Worn Out From the Advice of Others? Me Too! 

Last Updated: 6 Aug 2018

When people try to help, but offer advice that is stigmatizing, you can learn responses to keep the words from doing more damage and causing tempers to flare.

Photo: Getty Images

By Julie Fast


You’re not alone if you find yourself having conversations with people who say they care, but end up hurting you with their words. This is an illness that needs to be taken seriously, but is often taken lightly due to our lack of physically noticeable symptoms. Here are a few of the ways society and those who care about us can harm our ability to take care of ourselves.

People who want to help have good hearts, but sometimes I wonder if their brains are in gear when they talk!

We are often worn out because our bipolar is not taken seriously enough and we are expected to keep it together just like everyone else. Here are two situations you might have experienced and a few ideas on how to handle them in the future.

  1. “You will be better if you pray more. Spirituality is the answer Julie. When you see life in a different way, your mood swings will end. Think of the possibilities! You can control this bipolar with your belief in something bigger than yourself!” Nope. Spirituality in any form can provide unbelievable support. But telling us that we will get better if we change our relationship with an outside entity causes more harm than it helps. If spirituality were the answer for bipolar disorder, I and people like myself who were raised in a very metaphysical world would be better through our thinking. If spirituality were the answer, people who believed in a religion would be better through prayer. You don’t have to agree with me on this.  I’m simply telling you what makes many of us sick. Provide help and solace to us by offering the comfort of a spiritual practice, but telling us it will change our mood swings is dangerous.
  1. “Julie, you can have a better life if you just mellowed out and didn’t get so upset.” Well, well, well. Let me translate this into words that might make more sense.  Pretend for a moment that I have insulin dependent diabetes. It runs in my family and although I watch my diet and exercise, I need my insulin pump. Imagine saying this to me: “Julie, you will have a better functioning pancreas if you just mellowed out and didn’t get so upset. You’re in control of that pancreas and you simply aren’t trying hard enough. You could make insulin if you wanted to.”  Image talking that way to someone! We would not allow it.  I don’t allow it with my bipolar either.

You might wonder what you can say when someone is kind, but unthinking. Below are a few scripts you can use. I’ll start with what we want to say, but in the spirit of keeping our relationships strong and out of respect that people truly do want to help us, I have created scripts that I actually use when faced with the above situations.

Spiritual Practice Conversations: 

What I want to say:    Why are you talking to me as though I don’t have my own spiritual practice! What makes you think that your ideas are better than mine and that somehow I’m doing something wrong!? What the heck is wrong with you? Your words make me feel terrible! I feel that you think I’m causing the rotten illness and truly don’t think you have one ounce of understanding of what I go through. Thanks for nothing! 

A different response and one that I use often:

Thank you for sharing your beliefs with me. I respect what you are saying and know that you’re thinking about my health in a positive way.  I appreciate this. Please know that I respect the role spirituality plays in your life and I thank you for wanting this for me. I am finding my way around this topic and will keep what you say in mind. I see bipolar as an illness that I manage. It is not a spiritual crisis in my world. 

Our Ability to Manage Our Mood Swings Conversations:

What I want to say:  Oh my god! Did you really just say that? Did you really just say that I’m not doing enough to manage this very real mental illness that kills people all over the world! Did you REALLY just try to tell me that I could do more when I am at full on management capacity 24 hours a day! How on earth do you think these words will help me? You are out of your mind! 

Ah, it feels good to rant, but talking this way serves nothing. If we’re here to stay stable and to have strong relationships, it’s up to us to educate people on what we need.

A different response:

Thank you for sharing your ideas with me. I have a feeling that my illness is frustrating for you. It is for me as well. Bipolar is a very complex illness that’s difficult to treat. I’m doing all I can to get better at this time.  It helps me if you can learn more about the symptoms of bipolar and what many of us feel when the illness is going strong. I know how hard it is for the world to understand an illness that is so invisible, but I need you to hear that it’s very real for me and what I need is support. I’m open to changing and I’m open to learning better management practices. I’m not here to put myself down for being sick. 

Ah. Let’s think ahead to what we will say when kind people say dumb things. And, let’s make a pact with ourselves that we WILL do everything to manage this illness successfully. No excuses. Management is key.


Learn more:

How to Explain Everyone DOES NOT Have a Form of Bipolar Disorder

Relationships and the Bipolar Trap

About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of "Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder," "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder," "Get it Done When You’re Depressed" and "The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder." She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
  1. I hate it when my husbands best advice to me is to just calm down. I wanna say go fuck yourself but I can’t it would be seen as even more hostile…Thank you for your words.

  2. Julie and Justin,

    I really get what the both of you are saying. My irritation comes from people who don’t understand our illness or people who think they can give you life advice, as though they’re so enlightened when they are far from it.

    Currently, I deal with the “you just need to pray more”, the “maybe you should meditate”, the “you should exercise more”, and my favorite, the “nothing is wrong with you, you just need to stop letting things get you worked up; you need to stop being so moody”. I’m always two seconds away from unleashing every curse word in my vocabulary every time I hear these things, but since I can’t always do that, I either ignore them or stop talking to them.

    I once talked about how the treatment of our disorder is a team effort. Spirituality and exercise is something I agree with, but I don’t need you talking to me like you know my spiritual relationship or my fitness state. I never take the meditation advice because I don’t know how. No amount of books or articles can teach me how, because my brain is so much in overdrive that I wouldn’t be able to relax long enough anyway.

    The people who like to say there’s nothing wrong with us, stop being so moody, and stop being so upset, to put it nicely: shut up.

    I can go all day about this, but this is only a comment section; I can be long-winded when writing (LOL!). Thanks for these piece, Julie. You took the words out of my mouth (head).

  3. Julie from what I am told by people that are bipolar you have hit every nail on the head. Not one person likes to be told what to do to get better when they are sick especially when they know their illness and the person who is commenting hasn’t a clue!

    1. I agree. But I can also say that people who do say these things are well meaning. They just need gentle educating!

  4. Hello Justin. One of the greatest comments ever! Thank you. I agree with you on every point- especially Eat, Pray, Love. One of my least favorite books of all time. My friends disagree. HEHE. I have never been able to meditate silently in all of my life. It actually increases my symptoms. I can do guided meditations with someone’s voice, sound bowls and music though! I have had to find my own ‘spiritual’ path. I do believe we need something outside ourselves- after we discover the SELF that is not bipolar. I wish you luck with your stability. Great comment! Julie

  5. Great points, Julie.

    At one point, I had to confront 3 friends who are all into meditation to basically stand down with the non-stop suggestions that I meditate.

    Meditation, it seems, has become very fashionable in the US over the last 5 or so years.

    Personally, I agree with the Dalai Lama who says that a Westerner shouldn’t practice meditation because we know nothing substantial of the 6,000 years of Buddhism that is the basis for the techniques.

    Americans, like in so many myriad areas of our lives, take a commercialized, superficial approach to this junk spirituality, asking us “What can meditation get me?” Or “How can it fix me?”

    Even the CEO of Goldman Sachs mentioned his mediation practice to the WSJ, saying that meditation helps him remain calmer during volatile market shifts.

    How typical… an American takes an ancient spiritual practice he knows nothing about and turns it into a money- making thing.

    Along similar lines is the absurdity inherent in the film Eat Pray Love. Plot: miserable middle aged american woman escapes drudgery of her pathetic existence to seek enlightenment and simplicity among the people of an ancient culture.

    C’mon…. if you bought a ticket to that movie, maybe your right to reproduce should be revoked.

    The irritation I’m expressing here with regards to forced spirituality has the same root as bipolar people’s frustration with peers, parents, spouses and friends who offer too much advice: ignorance.

    Knowledge about how bipolar actually works matters. My friends meant well, but none are clinicians, psychotherapists, or medical doctors. They were telling me what worked for them, which is great. It’s kind. It’s what people do to help.

    However, when I went to share why meditation may be inappropriate for a 40 year old man with a level of energy that rivals that of five 20 year olds, I did not find simple acceptance. I found more advice. I found insistence. I found puzzled looks.

    It was annoying for sure. I was able to side-step the issue and all 3 relationships are fine, although I was disheartened. I wasn’t upset by any lack of empathy – my friends are brilliant, lovely people- but rather by the realization that even my wonderful, kind, understanding, successful, educated friends were unwilling to hear my truth – the truth of one man who has endured life – and succeeded wildly – with and in spite of bipolar. That truth was simply: “I know best what works for me.”

    So, my advice to non-bipolar, non-buddhist “helpers” out there is this: it’s not help until you know what you are talking about. If you can’t rebuild an engine, I don’t want you working on my car. If you don’t know how to cook, I don’t want to eat your food. If you’re not Buddhist, then spare everyone lectures on meditation.

    Instead of engaging in behavior that could weaken or damage adult friendships, engage your friends with BPD. ASK what they need. Don’t TELL them what they need. It’s rude, thoughtless, and unkind and you’re better than that. Imagine if you walked into a restaurant and the waiter said “Hi! Welcome to Al’s Diner. You’ll have a cheeseburger today!”

    That’s backwards, right?

    So is offering help from a 6,000 year old spiritual tradition, the true tenets of which are totally lost on you, to a western man whose never been to Tibet.

    Eat Pray Love was a movie about escapism. Much of what I gather about modern American views on meditation is that the same rule applies: close your eyes and breathe to escape the harsh realities one is dealing with. It’s the same story as the man who drinks at night to dull down the noise of his children or a smoker who sneaks out back for a puff at his fiance’s parents’ anniversary party… meditation for many Americans is a prescription for fixing themselves.

    And perhaps at the bottom of it all, what irked me the most was even the subtlest implication from my loved ones was that I needed to be fixed; that my bipolarity was an evil spirit to be exorcised; that I wasn’t worthy of love exactly as I am.

    We bipolar folks who live day to day with our, as one BP Hope reader once put, “beautiful, horrible golden gift”, don’t need to go to Tibet to find spiritual challenges. All we need to do is wake up every morning.

    And that’s the point, isn’t it? We do the work of taking the meds, paying the co-pays, sharing things with doctors that can be hard or sad or frightening to share. We second-guess our emotions because we worry if we are falling into the “normal” range (whatever that is supposed to mean).

    Ours is a meditation of method, of routine, of procedural correctness. Ours is a prayer to all the Universe that just for today, please let me feel good, let me understand, and let me be understood.

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