Damage Control: Rebuilding Your Life After a Manic Episode

Last Updated: 13 Aug 2019

Fixing relationships with those you may have hurt during a mood episode is never easy, but believe me: it is possible. And you can!

coming out of a manic episode

Many of us with bipolar disorder make terrible decisions when we are ill, and rebuilding our lives afterward is naturally overwhelming—especially after a massive episode, when extreme mania and psychosis might have put you in the hospital, or jail (or both). Talking with creditors, school, work, and those you may have hurt is never easy, but I can say from personal experience that life can be even better than it was before if you face the rebuilding head-on, no matter how much it might hurt.

Bipolar is such a selfish illness: My depression, my massive manic episode. But if your own personal experience is your sole focus, rebuilding will be tough. I learned this the hard way. I lost husbands, careers, friends, and a whole lot of money because of bipolar episodes. I cried, complained, and told anyone who would listen, “No one understands my pain!” This went on for years. The day I finally turned the focus off myself and onto other people and their needs, my life changed for the better.

Massive episodes—like the time I dumped my partner and took off for China on my own with basically no money—deeply affect the people around you, and it takes a lot for them to get over it. Expanding your vision to think about what other people in your life went through when you were ill and what they need during your rebuilding is critical. Even if you’re feeling fragile or ashamed, opening yourself up to the experiences of others and letting them know that you understand their perceptions can make all the difference. Here’s an example of what you can say to loved ones if bipolar just threw your life—and as a result, theirs—upside down:

I’m tired and worn out from these mood swings. I have no idea how I’m going to get through this, but I want you to know that I’m going to give it all I have. I have a diagnosis now and some answers. I know you went through something as well, and I promise that when I’m feeling better, we can explore how it was for you and what I can do to make things better. For now, I could use your help in getting this illness under control. I am thinking of you and your needs as well as my own.

Rebuilding a professional relationship takes guts, when all you want to do is hide under the nearest rock and stay there. Here’s an example of what you can say if you’re trying to salvage a career after a particularly nasty episode. Once again, acknowledge what it was like for the other person and put yourself in their shoes:

I know that my illness and the behavior it caused was very hard on you. I left work in a way that was probably confusing and very upsetting. I said things no one would choose to say to someone in a business setting. I finally have answers for why this happened, and I am open to any questions you may have. Please know that I understand that it’s now my job to keep myself well, and I have a plan in place to make sure this happens. I would like to talk with you about how we might work together in the future if I can show you through my actions that I’m getting the help I need.

In terms of relationships, especially with family and partners, people want and need—and deserve—to know how you’re going to take care of yourself when you say you want to rebuild your life. For myself, I watch my lifestyle closely, especially regarding sleep and relationships, and I understand my triggers and avoid them.

Saying the right things matters, but unless words are accompanied by action, people will tend to stay away. Whether you were just diagnosed or you need to rebuild once again, be bold and approach this with your head high. Build your self-awareness, and also your consideration of others. A life that seemed destroyed by bipolar can become a life where people want to work and be with you because you know who you are, what you need, and how to take care of yourself. This is your gift to the world, built out of your pain.

Printed as “Fast Talk: Damage Control,” Spring 2016

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. Thanks Julie, a helpful article.

  2. My my recent massive breakdown with/physcosis… Along with onset of menopause some of suspect was due to the result of to much stress. With being a mother of 3 teen girls the oldest severe bipolar and other issues…and the youngest with social anxiety. Their father has worked 60 + since the 1st was born to this day. I’m the only driver. I do everything but the finances,shope and ask permission for the important stuff. But I can raise the kids tho. Any way. This breakdown has never happened to me like this. Months later I’m still struggling…the 4 sang months I was out in my bed or zombie in the house I don’t really remember..ive Ben telling my family u need to do your share. They where doing a few things maybe. Being kids too. And with no help for all these years. But they where trying so was my boyfriend their father of 19 yrs.. It hurts it makes u realize like this article says this illness is selfish..just look in your family’s eyes to see how you are doing..if not we’ll ask them if you guys could have a time to talk about because sometimes it’s not you that runs off and acts crazy.. Crazy runs up on u.

  3. Dear Julie and All,
    Every article gives me tips on how to get through my ups and downs with progress not “bp ,perfection”.
    Not feeling alone strengthens my willingness to learn “what I need to take care of myself”.
    I still need daily reminders to “hold my head high” and enjoy life, while I learn to improve my relationship with myself others.

  4. I’ve been hypomanic most of my life with a few dips down but largely flew under the radar undiagnosed bc I was “so happy” and highly functional….married > 40 years…..never had problems holding RN jobs etc…UNTIL I had my first huge manic phase at age 57…..triggered (in hindsight) by my elderly mother dying and my only son/child leaving and moving XC. I flipped out….quit my job (so did my husband), listed our house for sale and moved 2800 miles away to be in the same part of the country as our son (beautiful western Montana….I swear I would not have just moved anywhere to follow son….but Montana roped me in with it’s incredible beauty). I stayed manic for over a year. I also partied hard and burned the candle at both ends. I was overstimulated by Montana’s in your face incredible vistas. Wrecklessly blowing through my inheritance , driven by me, we uncharacteristically sold and bought 3 (!!) houses in MT and redecorated each of them in as many years. I bought and sold 3 cars as well. I then suddenly returned to the southeast…got my old job back, bought yet another house and had all our things moved back east. Once I got there I panicked…..relisted the house 6 wks after Closing and moved BACK to MT. I’m talking CRAZY. I eventually crashed into such a debilitating depression I wanted to die. I lied to my doctor and eventual psychiatrist about wanting to kill myself. I’m a nurse and researched every way to do it but found unless you have a lethal pile of barbituates (almost impossible to have these days) or a gun (terrified of them) or know how to tie a knot strong enough to hang yourself (I don’t) there was no easy way to do it. I had auditory hallucinations, smelled things that weren’t there like cigar smoke and worried that I was possessed by the devil or some evil spirit bc I’d wake up with horrendous scratches on my body! I felt like “I” had indeed died. I looked dead. My eyes had no light in them, I lost over 20 lbs and I’m small to begin with. I let my hair go gray and wore same clothes for days…weeks…too exhausted to shower etc. I ended up with $%K of dental work from not brushing my teeth. I had isolated myself to the point where I stopped talking….to everyone…including my husband…for months (!) except for an occasional “yes” or “no”.My family was devastated but no one knew what to do. I sobbed and sobbed and SOBBED about “losing” my son (I hadn’t…he’d only grew up and into a fine young man!) and losing my mother who had been alcoholic my whole life. Talk about codependency issues etc… I refused hospitalization bc I wasn’t thinking straight. Somewhere deep inside I knew this was no regular unipolar depression. I didn’t respond to ANY medications and I tried a lot of them. I began to suspect bipolar disorder (runs in my family…I know….I should have figured this out years ago) and started seeing a psychiatrist who I initially thought was useless. Back on Prozac….again…what the hell…I didn’t even care….it didn’t touch me. Started on Trazodone for sleep bc I wasn’t sleeping AT ALL but I was SO tired. I lived in my bedroom for one and a half years. After starting to sleep again, I VERY slowly returned to life by watching Netflix movies on my little phone. I used to be a voracious reader but reading was beyond me. I SLOWLY began texting friends back and even talked on the phone to a long distance friend for hours. I talked…she listened. The Trazodone helped me sleep but I felt nauseated in the a.m.s. One evening something “shifted” in my thought processes…it was literally like the switch finally flipped back up. My mind began working things out. Actually I began to accept that as always, life was changing and moving on. I began to have racing positive thoughts and started talking non stop. I felt alive again but knew by now that I was manic. Went back to my psychiatrist who had never seen me like this…the “real” me……I had mentioned bipolar disorder to her but until now she didn’t believe it. I convinced her this time. I started on a small dose of Seroquel at bedtime and stopped the Trazodone. I am so. much. better. now. And more importantly…..aware. But here’s my problem: when manic like I was I was able to “rationalize” every move I made, action I took. It seems like I didn’t HAVE the ability to have insight etc when I was so manic. Im hoping now that I’m “aware” of being bipolar 2 I WILL be able to stop and slow down if this ever happens again. For me the tiny dose of Seroquel has been a life saver. I’m back in the southeast….back to my old job FT…..back to a relationship with my husband, family and friends and overall content if not happy most days….i.e. my normal hypomanic state. It’s so freaky!

  5. This is a timeless article written by a very wise, talented and brave woman. I hate to think where I’d be without her advice and guidance. I think the best rule of thumb when asking for forgiveness is to rip the Band Aid off as soon as possible. The longer you wait the more painful it is.

    I also find that in most cases people will not want to speak or know you again so prepare for that inevitability. Rather then fear that reaction I take it as a given before I ask. That way I am doing this for myself. The act of asking is more important in my healing then the reaction of the other person because most likely that relationship is toast. Once you ask it’s on them, you’ve done the good and kind and right thing.

    Thank goodness the world is full of people who have not experienced a person with bipolar. Lots of fish in the sea. Lol!

    Being with a Bi polar can be as disruptive as an alcoholic but worse because at least with the alcoholic you can see it coming and get out of the way. A bipolar episode can come out nowhere so if you are in a difficult place because of a bipolar relationship find an alcoholic that way you can stay in saving mode with a lot less trauma, otherwise leave their a**.

    And like an alcoholic many bipolars are too self absorbed and selfish to understand sacrifice and get themselves out the way so the ones that they claim to love can have a healthy and happy life with someone else.

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