Words are powerful. Even with the best of intentions, we can lose sight of this fact. But when we are careless about our words to someone with bipolar we can easily shatter his self-esteem or motivation for recovery. We asked someone living with bipolar for some oft-used phrases that are particularly insensitive. Stephen Propst, public speaker and coach, weighs in:
“You sound a little down today.”
Most people with a mental illness know how they feel. Being told you are not sounding well is not constructive, nor is it a substitute for true compassion. People who live with bipolar disorder don’t always feel 100 percent; however, they don’t wish to have their symptoms constantly gauged or evaluated. “It’s like having a never-ending physical,” says Propst.
“You’re too smart to have bipolar disorder.”
This somehow implies that one could prevent such a disorder or, even worse, that someone less smart is more “deserving” of such an illness. The brain, like any organ in the body, is subject to having problems. It is cruel to say something that suggests that bipolar disorder doesn’t exist, isn’t legitimate, or isn’t as significant as any other medical condition.
“You know he’s ‘bipolar,’ don’t you?”
Reducing someone to the illness he faces is destructive. In fact, it is cruel to see a person only through the lens of a diagnosis. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. A person who has bipolar disorder should not be defined by that with which he might struggle. Guard your tongue. Focus on the person you know and love, and dwell on all that makes that individual special.
“Stop acting like a fool!”
Granted, some conduct associated with bipolar disorder can be very difficult to contend with. When you realize, however, that a particular behavior is actually symptomatic and born of the illness, it makes accepting and dealing with it much easier. With education and patience, these families come to realize that there is an explanation for what they’ve been witnessing.
“It doesn’t take much to set you off!”
Those living with bipolar disorder are often more vulnerable and responsive to what happens around them. When you make careless statements, your tongue becomes a trigger that can rouse a reaction and escalate symptoms. You unnecessarily incite a mood change in the person you really want to help.
“I thought you were taking your medication.”
Dealing successfully with bipolar disorder cannot be reduced to whether or not someone has taken a pill. There are no quick fixes. Confronting a chronic, serious illness is an ongoing process, and there are bound to be ups and downs. The more you take the time to learn about bipolar disorder, the more you will understand how difficult managing such a condition can be.
“You’re lazy and don’t have a life anymore.”
Are you pushing someone who has bipolar disorder to get on with life? Doing so might create stress, counteract recovery techniques, and worsen overall health. If you have a family, a job, social engagements, etc., consider yourself not only lucky, but also far apart from the typical individual who deals with bipolar disorder. Such a person has often dealt with a radical departure from any sense of a normal routine. Recovery takes time and work, and the role you play is critical.
“Don’t take everything so personally.”
With bipolar disorder, there are obvious physical symptoms, such as changes in appetite or sleep; the mind, as well as the brain, is impacted. The patient’s self-esteem also takes a tremendous hit. That’s why a promised phone call that never comes may be taken much harder than you might imagine. Likewise, saying things that ignore or make light of someone’s sense of self-esteem should be avoided.
“You seem a little overly enthusiastic.”
Remember that someone who has bipolar disorder is still entitled to a personality. Just because someone may be energetic, outgoing and expressive, he shouldn’t be accused of being manic, especially if he’s not displaying any manic symptoms. It’s cruel to strip a person of his personality merely because he has a diagnosis—everyone is entitled to a full, normal range of emotions.
“We used to have high hopes for you.”
From a mother at a support group: “My son was going to be a doctor and have a wonderful family, but now he has bipolar disorder.” Such a statement is not healthy, because it does not convey unconditional love. What you say does matter. Remember that we are all human beings, not human “doings;” the more you acknowledge our being, the more we can end up doing. There is no need to squash hope or diminish dreams.
via bpHope – bp Magazine Community