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.