Bipolar Denial – When Someone You love Can’t or Won’t Get Treatment

Compassion is the willingness to suffer with someone. It is not to suffer for them when they refuse to help themselves.

People who suffer from Bipolar disorder don’t suffer alone. Far from it, the people in their lives suffer too. It’s a heart breaking, gut wrenching experience to watch someone you love crawl through the black hole depths of depression or spiral into an out of control train wreck manic episode.

You may think “my God in heaven, if it was me going through this, I would be driving to the doctor going 180 miles an hour, up in the sidewalk if I have to,  to scream “Help me! Help me NOW, now, now – please.” But that is the reaction of a sane rational person. A person in the grips of untreated mental illness is not always, or sometimes rarely sane or rational.

Speaking as a person on the inside, I know that these episodes feel real – realer than real. “There’s nothing wrong with ME – you are the jerk, and you just don’t understand me. If you would just go away and leave me alone, everything will be fine.” It doesn’t matter if I’m up on the roof or hiding under the bed. It feels “normal” to be doing this. “If you felt like I feel you would be doing the same thing!”

It sounds and feels like talking to an alcoholic when they are drunk. There is no reasoning with someone when they are drunk or in the throes of mania. It’s a waste of time.

However, you as the loved one and or caregiver have a right to some semblance of sanity and a normal life. You do not have to accept unacceptable behavior and physical, emotional or verbal abuse. The person with bipolar or any other mental disorder still has to accept responsibility for their actions or refusal to act. If you get drunk and wrap your car around a telephone pole you are still responsible (read – accountable) for your actions. Being mentally ill is not an excuse to throw up your hands and say “hey, this is just me, this is who I am. Take it or leave it.”

Guess what? As the lover or caretaker you do not have to settle for “take it or leave it.” That is dichotomous – black or white thinking. Technically yes, a person with a disease has the right to refuse treatment. However, what they do not have is the right to insist that people continue to care for them and shoulder the brunt of the consequences of their refusal to take care of themselves and manage their illness.

It’s a loving and compassionate act to help someone when they are ill and bear with them as they are struggling and trying to find a way to treat and cope with an illness, in a responsible manner. It’s an ENABLING act to protect someone from the consequences of their actions and accept unacceptable behavior and refusal to seek treatment. It’s an unfortunate fact that sometimes you have to be responsible one, the grownup one, get tough and say “I’m not willing to continue living like this. I will not accept abuse, yelling, blaming, neglecting responsibility and throwing everything in my lap, while you feel free to spiral unchecked into insanity. I absolutely insist that you get help, immediately, if not sooner.”

It sucks to be in this situation. I know because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve had to play it hard as nails and tell someone I love “No, I’m not bailing you out of your pickle this time; you’re on your own. It’s time to accept the fact that you have a problem and deal with it. That’s not my job.” And then I’ve been on the crazy side. I know I’m hurting people around me with my own illness and I hate it when someone suggests that I need help. But when enough people tell me the same thing I start to wonder, “Hmm, maybe I really do need help.” But it’s really hard, because when I am in the throes of a manic episode it feels like I am the normal one and everyone else is crazy.

Think for a minute about what they tell you on an airplane. If the oxygen masks drops out of the ceiling you are supposed to put your mask on first before you try to help someone else. It’s the exact same thing when trying to care for someone with a mental disorder. Put your mask on first. Take care of yourself first and your children, if children are involved.

Also beware of falling into the trap of becoming desensitized by a ongoing out of control life. You may start thinking “hey, he’s not chasing me around with a kitchen knife, today is a good day.” If you find yourself feeling fear and loathing towards your loved one to the point that you want to flee the house -this is a strong indication that your loved one is so out of control that they are a danger to themselves or others. Take them to a hospital, if they resist, well that’s too bad. They NEED to go there. If they were laying in the floor bleeding you would take them to the ER, whether of not they wanted to go. This is of the same magnitude. Call their doctor, get a doctor if they don’t have one. But most of all take care of yourself first.  Draw a line and put your foot down. This is absolutely critical – it could be a matter of life or death.

22 responses

  1. This is the first time I’ve read anything on how to handle people with bipolar symptoms that won’t get help. Thank you for this information. My daughter is almost 50 years old. I’ve watched this behavior and her self-destruction for years. She won’t get help. Everyone else is the problem. More than once, when she was lashing out at me, I have said.. you need to get help. She would yell.. you need help, and lashes out every negative thing she can think of in my life and no matter what it was, it was my fault. However, nothing is ever her fault. She does work hard but her business is hanging on by a thread. When things get too much for her, she goes to bed and pulls the cover up over her head and sleeps. Her apartment is usually a wreck. She self medicates daily by drinking. She also takes prescription medication every night to relax. She had cancer years ago and went thru so much and was very brave but it magnified her behavior problems. I have helped her a lot but when she’s on a tear, it’s never enough. She is divorced and has two sons who are now teenagers. She loves her boys and would never do anything intentionally to hurt them, but cannot see that she is hurting them, and their memories of their home life are not going to be happy ones. Their father has let them down so many times since the divorce, which gives her more reason to put all blame on him. I love her and hurt for her but I can’t help her. Those boys have to live with her and I don’t. She has not been diagnosed with anything and can’t receive help until she is. My question is.. what can I say or do to help my grandsons, if anything.

    1. I am so sorry I haven’t replied sooner. I had an extreme bout of bipolar depression that lasted for over a year and almost gave up on life. But I’m back. Your story sounds exactly like what I’ve gone through with my daughter. Including her children. The only advise I can give you is to step back and let her live her life. It may be a horrible brutal life, but you can’t control her.

      My daughter has become so agressive and verbally abusive that I had to go no contact with her. Her number is blocked on my cell phone. She knows how to call my home number but has not done so in 2 years now.

      Again I opologize for the HUGE delay in responding 😳

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  3. How about this; just leave a person who is mentally ill and won’t get help. Not your problem. We are all, after all, in the self-actualization business, right?

    1. Well what if the someone you love is the parent of your children? Or some other similar situation. Leaving is an option true. But life is complicated.

  4. This is the most helpful advice/insight I have seen that has helped immeasurably through dealing with my darling husband of 15 years current highly disruptive manic episode. He only gets the highs but the advice on care versus enablement has been a mantra to me. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the article and the comments. I am dealing with the effects my wife of 18 yrs suffering with bipolar disorder. I have 4 small kids so can’t walk away. Not sure when this will end and how.

  5. It’s a rough situation, to deal with when someone is bipolar. My boyfriend of 4 yrs is bipolar and wont get help.He thinks he’s perfectly normal.He is a wonderful person but when those episodes kick in , I don’t like that person. Throughout the course of the relationship he accuses me of cheating. He puts recorders in my car, drives by job to see if my car is there, he downloaded software in my computer, and phone.. If I don’t in gage in sex with him I am cheating. He won’t accept responsibility for his actions. He can’t hold a job because someone is always out to get him.He can never get along with anybody on job.When he gets upset he breaks things and wants to take everything back.. he bought me.i ve even tried counseling. . HE Says he doesn’t have a problem, it’s me bc I keep sleeping around.. Just recently he broke up with me bc he said he found some sun glasses in my room , he said they belong to a truck driver….The funny thing is he bought the glasses a long time ago and doesn’t remember..He says throughout the course of relationship I’m cheating. ..i have put up with this illness for quite sometime. I’m finally at my wits end…i don’t have time or energy to let this consume me and wait for the wonderful person to come back…This illness has taken a toll , he doesn’t even have any friends…it should be required by law for people with mental issues to get help… I’m emotionally and physically drained…He has done so much I could write a book.

    1. One thing that you might try is to rewrite this comment for yourself and eliminate the word “bipolar” from the sentence. He is being extremely abusive and being bipolar is not an excuse. If this man was not bipolar and did all these things, would you accept the behavior? I hope not.

      If he refuses to get help that is his problem It does give him a free ticket to be an abusive possessive monster. It is not your responsibility to fix him or accept unacceptable behavior.

      Good luck to you. You are in a tricky situation to put it mildly.

    2. Wow your life sounds like mine. My bf of 8 yrs has just left me for the last time I think. It is different as he has not contacted me for 3weeks now but in txts still insists he loves me. Im very confused by this. Have you had any success since your post?

      1. Sorry to say not really. My daughter is an untreated bipolar. She tortures me with her long rambling texts. Some days she loves me. Other days she HATES me.

  6. My sister has dragged all of us through this burning battle field for years and years. She won’t accept real help, she’ll only lounge back and fall into a catatonic state of learned helplessness and because no one has the heart to leave her to rot in her own mess, someone will always be there to pick up her pieces and put everything back together– while she does nothing but whines and whimpers how her life is horrid and everyone around her is a horrid monster. Then she suddenly springs to life, buys 20 pet rats only to grow tired of them in three days and leave them for other people to take care of, while she goes out on her way and leases the house on impulse because she wants to move to Canada or enrolls in a $500 cooking course she never attends.

    She’s like a grownup 2-year-old who thinks the shoe can be both on her foot and off her foot simultaneously and loses her marbles when it’s just not possible.

    I’ve come to the end of my tether and I’m putting half the continent between myself and her. I have done everything I can to help her family so her children would suffer a little less but it’s broken me down spiritually. I grow tired and suicidal. I can only save myself now.

    1. My heart goes out to you. You can’t save your sister, that’s her job. I’m happy that you have reached the bottom and know you have to take care of yourself. Big hug! Get out there and live your own life. 🙂

    2. Getting a break from relatives sometimes can be a good thing. I once put an entire half a planet between myself and nutty family members. I moved all the the way to Guam and stayed there for 8 years.

  7. Great post. Hi, when I told my counsellor I try and make sure my BP hubby eats well, gets a walk in and sunshine and out to the movies she told me I was enabling him. I’ve also been told by his psyche my lack of support caused his mania. I give up. Maybe it’s got nothing to do with me. He is in denial as to the impact of this condition on him, me , us and everyone else. So are his children, mother and siblings and he won’t let me tell my family so I’m stuck with it. He’s in hospital now. I think I could get used to being single and it’d be hard to leave him but I can’t understand why he does nothing to help himself. Like apart from meds. And ect. He’s not violent but we now have no friends as they have all gotten bored with his bragging stories and repetitive ways. If he doesn’t follow up after ect with some changing of ways and challenging his beliefs and so on I will leave. I feel totally resentful that I married someone who was quite nice and now has worn me down. When I had depression I worked my butt off with a psyche for five years because I thought it was unfair on him and our marriage. But he can’t stick with anyone unless they are all sympathy and no action. He just wants to be ‘normal’ but not do anything to get to whatever he thinks normal is. I’ve sat in on consults with him and he lies to the mental health people and I’m torn as to whether or not to call his bluff.

    I haven’t quite given him an ultimatum but I’ve challenged his lies this time so hoping he can stop denying the impact of this on everything. I’m slowly losing the person and all I see is bipolar and I’ve had enough. I see no future.

    It looks like you have found a way to have a life.

  8. This is how I know you’re going to come out of this okay. You understand the big picture involved. ((Hugs))

    1. Sometimes I almost, but not quite, wish I didn’t see the big picture. But sticking my head in the sand isn’t going to help much either 🙂

  9. What a wonderfully honest post! I know you have been on both sides and can see it from both sides. I hope people can see that and seek help for their loved ones and convince them to accept it. It isn’t easy but it is necessary.

    1. Thank you Maire. This is my hope also that people will seek help. Trying to live in a house with an untreated mental disorder is waaaay beyond the 7th level of hell.

  10. Wonderful post. I had a family member with it and she was enabled. It was soo bad for everyone including herself.

    1. Oh, I’m terribly sorry to hear that. It’s so sad when the whole family get’s sucked down into the vortex of untreated mental illness hell. The whole family suffers for years or decades and even generations, which is the case in my family.

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