Bipolar: Do You Always Need to Know?


Have you ever heard the question asked, “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it fall, does it still make a sound?” Or what about the question, “When you shut the door on your refrigerator, does the light still stay on?” Do you believe there are people who really worry about the answers to these questions (and others like them)?

Maybe it’s because they’ve got nothing better to do with their time, or maybe because they’ve
got too much time on their hands. Maybe it’s because these types of people always have to know what’s going to happen ahead of time or they feel insecure. Or maybe they just have to know all the answers to everything. These are the types of people who can’t deal with unpredictability.

But as a supporter, you have to live with this (unpredictability) all the time, since bipolar disorder is not a predictable illness. Wait. Let me take that back for a second.

Yes, you can know predictability in two ways:

1. You CAN know the signs and symptoms of the disorder.

2. You CAN know your loved one’s warning signs and triggers.

But you CAN’T predict when a bipolar episode is going to happen. Not even a psychiatrist can
predict that. It’s like a fortune teller predicting the future!

You also have to live with unpredictability (usually a lot of it) when your loved one is in an episode. There’s no way to predict the behavior of a person in a manic episode. Nor is there any way to predict the consequences of that behavior. (Unless, of course, you are familiar with the
behavior, and you are the one who has set down the consequences for the behavior, like if it has
happened before, or something like that.) Otherwise, you just have to deal with the unpredictability of it.

Your loved one may go off on a spending spree. They may exhibit sexually promiscuous behavior. They may go gambling. They may exhibit other impulsive risk-taking behaviors.
They may take the checkbook and/or credit cards and put you into debt. They may make foolish business decisions or ventures. They may do other behaviors that you can’t predict during their episode.

One thing that might help with the problem of unpredictability in your life is to know your loved one’s triggers. Knowing your loved one’s triggers can help you as a supporter to help your loved one avoid a bipolar episode. Then what you can both do is that, after the episode is over is to look at what happened during the episode so that it doesn’t happen again.

Or what you can do during the episode to minimize the consequences afterward. By doing this, you can take some of the unpredictability out of your loved one’s bipolar disorder. This takes good communication skills between the two of you. It also takes a willingness to cooperate and to work at making things better.

If you hold resentments against your loved one (say, for something they did during a manic episode), and you don’t forgive them, you will hold things in, and you won’t talk to them as readily or willingly. The same goes for them. If they don’t feel that they can trust you, for
example, they may hold their thoughts and feelings in, and not share them with you honestly and openly. If this happens, you have a breakdown in communication. Then you’re not fighting on the same team any more.

And there is no chance for being able to cope with the unpredictability of your loved one’s bipolar disorder. You need to be together on this issue.

Well, I have to go!

Your Friend,



  1. I really enjoy the emails. My husband just had a bipolar manic episode, the 1st at 69 years old. It took two hospital visits to find the diagnosis and find the right medicine. I am happy with the results but do know that I have to keep a close eye on him as a supporter for repeat episodes. The tips you give are very helpful.

  2. The only prediction you can make is that episodes are unpredictable. Certainly there are conditions and or predictors that odds are will cause some type of response. In our case there are some key conditions like fatique, lack of eating on a schedule, time deadlines, change in routine, new social situations and the other usual stressors.
    The hardest part for me is trying to avoid the pending episode but not canceling out the event to avoid more
    episodes later on due to guilt or “predictable behavior.
    In spite of excellent meds, a great doc and 47 years of experience, you cannot avoid the episode or its impact.

  3. Hi Dave,
    I have been reading your website for over six years and have found it invaluable at times! My question is i have been in a relationship with a man who suffers from Bipolar Disorder Type 2.For the most part it has been good with episodes occurring only a couple of times a year at times of stress or non-compliance with medication.However recently it has been happening much more frequently as he has set up a business which takes up a lot of his time. My question is am I mad to continue this relationship i do love him very much but think sometimes that is not enough? Statistically do people get worse in later life or can they improve or stay stable? I know this is a big question but I would appreciate your opinion.

    Regards Marie

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