Living with bipolar disorder can be extremely challenging, but living with someone who has bipolar disorder can also have its difficulties. Growing up I lived with my mother and grandfather, both of whom had bipolar disorder. For years they hid it from me, I suppose hoping I would never find out. But sooner or later it all came to the surface and everything started to make sense.

Finding out about their illnesses was possibly the best thing that could have happened in that circumstance. Living with people who have bipolar disorder and not even knowing about it can cause a lot of friction. It’s easy to jump to conclusions about their behavior.

After taking the time to do some research on bipolar disorder, I began learning how to deal with it myself. At first I made lots of mistakes and it made my life a lot harder than it needed to be. Learning how to support and live in harmony with a person with bipolar disorder isn’t easy. It takes time and effort, but it’s vital in order to maintain a healthy relationship where you can support your loved one without letting their illness affect your own life. Here are some tips for living with someone with bipolar disorder:

  1. Do your research. Having bipolar disorder can be an extremely lonely experience. It’s easy to feel like no one understands what you are going through. That often makes depressive phases worse. Learn as much as you can about bipolar disorder so that you understand what they’re going through. In turn, they’ll feel like they’ve got someone on their side.
  2. Take note of their symptoms. See if you can work out their cycle. While some people with bipolar disorder may have up and down periods that come in waves just once every couple of years, others may have a continuous cycle from one to the other. Keep an eye on it and you should be able to predict their behavioral patterns.
  3. Listen carefully. It’s really important to listen to what someone with bipolar disorder has to say. When they’re in a depressed state, you may find it difficult to understand why they’re so sad. The best thing you can do is to listen. If you struggle to understand what they’re feeling, ask them to explain it to you. Your interest in what they’re going through may help make them feel better.
  4. Watch out for the mania. Bipolar disorder involves both depression and mania. While symptoms of depression are usually quite similar, levels of mania can vary from person to person. A manic period can be surprisingly difficult to deal with. Someone in the midst of mania can be extremely enthused and not always aware that their illness is the cause. All-nighters on the computer and elaborate ideas are all part of the parcel. Try not to judge or reason with them. If you want to try to calm them, it’s best not to draw attention to their behavior, but rather distract them from it with an activity that you can do together.
  5. Ask how you can help. There may be instances where someone with bipolar disorder can’t look after their children or take care of things at work. Ask if you can help. It could be something as simple as cooking dinner.
  6. Don’t judge. Bipolar disorder is not something you can just switch on and off. Don’t be pushy.
  7. Encourage them to take their medication. Because bipolar disorder comes and goes in waves, it’s easy for those with it to feel that they don’t need their medication. While it may make them feel better in the short run, they will probably soon nosedive into severe mania or depression.
  8. Talk to them about your feelings, too. While it’s important to listen to what they have to say, it’s also important to tell the person with bipolar disorder how you feel. They need to know how their illness is affecting you just as much as you need to know how it is affecting them.
  9. Find your own support. Living with a person with bipolar disorder can be difficult. Find someone you can talk to and vent your problems to. A professional counselor can help.
  10. Give yourself a break. Know when enough is enough. While your support will mean the world to your loved one, you must know where your limits lie. Being around their illness all the time can take its toll on you. Keep your own needs in mind as much as possible.Couple talking photo available from Shutterstock