Don’t give up. You will soon miss the thrill 🙂


I apologize for mistakes …. English is my 3rd tongue / language