Worn Out From the Advice of Others? Me Too!
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.
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.
- “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.
- “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.