I was talking to my husband this morning, we were having a conversation about something and then suddenly I changed the subject. I thought he was following along with me, I thought he understood, but apparently I just started talking about something completely different with no notice. My brain was thinking too fast; there was no way for anyone to keep up with what I was saying. I was going from one subject to another, just a single word would trigger a different thought process and then I would be off on that new subject. I spent about 10 minutes just trying to explain how I got to the new topic I was on, and then I had to explain exactly what it was that I was talking about.
I’m not so sure if my husband will ever really understand how my brain works. How is anyone supposed to understand something that they are not themselves? No matter how much someone studies the bipolar disorder, I don’t think they will every really understand what it’s like to live with this illness. That is why support groups are so important; they bring people together who live with the same diagnoses. Support groups provide comfort and understanding that cannot come from people who do not have the bipolar diagnosis. This doesn’t mean that people without bipolar cannot support us. I have several people who support me. My family especially is very accepting of my diagnosis and they do the best they can to understand what I’m going through. It means so much to me that my family cares considerably, I’m extremely lucky.
In my opinion, others can only understand so much of how we think, but they can accept us for who we are. I know this isn’t easy; sometimes I have a hard time understanding and accepting it all myself. It’s hard to explain to others what I’m feeling, what/how I’m thinking, and what would be helpful. When I’m manic, it can be difficult to slow down enough so I can make sure that I’m making sense, and when I’m depressed, it can be difficult to care enough to explain things to others.
I have found two different country-wide groups. The first is NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which supports both individuals with mental illness as well as their family and friends. NAMI has a free 12 week program called Family-to-Family that is meant to educate family, friends, and significant others of individuals who live with mental illness. My mother and sister completed this program when I was in high school. I remember that after one of the sessions, my sister came home, hugged me, and told me she was sorry that I had to live with this. She and I struggle in our relationship at times, but the fact that she cared enough to complete the Family-to-Family program, meant a lot and helped us grow closer. I felt more comfortable around my mother and sister after they completed this program.
The other national support group I know of is DBSA, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. DBSA also supports both those with mental illness and their family and friends. The local support chapters are run by volunteers. Their website helps people find local support groups for friends and family members, for parents, and for loved ones as well as support groups for individuals with mental illnesses. They also have online support groups for each of these different categories of people. DBSA also has educational materials and training options so individuals can start-up and run their own peer support group. I used to go to a DBSA support group, and I found it to be extremely helpful. I also met a lot of friends there that I’m still friends with, which is a big deal for me.
Maybe it’s weird that I don’t think others without mental illness can truly understand how I think and what I go through, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think they can care about me or try to understand me. For example, I’ve never broken my leg before, so I don’t really know what it’s like to have that happen to you. I don’t know what it feels like, how much pain it is, how inconvenient it can be, and how you have to change your life so you can heal. I still care about those that I know that broke their leg; I show that I care and that I’m compassionate, but I don’t know what it’s really like. That’s exactly how I feel about mental health. If someone has never experienced it themselves, then they don’t know what it’s like to personally live with mental illness. I’m not sure if that makes any sense to others, but it does to me. Even though no one in my family is also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, they all still try to understand and show me how much they care. I do have an aunt that also struggles with depression, and that brings us closer together. It’s a connection that I don’t have with other family members. My family loves and supports me, and that’s all that matters to me.