Staci's husband has bipolar disorder. When we asked, "How can family members help a BP person?" Stacy wrote this:
As a spouse of a BP, I don't think there is a "correct" way to be supportive. Everyone is different, and I think it all depends on the person on how their family should treat them.
I used make all my husband's doctors' appointments, call for prescription refills, etc. After he received the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, my continuing to do these things allowed him to deny that BP was his illness and that he needed to deal with it. So I quit! I will do these things occasionally when needed, but I made him responsible for his appointments (I don't even remind him when they are), and he has to call in and pick up his meds, etc.
I do not count his pills. I do not ask him if he is taking his meds. Even though we have our trust issues on other things, I have made him responsible for doing these things and trust him to do so.
We are still working on other things. Otherwise, for now, I treat him like any other wife would treat her husband. I do not baby him, but I do try to remain understanding of the curve balls BP throws at him.
--by Staci, About.com Bipolar forum member
The Take-Home Message
Staci makes some great points. Being supportive is not "one size fits all." And it's essential to observe both your behavior and that of your family member to see where you can help - and where you may be "helping" too much. Staci realized that what had been helpful behavior at one point became enabling behavior later - and took positive action.
It's not always going to be easy to tell the difference between a bipolar disorder symptom and a behavior that's a response to your own actions or to circumstances. Is your husband sulking over something you said, or is he really depressed? Is your wife angry at you for something you did, or is she in a mixed state that causes her to be angry at the world?
If Staci's husband - or yours - becomes too depressed to make his own appointments or keep up with his meds, the thing to do is takes over temporarily. If your wife is in denial about her diagnosis of bipolar disorder, look to see if you are doing something that makes denial easier for her. Supportive behavior isn't static - it has to be adjusted to fit the present circumstances. Not easy - but the results can be very rewarding!