In this episode, we discuss the importance of forming a supportive partnership with loved ones managing bipolar disorder without it devolving into a codependent relationship. We also discuss how important it is for our friends and family members not to micromanage or infantilize those living with bipolar disorder.

We emphasize the value of open communication so loved ones can express their fears and concerns and provide encouragement and positive interaction beyond the illness.

Finally, the hosts encourage sharing this episode to help foster understanding and improve the support system for those living with bipolar disorder.

“One of the reasons that you might not be invited in the room is because of you, and because of the way that you have talked to your loved ones, the way that you keep asking that fully loaded question of have you taken your meds, the way that you are constantly fussing at them like they’re still a teenager in your home. Those might be the reasons that they don’t let you get involved. Maybe if you felt like more a part of their team, as opposed to still their parent or some person in authority, they might be a little more willing to let you in when it comes to those kinds of things.” ~Dr. Nicole Washington

Gabe Howard

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

He is also the host of Healthline Media’s Inside Mental Health podcast available on your favorite podcast player. To learn more about Gabe, or book him for your next event, please visit his website,

Dr. Nicole Washington
Dr. Nicole Washington

Dr. Nicole Washington is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she attended Southern University and A&M College. After receiving her BS degree, she moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to enroll in the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed a residency in psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa. Since completing her residency training, Washington has spent most of her career caring for and being an advocate for those who are not typically consumers of mental health services, namely underserved communities, those with severe mental health conditions, and high performing professionals. Through her private practice, podcast, speaking, and writing, she seeks to provide education to decrease the stigma associated with psychiatric conditions.

Find out more at

Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Bipolar, a Healthline Media Podcast, where we tackle bipolar disorder using real-world examples and the latest research.

Gabe: Hey, thanks for tuning in to the podcast listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder.

Dr. Nicole: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist.

Gabe: Before we jump into the topic, I want you to know, we’re getting your emails, and we want you to keep sending them. If you have a topic, idea or a question, hit us up at It really does inform what we put on the air for all of you to listen to. In the previous episode, we covered some general myths about living with bipolar disorder, and there was one myth that came up that we felt deserved an entire show. And that myth is that there’s nothing people can do to help a loved one or a friend with bipolar disorder. And Dr. Nicole. And I felt that deserved an entire episode because there’s so much, there’s so much that society, loved ones, friends, support can do to help somebody with bipolar disorder. But there’s also a lot of things that they’re doing wrong trying to be helpful. So we kind of want to cover it from, from I, I still just like being a mythbuster. I’m still riding a high that I get to be any sort of mythbuster.

Dr. Nicole: Okay. Well, Mythbuster Gabe, we are going to talk about the role that families and support systems can play, because you’re right, people do feel pretty hopeless about being able to help once they find out a loved one has bipolar disorder.

Gabe: Let’s go ahead and hit the ground running and get the negativity out of the way. When I talk to people living with bipolar disorder about their friends and family members helping, the pushback that I always get is that they feel infantilized. They feel like they’re being micromanaged, they feel like their friends and family and loved ones are just telling them what to do, not partnering in any way. And they have this general attitude that, hey, if you just do what I tell you to, you will live fine. And that’s how come a lot of times people with bipolar disorder don’t want to accept that help.

Dr. Nicole: Micromanaging can be very frustrating, and I do get that. And we’ve all been micromanaged. We’ve had a boss who micromanaged us. We’ve had somebody in our lives that it felt like they didn’t trust us. It felt like they didn’t believe in us. So they micromanaged for that reason. But I really think that most times when people micromanage, it has nothing to do with the other person. I mean, yes, they’re worried about the other person, but really that micromanaging is more about the fear they have internally about the situation. So when our parents, when our loved ones, when they when they when they micromanage and try to go back and count your pills to make sure you’re taking them, or when they go back and do those little things that just make you feel like you want to scream, it’s because they’re scared.

Gabe: I want to talk first to my scared friends and family group. I understand that fear, but I want to remind you that if you’re that scared of the illness that you don’t have, imagine how scared your loved one, your friends, your family member is, right? We’re the ones living with the illness. I want to also and this is this is kind of one of those, you know, awkward moments. I want to say that your fear is not our problem. You’ve got to find a way to address those fears on your own. And I recommend people seek therapy, etc. all the time when they have a loved one who gets diagnosed with a serious and persistent mental illness. Now I want to flip over to those of us living with bipolar disorder and remind people that you just can’t ignore this, our disease. It makes a ripple. It’s like throwing a rock into a pond. You can’t just talk about the splash. You’ve got to talk about the ripple effect. If you have it in you in any way to comfort those around you and to acknowledge that they’re scared because they love you, dig deep. Find that because this gets us to my, my, my big point and my grand reveal in the first five minutes of the show. If this is going to be successful, you’ve got to form a partnership and the best partnerships have a little give and take. Everybody wins a little, everybody loses a little, everybody gained some ground, everybody loses some ground. But if it’s not a partnership, you’re not going to be able to help anybody.

Dr. Nicole: You know, you bring up a really good point when you said your fear loved one is not the problem of the person who actually has the disorder. I think that probably is a is a good a good lesson to leave here for any loved one who’s listening. Because when, when our loved ones get diagnosed with something so big, and whether it’s bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or some other mental illness or even some physical health diagnoses, it is so easy for us to get all wrapped up in how we’re feeling about it, but then we ignore that because we gotta help our loved one and we just put that to the side. But really, you’re not putting it to the side because it gets in the way and it eats into your interactions with your loved one, and it just gets in the way. So it makes sense. As much as you’re pushing that person to focus on themselves and their health and what that looks like, it also makes sense for you to take a step back and then go get your own treatment to help you manage it, too, because the whole system is going to be affected whether you like it or not.

Gabe: When you say that I like to use practical analogies. It’s kind of what I’m known for, and I’m thinking about if my house caught on fire, right? I want the fire department to show up so we don’t have a battle of whether or not I want help. I absolutely want help. Now I’m thinking about who I want to show up. Do I want firefighters who have been up for five days straight fighting fires, getting cats out of trees, and they’re just completely exhausted, dead on their feet. They’re having, you know, mental health problems out the wazoo because they’re not taking care of themselves mentally or physically. And then they come to save my house, to save my family. Or do I want the well-rested, well-adjusted, ready to go, you know, tackle the day firefighter to show up. And it’s so important to understand this, because if we’re making a system for a firehouse, somebody could say, hey, why don’t we just put firefighters on duty for a month and then they get a month off? But somebody said, no, that’s a really bad idea. We’re going to put firefighters on duty for 72 hours, and then we’re going to give them 72 hours off. And that way you get well adjusted, well rested firefighters every time, presumably.

Dr. Nicole: Presumably, yes.

Gabe: Presumably.

Dr. Nicole: So basically, loved ones, we want you to be at your best when

Gabe: Yes.

Dr. Nicole: You put forth the effort to support your loved one. We want you to be rested. We want you to be at peace with what is going on in life. We want you to feel calm and able to adequately approach situations when they happen, because sometimes the situations you’re having to deal with may be pretty ugly and sticky and scary, and we want you to have the tools to be able to do that effectively. And you can’t do that if you’re ignoring yourself.

Gabe: Correct. Now let’s get down into some nitty gritty. One of the things that I hear a lot from people living with bipolar disorder when their loved ones try to help, is that their loved one actually didn’t educate themselves about bipolar disorder. They just took the stance of the Dr. Nicole and repeated it. And this really upsets people living with bipolar disorder because they have they have done some investigation. They’ve gone to some support groups. They have found some things that worry them, bother them, and then they bring them to their loved one. And their loved one just repeats what Dr. Nicole said, just keeps repeating that party line over and over again. And they feel like, well, you don’t understand me. I if you are listening to this show, you are likely not one of those family members, but I would encourage you to find as much information as you can. And when your loved one says you don’t understand me at all, instead of firing back, yes, I do. I’m working so hard and I’m just trying to help you fire back. What am I missing? What don’t I understand and really avoid the phrase? Well, but Dr. Nicole said, and just for the purposes of this analogy, when I say Dr. Nicole, I don’t mean the Dr. Nicole I mean your Dr. Nicole just repeating what the doctor said over and over again is not a good partnership. They already heard it from the doctor. They were there.

Dr. Nicole: But maybe the Dr. Nicole is right.

Gabe: Maybe.

Dr. Nicole: So maybe the educator is. And the knowledge that I the witness is evidence based and when appropriate, maybe it is. So I don’t want to dismiss what we’re saying. Like it’s not enough, it’s not exacting enough. And if we’re doing it, we only we should be going. Is this information right? It’s evidence based and that it’s accurate and that you can go through in any space. So yeah, we, we a resource for you and he, I think where the frustration choirs in in where a lot maybe don’t take the time on what he’s to be evaluated about that this particular person’s experience with polar disorder. So locate the disorder in in general, you can read addiction books, you care the DSM front, and you can go as many conferences as you want to learning the illness of bipolar disorder. But that will ever make your loved one who has the illness and heard and seen as are false. You spend a little time and to learn about their particular run hollow illness. What’s it and for you, what’s the frustrating part for you? What can I do to help you? I think people who have whatever illness it is perhaps want to be seen and heard beyond what’s written, medicine book or what is such a learn in a book. Because like, that’s not me. I’m in the not in the book.

Gabe: I know you’re not a hugger, Dr. Nicole, but but every now and again, I just. I just want to give you a great big hug.

Dr. Nicole: Wow. This is why I’m glad we’re not together recording.

Gabe: I know this this is why our studios are multi states away.

Gabe: [Laughter]

Gabe: There would be way more high fives though. I feel like if we recorded in a studio together. Come on you could do some high fives.

Dr. Nicole: I could I just yeah, yeah I could, I could, I could do high fives. after a while I’d be a little frustrated, but I, I could do one or two. One or two an episode.

Gabe: How many high fives do you think you deserve in a show?

Dr. Nicole: But you strike me as the kind of person who’s like, hi fi. Like you, you seem like you would get very excited about high five.

Gabe: I do get very excited about high fives and I’m six foot three, 240 pounds, so there might only be one high five before you know you sprain your arm.

Dr. Nicole: Yeah. [Laughter]

Gabe: I, I do have a tendency to be exuberant.

Dr. Nicole: Now that’s surprising. Shocking. Shocking. Shocking.

Gabe: Dr. Nicole, you’re absolutely right. Doctors, they exist for a reason. And they empirically supported. Right. Evidence based. You and all the medical establishment of the world recommended this treatment for a reason. So let’s go with the one that always annoys patients and people living with bipolar disorder the most. The. Did you take your meds today? Right. It’s everywhere. And people always think that it’s just an innocuous question. It’s not whenever you ask somebody if they took their meds today, what somebody in my position hears is that you think we’re off, you think something’s wrong, you think that we’ve done something wrong, so I, I want to make sure and I want to stress that taking your medication as prescribed is super, super important. So all the Dr. Nicole’s of the world are correct. But if somebody says, hey, did you take your meds today and you decide to engage and say, you know, I did, but I don’t want to, or no, I don’t want to take those medications anymore. And somebody fires back. But Dr. Nicole said so, but your doctor said so. But you have to. You’ve really dismissed that person because there is a reason that people don’t want to take those medications. And more often than not, it seems like family members, friends, the concerned public, for lack of a better phrasing, always think that that reason is malicious. They always act like we’re doing something intentionally wrong and being willfully belligerent. And I got to tell you, nine and a half times out of ten, that’s not why we don’t want to take the medication. We don’t want to take the medications. Because, Dr. Nicole, your famous line.

Dr. Nicole: What’s my famous line?

Gabe: The side effect profile isn’t sexy.

Dr. Nicole: [Laughter] Oh, I was like, what is my famous line? No, those side effect profiles are not sexy. They are absolutely not. But this is a great example of what I was just saying about learning about that person’s experience. Like really putting forth the effort to gain knowledge on that person’s individual experience with bipolar disorder, because that’s a great time to say, wow, you really hate taking that medication. Help me understand why you hate taking it so much, because Dr. Nicole is always trying to get you to take it, and the Dr. Nicole of the world are always trying to get you to take it, and I’m always pushing you to take it. But obviously you do not feel that. So help me understand why, and that can give you one just an end with that person. They, they can to make somebody feel seen and heard when they feel pretty invisible and ignored is huge for your relationship, but it also might help you even be the liaison between them and the doctor. Nicole because I can’t tell you how many times a loved one has sat in a room with me and a person who has bipolar disorder and they’ve said, hey, why don’t why don’t you tell her what you told me? Why don’t you share with her what you shared with me about the medicine? And then I learned which of those very unsexy side effect profile things that you don’t like. And maybe we can find something that’s a little bit less of that. Maybe you don’t care about something else and we can work through that together. But sometimes that getting that knowledge as a loved one, not that it’s your job to be the, the, the mediator between me and your loved one, but sometimes it’s a role that you can kind of fall into very, very seamlessly. And it can really help all of our relationships kind of move forward as we continue to try to manage this illness.

Gabe: And if you got a great partnership, that’s awesome. We are, of course, assuming that you’re allowing your loved one, your support system, your mom, your dad, your grandma, grandpa, brother, sister, friends and family into the room with the Dr. Nicole’s. But let’s say that you’re not allowed in the room. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. You can still have these conversations and it could help people like me talk it out. there have been so many times that I have gone to my support system, and I’m 100% positive. I’m 100% positive and I’m like, blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. But I trust them and I tell them the truth. The unvarnished room. What truth? And instead of telling me that it’s for my own good or I don’t want to be sick again, they come back and say, well, now wait a minute, Gabe, what about this? And I’m like, oh, it’s like a record scratch moment. I was like, I didn’t I didn’t think about that.

Gabe: Now I don’t always know the answer, but then I go back to my doctor, Nicole and I’m like, listen, I’ve got this problem and this problem and this problem, but I’m also concerned about this over here. What do you think? And all of a sudden that conversation becomes much more robust because it didn’t just pile within me. I didn’t say it inside my echo chamber or sorry, go inside the echo chamber to give, you know, included like culture or the support group that everybody might be exchanging information that might not be entirely accurate. So it’s good to have that partnership and it’s good to know when to give pushback. And it’s good to know when to just listen. I don’t want to miss that either. Dr. Nicole sometimes your loved one just wants to vent, and the correct answer is a hug. Or that must be frustrating and there’s nothing that you can do to fix it, but at least you know they have somebody to talk to. And I’m telling you, as somebody who lives with bipolar disorder, that that’s so valuable, don’t think that’s not valuable.

Dr. Nicole: It’s very valuable. And if you’re if you can’t be in the room or you’re not allowed to be in the room, encourage them to share some of those points that I think a lot of my patients think are not important, or they think, well, it’s not worth sharing because she’s not gonna do anything about it, or I shouldn’t even say anything because all those meds suck and they’re all terrible, and they’re all gonna do whatever to me, you know? So they just don’t even bring it up because they feel like it’s pointless. And so the encouragement to, hey, bring that up or to encourage them to write things down, because guess what? People will have all kinds of things that people have said to them, oh, you should bring that up to your doctor. Oh, next time you see your doctor, you should do that. Or they thought, oh, when I see doctor so-and-so, I should really remember to tell her this. And then you get in that room and what happens? Your mind goes completely blank. You don’t remember anything that you thought you wanted to say to me. And then you are trying to call back and say random things between visits. And that’s frustrating. So write everything down and loved ones. One of the reasons that you might not be invited in the room is because of you, and because of the way that you have talked to your loved ones, the way that you keep asking that fully loaded question of have you taken your meds the way that you are constantly fussing at them like they’re still a teenager in your home? Those might be the reasons that they don’t let you involve. Maybe if you felt like more a part of their team, as opposed to still their parent or some person in authority, they might be a little more willing to let you in when it comes to those kinds of things.

Gabe: I am so glad that you took the bullet on that one. Honestly, because I feel like I have to say that to friends and family members a lot, that the reason that they might not want your help is because of your behavior and choices. So if you are one of these loved ones listening where you think that the reason you’re not getting what you want is because your loved one has done something wrong, you need to reevaluate that. Remember that partnership? That means shared success and shared blame. If you think every time something goes wrong, it’s because of your loved one who lives with bipolar disorder. And every time something goes right, it’s because you mounted the horse and saved the day. There is a there is a line of thinking there that that is probably problematic and that you’re going to want to address on your own internally. A good partnership again, is shared success and shared blame. It’s not I’m saving the day. You do what I say and I take all the credit.

Dr. Nicole: Absolutely. And when we come back to that you can piece because that’s always there like a big source of content. I’m not that is the number one. The number one is the whole medication piece. I hear about it every day.

Sponsor Break

Gabe: And we’re back discussing the myth that there is nothing you can do to help your loved one with bipolar disorder.

Dr. Nicole: I think it is very valuable to have someone in your life, especially early on when you are maybe not so sure about medication or you just are hesitant about do I need it? I do think it’s valuable to have someone to kind of hold you accountable, to keep you accountable about. Are you doing the things that you have said that you wanted to do to be consistent? But we have to figure out what that looks like, because that one question of did you take your meds today usually doesn’t come at a benign time. It usually comes at a time when the person has gotten upset about something, or frustrated about something, or shown some very common emotion, but we’re afraid it’s a sign of something bigger. So we pull out the have you taken your meds today? So I think working on when do we use the question, when do we ask, how do we ask, do we even ask? Do we come up with a way for me to help keep you accountable without me asking you that dreaded question? Every woman who has ever lived with someone has had someone ask them, is that what you’re wearing? Don’t tell me that question doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out.

Dr. Nicole: And that is exactly how your loved one feels when you say, are you taking your meds? Did you take your meds? Because just like you hear, I don’t look good in this dress, why is he asking? Because I look a mess. Because I look fat. It doesn’t fit right. Like all the stuff your loved one didn’t hear. Did you take your meds? What they heard was, I really doubt your ability as an adult to take your medication every day. So I’m just gonna ask you, because I don’t trust that you have enough sense to take your medicine. That’s what they heard. So we have to figure out how do we ask it in a way that doesn’t come across as not trusting or condescending or anything like that?

Gabe: I want to throw a pro tip in there. I made a compromise with my grandmother because I knew that she was scared. And I love my grandmother, so she can do no wrong. So when she asked the question, it did annoy me, but I kind of internalized it because I would never do anything to make my grandmother feel bad. And then she heard on one of these podcasts of me talking about this, and she was like, oh my God, does it bother you when w when I do this, Gabe and I won’t lie to my grandmother. So I said yes. And she said, well, I’m only asking because I’m worried. I don’t I don’t believe any of those things. I’m just scared. And I said, I do know that grandma like, I don’t think you’re mean or malicious, etc., but it does bother me. And then she said, my grandmother is a smart woman. She’s like, well, if I look at your pillowcase to see if you’ve taken it, will that bother you? And I said, well, not if I’m not in the room. So now I leave my pills out on the counter when I visit my grandmother, and at some point during the day, she walks over and just casually looks in the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and this assuages her fears. And I’m not aware when she does it or when. So we both got what we wanted. And I think there’s the partnership moment, right? There’s the compromises that can be had. Maybe agree to leave your pills sitting on the counter so that the family members who are genuinely worried about that can look in. And this is a little prolog that I want to give you. I’m telling you, I stay there about, you know, 7 to 10 days at a time. At least one time during that visit, she will hold it up and say, you forgot. And I did, and I did. So we’ve made kind of a game of it. But again, that’s where that partnership comes in. We’ve made a game out of the minutia of managing bipolar disorder, and we’re both getting our needs met.

Dr. Nicole: But you were able to do that because you were able to see your grandma for who she is in your life. You were able to look beyond like, I have this illness. And here she is trying to question me about it. You were able to step back and think about all the equity that she has put into your relationship over the years, and you’re able to say, you know what? This is my grandma. She loves me and I know she’s worried about me. I know she doesn’t think negatively of me. She doesn’t think that I’m irresponsible. She doesn’t think that I don’t have my own sense to take care of my love. She is an if she loves me in your heart. And it is about a burning for the person illness to really try to step back and Joseph about your relationship with this person, they likely has shown up for you ls tough times and grieve what they times and have. Still there is just this sense that person and how they’ve shown up and saw you and they might help you or it might, it might help you, not be quite as sensitive when it comes to your bipolar disorder.

Gabe: I think that’s good advice on both sides. I do think our friends and family members need to remember that you are dealing with a fully functional adult who just happens to be sick, and if you have completely infantilized them. And the only thing that you talk about is their illness and the only time you do it. It sounds vaguely condescending. They have a reason to believe now, factually, that that you’re annoyed with them, unhappy with them, etc.. So to my friends and family members out there, have other conversations. Tell them you’re proud of them. Even if they stare at the floor, roll their eyes and say why do I have to listen to this and storm off? Make them hear it, send them a text message. Do whatever you can. You’ve got to find ways to have those positive interactions. I think of my sister and I, we live in two separate states. We’re both very busy people, and what we do is we send each other memes via text message. We don’t have long and involved conversations. We don’t talk to each other on the phone very often. We just send each other little comic strips, jokes, etc. and whenever my phone dings and I look down and I have that comic strip and I almost always write back lol.

Gabe: I almost always write back a happy face or lol. But here is what I see. My sister was thinking about me. She was somewhere and she thought of her big brother and that’s what she thinks too. She thinks hey, my big brother was thinking about me and it just makes us feel connected and good and it doesn’t take a lot of time. You need to establish some sort of rituals around these positives, and you don’t need to think big. You don’t need to throw big parties or have big hallmark movie speeches. Just find some positive thing that you can do. And if the meme thing doesn’t work for you, have family dates, right? I really think that we have lost some opportunities to just go to a movie when managing bipolar disorder. Everybody wants to know the silver bullet, the thing that’s going to fix it all. You know what? How about every Wednesday at noon You have lunch and bipolar disorder is off the table. You have to talk about anything else so that you can keep that connection. That has nothing to do with bipolar disorder alive, that creates value, that creates connection. You can’t make your entire relationship about managing bipolar disorder or you’re done.

Dr. Nicole: Know it. I’ve seen a lot of people get very frustrated and honestly, not that I think about it. I have actually seen a lot of people fall into the wrong social circles and the wrong support systems, because they’re just looking for the opportunity to feel normal and to feel like a person, not a person with bipolar disorder. So they may go out to the bars or to scenes that aren’t safe for them, but they do it because when they’re in those environments, nobody knows that they have bipolar disorder. Nobody says, are you sure you’re going to have that beer? I mean, should you do that? I thought you couldn’t drink with your meds or oh, don’t you have bipolar disorder? Shouldn’t you be asleep by now? Shouldn’t you not stay up this late? I thought Dr. Nicole said you had to get a night. A good night of sleep, every night. That’s not what we’re looking for. People want to feel human and they want to feel normal, whatever the heck that looks like for them. And it’s hard to do that when everything we talk about is centered around the bipolar disorder.

Gabe: Before I was a podcaster, I was in fundraising, and one of the things that we always learned in fundraising is if every time you talk to somebody you ask for money, you’re going to burn them out and they’re going to stop taking your calls. So we had this system called touches. You needed nine touches for every ask. So those touches were like, happy birthday, how are you doing? Can I drop by? Here’s an article. Here’s an example of what your previous money did for us. Here’s some pictures of people using your donation. And then on the 10th time, hey, can I have another donation or our fundraiser is coming. They feel connected to you and they feel like they’re getting value. This is a good system. I’m not trying to boil loved ones down to a fundraising system or a sales funnel, but I think there’s good advice to hear in there. You would not take that call if every single time that phone rang and it was a person asking for money, you would start avoiding them. Your family member is going to work the exact same way. Except here’s the difference the stakes are much higher.

Gabe: And I want to echo a little bit of what Dr. Nicole said about falling into the wrong crowd. I don’t think this may happen. I think this does happen. I think it’s almost a guarantee that people will get their needs met in the wrong way. This is why we have phrases like self-medicating. This is why we have phrases like maladaptive coping skills. I think it is. It is. It is critical that you use your position as somebody who is not suffering from a serious and persistent mental illness, to figure out ways that you can support your loved one in a way that they will accept. Do not let perfection get in the way of progress. And this is what always seems to happen. You want your loved one to be perfect, so you point out every little mistake they make until you alienate them. And I understand why loved ones want it to be perfect, I do. I want it to be perfect too, but it’s just not possible. And if I see you coming and I think you’re going to ask me for money, I’m going to go running.

Dr. Nicole: So if every time we talk, you’re like, hey, taking your meds or when you get the how are you feeling? How’s your mood holding up? How’s it going? Nobody wants to hear that like that. That is no, nobody. No, absolutely nobody wants to hear that. You know, Gabe, you talked about the perfection thing and wanting their loved one to be perfect. Do you think they really want them to be perfect, or do you think they want them to just, like, do the best they can?

Gabe: I want to talk to just the parents for a moment, because there’s this whole concept in America called free range parenting where parents, some parents, believe that it’s okay just to let their kids do things. They can fall down, they can fail, they can try stuff, and they’ll just kind of stand back and just kind of watch and provide assistance around the margins. Right. And then there’s other methods of parenting like, you know, micromanaging, helicopter parenting or just having more control where you set up play dates and you manage what your child does and you know where they are every second of every day. Both of those sides are, of course, in conflict over which is the best way to raise your children. But the reason that I bring that up is because when it comes to bipolar disorder, I think that free range is your best bet. Because you’re going to have to let a little trial and error happen.

Gabe: You’re going to have to let a little failure come through. You’re going to have to let people living with bipolar disorder figure some things out for themselves, because you can’t be there 100% of the time. You can’t make every decision. And if you’re trying to make every decision, if you’re being that stereotypical helicopter parent, then you’ve got a problem. It means that you’re going to have to be in that person’s life 24 over seven for the rest of their life. So you asked me if I think that parents expect perfection out of their loved one. I think that they’re so afraid of relapse that they’ve got their own issues going on. They’re scared that their loved one might not survive the next relapse, and they’ve got so much that they’re demanding perfection, but unconsciously they’re not aware that they’re demanding perfection. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re aware of it or not aware of it. I think that people living with bipolar disorder really expect that they have to be perfect, or they’re going to lose mom or dad or mom and dad.

Dr. Nicole: Yeah, I think I just don’t like the use of that particular word. I think that’s where I get hung up, is that word. So as a parent of young adults now, I, I can see this like as a parent of young adults, I would like my young adult children to be the most successful they can be. I absolutely want that for them. I want them to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. And as a parent of a young adult, when my young adults come to me and they start saying like, oh, I’m thinking about this thing or that thing, I have to take a step back and take a breath. And I have to think like, okay, I think this is a really bad idea. But they’re an adult, so I have to take that information. I have to process it really quickly sometimes because we’re in the middle of a conversation. And then I have to think to myself, okay, is why is this a bad idea? Is it a bad idea? Because it’s what I wouldn’t do. Is it a bad idea because they have an illness? Is it a bad? Why is it a bad idea? Why? I don’t think it’s because of.

Dr. Nicole: I don’t think it’s perfection. I don’t think it’s one of those situations where I have to have these perfect children, because we see parents like that who have to have perfect children, who behave just so and who, you know, do everything correctly. I don’t even think that’s it. I don’t think they want them to be perfect and do everything right. They just want them to be successful and happy, and they don’t want to see them be hindered by something that they know has the ability to hinder and derail them. So it still goes back to fear. And I just want you to be successful. I don’t think it’s perfection, though. I do not. I think they just want them to be successful. But where it falls apart is what is the definition of success. My. And this happens in young adult parent relationships. Even without bipolar disorder, my definition of success for you may not be your definition of success for you, and that’s where it falls apart.

Gabe: I agree with you. Whether it’s they want their child to be safe, they want them to be comfortable. They want to assuage their own fear. Whatever the reason is, it’s still important to understand that setbacks are part of the recovery process. Relapse is part of recovery. Missteps are part of the deal. And just like young kids, making mistakes is how they learn to get better. Bipolar disorder. It’s when you’re first diagnosed. Your thought process on the bipolar disorder is in its infancy. You have the least of amount of experience. You have the least amount of coping skills, the least amount of medications, etc. you’re really at your infancy of managing the disease. So that is when all the mistakes are going to occur.

Dr. Nicole: They will.

Gabe: Could you imagine if your toddler fell down and you said, oh, my toddler is never going to walk? I told them to hang on. Nobody would treat a toddler learning to walk this way. Once again, I know that any reasonable person listening is going to say, Gabe, you are awfully close to infantilizing people with bipolar. But please look on the other side of the line where I’m pointing out that in order to learn to walk, you have to fall down. In order to learn to manage bipolar disorder, you have to fall down. And I think that’s super important for both sides to realize.

Dr. Nicole: And even parents. If it is not your intention to make your adult children with bipolar disorder feel like you want them to be perfect, that’s not your intention. Sometimes that is what they hear and that is how they feel like you are wanting perfectionism out of them and they may at some point even say, I’m not perfect. I’m going to make mistakes. And it is more important how they feel than what your intention is. So if that is what is coming across to them and that is how they’re feeling, it is important that you make that clear to them. Like I get that you’re going to have setbacks. I get that you’re going to have relapses, you’re going to have mood episodes. I get that you’re going to forget your meds. Sometimes you’re going to stay up too late sometimes because life happens. I get all those things. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m terrified for you, and I want you to be the most successful person you can. And yes, parents, in our very dramatic way, feel like if you miss one day of medicine, all of a sudden you’re going to be manic and naked in the library and in the hospital again, and we take it there. We can’t help it. Parents are dramatic beings by design. We can’t help it. We just. We can’t help it.

Gabe: If you learned nothing else during this episode, it’s that this is hard, that it’s very hard and that you need to form a partnership. Because if your life only becomes about helping someone manage bipolar disorder, you’re no longer a friend or a family member. You’re a caregiver. And caregiving has a completely different connotation, and you want to make sure not to step in that role because then you’re responsible for somebody forever. And if your loved one living with bipolar disorder is fighting back against this, it really is kind of a good thing. They’re saying, hey, I want to be in control of my own life. I want to manage this. I want to make decisions. I want to live independently. That’s really good fight. You just want to make sure that that fight goes towards bipolar disorder and not towards you. And I think that is something that gets missed a lot during a lot of these conversations. Your loved one is standing up, use that fight and help direct it in the right direction. And for my people living with bipolar disorder, if you’re listening to this episode and you’re like, my family member is never going to go through it, I’m going to say two things one, maybe ask them to listen to the episode.

Gabe: Sometimes people are willing to listen when it comes from another source other than you. That’s just a fact. But the second thing is, is you got to take the lead. You got to take the bull by the horns. You got to sit him down and say, look, all we talk about is my bipolar disorder. And when all we talk about is the thing that scares me and the thing that that I don’t like and the thing that I don’t want, and the thing that I don’t ask for. You make me feel like all I am is bipolar. I don’t want to only be bipolar. I want to be all these other things as well. And you’re ignoring all of these things because of this, it’s no longer become the elephant in the room. It’s all we talk about. And I, I want to talk about more than just the fact that I’m sick because I am more than just bipolar.

Dr. Nicole: You know, I’m really sitting here thinking like, it would be great if after listening to this episode, everyone, whether you’re a loved one or the person with the illness, would pick like one person. Just pick one person in your support system and share this episode with them. I think having these conversations is not always organic. It doesn’t just happen. It requires some prompting. It requires a lot of hard work on the front end. But once you get this part figured out, I think it just makes your course so much easier to walk. It just makes it not feel so rough and rocky. And maybe that path is a little smoother. And maybe I’m just being super optimistic. Dr. Nicole again. But I do think that the relationships that we have with each other are really what make this fight worth fighting and just make it bearable sometimes. So share share share share share.

Gabe: I am never going to get to know Dr. Nicole telling listeners to share the podcast but those are my lines. For long time listeners of the show, they know that I’m supposed to do it. say it, so I’m going that again. Listeners, thank you so much for tuning in wherever you downloaded this episode. Please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free and I know Dr. Nicole already told you to do it, but I’m going to say it anyways. Do us a favor and recommend the show. Share it on social media, share it in a support group. Send somebody a text message because sharing the show with the people you know is how we’re going to grow. My name is Gabe Howard, and I’m an award-winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. I’m also the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which you can get wherever they sell books. However, I’m going to give you a hot tip. You can get a signed copy with free swag over at my website

Dr. Nicole: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington. You can find me on all social media platforms @DrNicolePsych to see all the things I’m getting into at any given moment.

Gabe: And we’ll see you next time on Inside Bipolar.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Bipolar from Healthline Media and Have feedback for the show? E-mail us at Previous episodes can be found at or on your favorite podcast player. Thank you for listening.