If you have bipolar disorder, someone has said at least one of these things to you. If you know someone who has this illness, you may be guilty of saying one or more of them. Hearing them can be painful, infuriating, depressing - even destructive - to your bipolar family member, friend, co-worker or acquaintance. Saying them, I assure you, is NOT going to be helpful.
- "You're just overreacting again." Well yes, I am. Overreacting is a symptom of bipolar disorder. Hearing harsh words that would be painful to anyone, I may well respond with extreme anger or dark depression. Even a sad movie can make a person with bipolar disorder overreact, and so can a lot of other things. But I'm not "just" overreacting, and it's not as if I can always take a deep breath and stop it. My illness can make that very difficult.
Here's an example. When my boyfriend, who had already seen the movie, took me to see E.T., I started crying almost at the beginning. He leaned over and whispered to me, "I knew you were going to cry, but I didn't think it would be at the opening credits!" Trying to keep my voice down but feeling destroyed already, I replied, "He's so little! And he's lost!" (In case you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it. See E.T - The Extraterrestrial for information, including the trailer, and if you're interested in purchasing the video or DVD, you can compare prices here.)
- "Anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger." That's always garbage, no matter what you're talking about. Yes, it's true that some people who learn from bitter experiences can come out of it stronger. BUT - would you want to hear that while your child was seriously ill, or just after being fired? Would you say it to a mother with ten starving children in a country torn by war? Then why are you saying it to someone with an illness where 20% of patients attempt suicide? Bipolar disorder can kill. Don't forget that.
- "Everybody has mood swings sometimes." That's true. For one thing, 8% of American adults and 4% of adolescents have Major Depressive Disorder, having periods of euthymia and depression. And of course, even among those who do not have a diagnosable disorder that has mood swings, people have changes in mood. These are usually the result of changes in health or circumstances.
- "You are psycho." Or it might be "you are nuts," or crazy, cuckoo, deranged, bonkers, or any one of a dozen negative words that range from meaning as little as "silly (cuckoo)" to as bad as "completely unable to think clearly or behave properly (deranged)." Other phrases are things like "you're out of your head," or "you're off your rocker."
How much saying something like this is going to be a problem mostly depends on how it's said. I could tell a friend that I'm going to dig up a new 8x16 foot garden bed in one day. If my friend says, "Are you crazy?" it only means she thinks I've decided to do something I can't possibly complete in a single day (and she'd be right). But if I'm in an agitated depression and she says, "You're crazy!", the negativity is almost palpable.
- "Isn't that what serial killers have?" Actually, no, it isn't. A serial killer is far more likely to have Antisocial Personality Disorder and/or be psychopathic. (There are differences of opinion in the psychiatric community about these terms.) Bipolar disorder has been found not to be a common trait among people who fit the criteria for serial killers.
- "Everyone is a little bipolar sometimes." See "Everyone has mood swings sometimes" above.
- "I wish I was manic so I could get things done!" If you think that's all there is to mania, you are seriously uneducated, and you need to read Symptoms of Mania right away. The immediate retort that comes to my mind for this one is, "I wish you were manic, too, so you could finally understand what I'm going through!"
- "You're acting like a maniac!" Related to "You are psycho" above, this one is extremely offensive. Try reading Mania, Manic, Maniac to set yourself straight.
- "But you seem so normal!" Yes, maybe I do. Maybe I'm between, or maybe I'm good at hiding what I'm feeling. Or it might be that I'm in a hypomanic episode and only the good things about it are visible at the moment (see What Is Hypomania?). But suppose you have cancer or diabetes or Crohn's disease. How would you feel if I said, "You can't be sick, you look so normal!" I'm willing to wager than you'd be angry, too.
- "It must be your time of the month." Want to make a bipolar woman incensed? Say this to her. Better yet, don't. While it's true that monthly hormonal changes may affect mood, passing it off as being nothing more than PMS is just - wrong. Get your facts straight.
Depression Out of the Shadows: Statistics. From PBS.