How to deal with Bipolar (Mood) Disorder

by cherylone

There is Hope! Bipolar Disorder can be difficult to deal with, but with the right tools you can successfully work with someone suffering from Bipolar Disorder.

My first reaction, when I found that someone I love had Bipolar Disorder, was to vehemently deny it. After all, that meant that they were crazy and couldn't take care of themselves; it meant years in a mental institution with no hope for the future; and it meant they would never be able to function in society on their own, RIGHT? WRONG! I wanted to help everyone who has, or will have, to deal with this issue because there really is hope!

Bipolar Disorder can be difficult to deal with, under the best of circumstances

However, with the right tools and a lot of patience, you can work with someone with Bipolar Disorder very easily.  Although someone with Bipolar Disorder can change moods at the drop of a dime, creating havoc and mayhem, and try the patience of the easiest going; if you know how to deal with it, and what is going on inside of them, you can keep things moving smoothly, quietly, and easily.  Bipolar Disorder is not a death warrant, it is a disease that can be treated.   If you believe you, or someone you know, has Bipolar Disorder seek medical assistance.  The disorder will only get worse if left untreated. 

Before we go any further, let's learn what Bipolar Disorder is and how it affects an individual

First, Bipolar Disorder Happy to sad, to happy very quickly.was previously known as Manic Depressive.  Bipolar Disorder is partially genetic----now don’t go getting yourself all worked up thinking you passed this horrible disease on to your child--most children with a family history do not develop the illness.  And, although children with a family history of Bipolar Disorder are four to six times more likely to develop the disease, genetics is not the only factor; in fact it is not the most dominate factor according to what they have discovered so far.  Some studies have shown that excess chemicals produced in the body, or the lack of some chemicals, can cause the disease onset.  These chemical imbalances can be caused by pollution, poor eating, poor health, or a simple imbalance in the system.  Environmental factors have been found to have a significant affect on the development of the disease.  Other studies have shown that someone who is susceptible to the disease might develop it faster if there is a high level of stress in their lives.  The full causes of Bipolar Disorder are not yet known and are still being studied.

Bipolar Disorder affects different people in different ways

The young, the in-between, and the old

First, their emotions can swing from one end of the scale to the other in a quick moment with no apparent cause.  Next, a person who is Bipolar may have difficulty socializing with those of their own age and training.  They may socialize better with much older or much younger people.  Also, someone with Bipolar Disorder may have difficulty living day to day without a set schedule that is followed to the letter.  They can’t have spontaneity without great anxiety, and often lose control of their emotions becoming combative and angry for little, or no, apparent reason.  A person with Bipolar Disorder can’t handle change very well; they can’t be given more than one set of instructions at a time; they can’t handle crowds; they can’t handle criticism; and they can’t handle silence.  No matter what the issue, Bipolar Disorder means that they have no control over the incidents or their responses to them.    

Let's see if we can give you an idea of how someone with Bipolar Disorder feels in a difficult situation

Imagine that you are at the beach enjoying a great book.  A child runs by and distracts you from it with flying sand and loud shouts--you grow angry enough to grab the child and beat them--you are confused because you know you shouldn’t hurt them--your mind is screaming--your head is aching--the noise around you becomes unbearable--you begin to scream and tug your hair out trying to do what is expected of you but unable to do so--you have the urge to run--you can’t stand or sit still--you want to hurt yourself even more--people are yelling and confusing you--you can’t take it anymore and you do something to try to get control like screech at everyone to just shut up while you slap at anyone close by you--now, you are in trouble and you don’t even know why-you try to cover your ears and block everything out, with no success-you feel yourself loosing complete control-the harder you try to gain control, the louder and more physical people around you become…….Sounds ridiculous, right?  But that is exactly what someone with Bipolar Disorder suffers on a daily basis.

5 Types of Bipolar Disorder

What can you do to help?

What is the first step?

The first and most important step is understanding; someone with Bipolar Disorder cannot control what they do and how they react to things.  Once they begin to lose control of their situation, they are lost unless you can step in and help.  Understand that they are not being mean or cruel or violent on purpose, they need your help.  In fact, they want your help; it is the only solution for them; however, they can’t ask for it because they don’t know how.  That sounds crazy but it is true.  They find themselves in a situation that they can’t get out of and they know it is bad, wrong, incorrect, whatever you want to call it, but that only adds to their confusion. 

Now that you understand Bipolar Disorder

How do you work with it?

That is not easy because each situation becomes a unique opportunity to be more creative than the person with whom you are dealing.  Before you do anything, seek advice from the person's counselor if possible.  Their counselor will have insight into their individual situation and can suggest ways to help.  Talk to the person, they may want you to be a part of their therapy.  Also, there are a few common items that can help.

Keep it calm:

When the person is beginning to lose control, they are often loud, obnoxious, rude, perhaps even violent to those around them; you must remain calm.  This will create a pocket, or window, in which you can emotionally reach the person and help them to calm down.  Speak softly, which will cause them to have to quiet down to hear you.  Speak clearly using facts for emphasis.  Speak politely (this gives them a chance to respond in kind and helps to guide them back to reality).  For instance:  "Gary, please tell me what happened so I can help you."  NOT "Gary stop that, do you know what you look like?  You're embarassing me!"

Keep it easy:

The person needs to know that you are not condemning them for their actions, you are trying to help them work through the situation.  They need you to give them an easy path they can follow.  They need you to give them a hand and lead them back.  It's kind of like the victim who is drowning suddenly finding a life-jacket has been inflated around them and they are suddenly safe.  For example:  "Joan, honey, why don't you come with me and we can talk about it."  NOT "Oh, for crying out loud, Joan, can't you do anything without yelling?"

Use stress relievers (coping skills) to distract them:

Give them something to distract them from the issue that is causing the problem.  They will direct their attention to the new item and will be able to calm down.  Then you can discuss the issue quietly, calmly, and productively.  These items are called ‘coping skills’ and can be as simple as a stress ball or as complicated as an incomplete friendship bracelet for them to finish.  Coping skills items should be kept with the person at all times. 

Work with the person to find things that will help them (not you) and provide them with a container or bag to carry their items.  Be sure to use items they already like and have done so that it is not too complicated when they need to calm down.  Also make sure there are more than 1 or 2 items so they can choose. 

Keep it within their abilities:

The person will need to be able to focus on something other than what has occurred; however, if you give them something they don’t understand they will get more worked up trying to understand it.  Using pre-chosen items that you know the person can do and likes to do will help to draw them away from the issue and help to get them back on track. 

Ideas for Teens:

  1. Have them write in a journal
  2. Have them keep a stress ball handy
  3. Have them use mini puzzle boards or blocks
  4. Have them race from one place to another
  5. Have them blow up a balloon or two
  6. Have them work on a drawing
  7. Have them do something they love to do

 Ideas for Adults:

  1. Have them write in a journal
  2. Have them keep a stress ball handy
  3. Have them do a small craft like leather work or crocheting
  4. Have them read a favorite poem
  5. Have them read a book they like
  6. Have them walk around the block-or the house
  7. Have them Breathe Deeply while thinking of their favorite things

Places like Joann's, Walmart, and Staples have many items that can be used as 'coping skills'.

Don't nit-pic:

The little things that may be annoying but aren’t really hurting anything should be ignored.  Of course, that may be difficult at best, but if you can do it, the results will amaze you.  For example, if they are tapping their foot on the ground near you or they are humming something loudly, pretend it doesn't bother you.  They often do these things to try to focus and if you stop it, they may lose control.

Dealing with a person with Bipolar Disorder isn't as complicated as you think

Once you, and they, have the tools they need.

Someone with Bipolar Disorder can lead a normal life with help, patience, and understanding.  So, can a person with Bipolar Disorder be productive in today’s society?  Yes, if they are trained to recognize the pattern that leads them to lose control and given the tools they need to break the pattern.  Bipolar People tend to be extremely intelligent and they tend to have little common sense.  Work with them.  Teach them.  Do not condemn them for any mistakes even if they seem foolish to you.  Compliment them when they succeed no matter how small the success is in your eyes.  Understand that they can learn to cope on their own.

Bipolar Disorder often co-exists with other issues which also must be addressed in order to be productive.  Issues like substance abuse, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), ADHD, and ADD.  In fact, often Bipolar Disorder is misdiagnosed as ADHD.

If you know someone with Bipolar Disorder

Remember the steps above and the things you have learned.  This will help you, and them, to cope with this disease that has begun to spread among so many people.  By helping them cope, you are helping them become the productive citizens they were meant to be; and you are helping others see that it can be overcome!

Updated: 03/20/2019, cherylone
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cherylone on 01/29/2013

Angel, I am so very glad you found my article helpful. We have dealt with it for many years. My Granddaughter who lives with me is now 9 and may be getting an entirely new diagnosis--I wonder what this one will be! I hope the meds and counseling have helped and I hope things get better for you real soon because it sounds like you have had you hands full for some time. Good Luck to you and your family.

Angel on 01/27/2013

Was doing a little more research on Bipolar disorder and came across your great article. You are so right about it being harder to diagnose in children. My 13 yr old son was just re-tested by a psychologist and his primary diagnosis in now Bipolar. At ages 4 and 8 his diagnosis was ADHD, ODD, with symptoms of Bipolar. Many of the symptoms are very similar to ADHD in children as I am sure you know. I also have 3 other children. One more that has ADHD (or is it Bipolar? hmmm.) Life is an emotional roller coaster in my house. It all depends on what my son's mood is like that day. It affects our entire family. Now that I know for sure he is Bipolar I have some sense of relief. Nothing seemed to work for any period of time before and now I feel like we know what he has and there are different options to treat it from medicine to counseling. We have just started him on a mood stabilizer and hope to see some benefit from it soon. Fighting the public school system to get him on an IEP program that they have denied him for since 1st grade. Until now his grades have always been C or better. I have gone and had the meetings every year only to be given informal accomodations or a 504 plan. Middle school has really paralyzed him mentally. Now his grades are all Fs. Also, now his diagnoses is listed on the 13 diagnoses that are considered for an IEP through the public school.. Believe it or not, ADHD is not specifically listed. I plan to appeal it this year if he is denied. I will stop rambling now. Just wanted to let you know I enjoyed your article and there is someone else out here affected by this disorder. Feel free to private message me to chat about it at any time. It helps to talk to others who are dealing with it everyday. Not only do I have a child with it but thinking about getting evaluated myself since I have been told that I do have a "mood disorder"...... but that could mean a whole spectrum of things.

cherylone on 09/22/2012

Boy have you got that right. It is even more difficult to accurate diagnose in children and my young grandchild has it along with ADHD and a high intelligence rating. Poor kid. I'm glad you were finally diagnosed because it can be very hard to live with, as I'm sure you know.

BrendaReeves on 09/22/2012

I was diagnosed with bipolar about 6 years ago. I'm actually a very easy going person though. The diagnosis has been expanded in recent years to bring in other disorders/behaviors. I actually figured out that I had it because of the ads in magazines. I could check off everything on the list. I shared what I thought with my psychiatrist and he agreed. It can take up to 10 years to get an accurate diagnosis because it's after you've destroyed your life, that it becomes obvious.

cherylone on 07/31/2012

Some of the things we have found to work well is exposure to sunlight. It seems to help them build a type of chemical in their system that calms them down. No meds needed. Maybe you can get your friend out in the sun more.... It is extremely hard to work with someone like that because you never know who or what you will be dealing with.

katiem2 on 07/31/2012

Me too, it is really sad to see a person behaving in such an offensive manner and all the while they firmly believe (maybe they don't) they are acting in an appropriate manner. The one thing that stands out to me in his regard is his unwavering rude comments. You may ask if anyone would like a bagel, he will say yes, he will then complain about the bagel. Everyone knows you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. One day he will be most grateful and the next rude and critical. Hard working with someone like that.

cherylone on 07/23/2012

katiem2, thank you for your support. I hope your friend changes his mind because Bipolar Disorder is hard enough to deal with when you are on medication for it. I know, I have a relative with Bipolar Disorder.

katiem2 on 07/23/2012

Sadly I know someone with bipolar mood disorder who refuses to be treated, once diagnosed he refused to take anything for it or receive any therapy. He says he likes it and doesn't want to change a thing. Hmmmm he's really talented man but everyone is backing away from him as he is so difficult. HE thinks he's always right and God like or he's really sad and down on himself. It's so difficult to watch. This was a great and helpful article. Very well written. Thank you :)K

cherylone on 07/20/2012

terry, you are so right. When a family member was first diagnosed, I was the same way. Now I understand it so much better and know that people with mental illness are no different from people with any other illness. Thank you for reading and commenting.

terry on 07/20/2012

Good info. My wife is bipolar, and makes no attempt to hide it. She is very suspenseful in life, just started working on her phd in bio chem. She has had her battles, most recently with a job that treated her very differently and would not give her the accommodation that were required by law.

The world needs to get over there fear of mental illness so people that have problems can feel like they don't have to to hide things and get the help they need/want.

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