Being overwhelmed and confused by how the illness manifests is normal.
Bipolar Mood Disorder invariably takes an immense toll on those who suffer from the illness. It can lead to significant elevations in feelings of distress and anxiety, as well as feelings of worthlessness that are inevitably accompanied by thoughts about suicide.
However, it is not only those who have been diagnosed with BMD who suffer as a result. Often, family members, loved ones, colleagues and medical practitioners face many challenges in coping with the extreme mood swings of someone for whom they care.
If it is difficult for people with BMD to understand their mood cycles, feelings and behaviour, it can be even more difficult for those around them – people who do not experience these intense fluctuations – to comprehend what is happening at any given stage of the illness.
As someone who cares for a person with BMD, it is essential to know that being overwhelmed and confused by how the illness manifests is normal. Thankfully, there are techniques and concrete steps one can take to understand better what is happening and what you can do to improve your relationship with a BMD sufferer.
One of the most important steps one can take is to acquaint yourself with the warning signs, or ‘red flags’ as some professionals refer to it, to be able to identify an episode as early as possible. Recognizing patterns, or triggers is a beneficial way in which minor symptoms can be detected and caught before they develop into major episodes.
If you notice a significant increase in one or more of the following symptoms, it is likely that a manic or hypomanic episode is developing: excess energy, disorganized creativity and scattered motivation, angry outbursts or a spike in irritability, grandiosity, verbosity, impulsivity and recklessness, and more.
Similarly, signs of a depressive episode on the horizon may include anxiety, remaining in bed for extended periods and excessive sleeping, sadness, loss or increase in appetite, suicidal ideation, expressing feelings of worthlessness, tearfulness, and more.
Do note, however, that some of the symptoms feature prominently in the natural ups and downs that all people experience to a lesser degree. Therefore, it’s essential to become familiar with how to spot the differences between normal mood swings and BMD swings.
A common way in which people with BMD choose to cope with the symptoms and effects of their illness is to turn to alcohol and recreational drugs to numb or forget feelings that are unbearably intense. Substance abuse can significantly worsen the severity of episodes.
Once they are feeling better, it is common for someone with the illness to stop taking their prescribed drug. It is important to remind them that they are feeling better because of the medication, and by discontinuing treatment it is highly likely that symptoms will reoccur.
People who suffer from BMD will regularly withdraw from social life, preferring to remain hermetic in the perceived safety of their own homes. This can lead to increased feelings of isolation and worthlessness. It also results in reduced energy and mobility.
Having a daily routine helps one to feel productive, active and adds value to your existence. By artificially maintaining a routine that includes regular exercise, healthy eating, reduced social media interaction, enough quality sleep, daily showers, walks, meditation, and more, the debilitating effects of bipolar episodes can be reduced.
Proposing regular visits to a psychologist for therapy is a handy way to help. A specialist is equipped with all the necessary tools to guide a person with BMD through various techniques to manage their moods, anxiety and stress.
Furthermore, fun recreational activities – going to the movies, a spa treatment, long walks, meditation and yoga, gym, games, are great ways to improve the quality of life for someone living with BMD.
If a patient or loved one has indicated that they are experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are ways in which you can reach out to them without exacerbating their anxiety. Subtly remind them of their worth, perhaps by describing how much they are worth to you.
It’s never a bad idea to just listen and speak only when necessary. Sometimes, by constantly responding – even with the best intentions – it might come across as an attempt to minimize their feelings. Listening, on the other hand, is an act of showing empathy, which goes a long way towards making someone feel like he or she matters.
Having a reliable support system, or a haven goes a long way towards alleviating some of the anxiety associated with BMD.
Lastly, remember to take care of yourself as well. Many of the tips mentioned above are beneficial for anyone who decides to implement them in their own lives. When you are feeling energetic, fit and healthy, it will assist you in being a better caregiver for someone with BMD.