Bipolar Supporter? This Separation is Important


I hope you’re doing good today.

I want to share a comment that was posted on my blog recently.

Andrew says:

“It must be a dismal existence

simply to wait for the next storm

or to have forgotten or put aside

the things about a person who has

bipolar disorder – what makes

defines them as a person.

How sad, and totally unnecessary. And even sadder that some people choose to live there.

I have bipolar disorder, but I came to the doctor/therapist with a whole being, a soul, and a presence that this condition cannot/did not erase!

I refuse to be a walking cluster of symptoms, a label, an apology, a dull recording of the misfortunes I have experienced.

Bipolar disorder is a condition I have. It is not my name (i.e., I am not “a bipolar,” I am not bipolar.”) I HAVE bipolar disorder. It is nothing more than the name the psychiatric professionals chose to describe my experience of the condition.

The other wonderful effect of separating the label/condition from the person is that it holds each of us responsible for who we are and what we do. I have some good character traits and others

that are not enviable. I refuse to let bipolar disorder take any credit or blame for those things.”


First of all, Andrew makes an excellent point about the difference between BEING bipolar and HAVING bipolar disorder.

That’s one thing I really preach about, especially in my courses/systems, where I talk about the difference between the two:







But let me backtrack and comment on some of the other things he said.

In the beginning of his comments, he talks about “waiting for the next storm.”

I can totally relate to that.

I used to call my mom’s episodes “the storm.”

She would yell and yell at me when she was in an episode, so bad that it was like this huge storm.

And, like this man describes, my dad and me were always waiting for the next “storm”

to explode from my mom.

That was before she became stable, of course.

But after that he says, “…or to have forgotten or put aside the things about a person who

has bipolar disorder – what makes defines them as a person.”

That’s what I wanted to talk to you about today:

Separating your loved one from their bipolar disorder.

It is SO important that you be able to do this.

Supporters who cannot separate their loved one from their disorder can end up feeling angry and

resentful toward their loved one.

Then they can feel guilt and shame for feeling those negative feelings on top of it.

They might even begin to stress out or feel anxiety over it.

Or even get depressed over it.

And all of this is unnecessary…

If they could just separate their loved one from their bipolar disorder.

Now, in no way am I saying that this is an easy thing to do. I know that it isn’t.

But I think if someone had told me what I’m telling you, and if I had done it back when I was

living with my mom, a lot of my problems could have been eliminated.

One way you can separate your loved one from their disorder is to keep in mind what they are

like when they are “normal,” or between episodes.

But let’s get back to Andrew’s comment before I go, because I really like the way he ended

his comment.

He said, “The other wonderful effect of separating the label/condition from the person is that it holds each of us responsible for who we are and what we do.”

That means that your loved one, being separate from their disorder, cannot blame the disorder for what they say/do.

They have to take responsibility for their behavior.

Have you been able to separate your loved one from their bipolar disorder?

How have you done it?

Has it made it easier for you to deal with things?

  1. I have a Question:

    My daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as has my newphew. My brother probably has it, too. My question is, when you are talking about the disorder/storms, it seems as though they are days or weeks apart. My family seems to swing from one extreme to the other sometimes on a daily or every other day basis. Is this normal? Is this a different form of the illness?


  2. Thank you so much for all of your useful comments. My daughter is bi-polar, not yet stable — but hopefully on her way. I am looking for New Jersey doctors, who deal with bi-polar — anyone with information, please e-mail me. I am currently going in and out of New York city and would like to have back up here in NJ. Again, Dave thanks so much for your uplifting words.

  3. I think that separating the illness from the personality was the best and hardest thing I had to do for my relationship/supporting my daughter. I found I would take things personally that she said or did during an episode and she would not even remember saying or doing what hurt me. My daughter had given up on her meds because they were not working and turned to heroin and alcohol. Finally, after losing everything, she’s been doing well and working very hard with her day program to learn what is the addict, the illness and her personality. As I see her struggle to understand herself, it has helped me to understand her better as well. We all wear different masks to cover up our own inadequacies, so how can we be angry with the effects of the illness which has changed the brain chemistry of our loved one? I would never define a person by the illness/disease or handicap, because those things can be overcome. I do agree though that the consequences of their actions, during an episode, must be theirs alone. We all must learn from our mistakes or we are doomed to repeat them. An illness cannot make or learn from a mistake-only the person who has it can.

  4. Morning.. i was just reading your last section . i agree completely.. its the only way to deal with it.. i have been reading alot about bipolar disoeder, my fianve has it. and it helped me so much as your info has really helps to understand whats happening.. i was like that at first.. depressed and having anxiaty bad.. but understanding the as you say storm. really gives hope..we get along better and i know when an episode is coming on..and let it run its supportive but again i let her have her is hard but it makes it so much easier knowing how do deal with it.. thank you so much your info helps so much..john.

  5. For years I have been trying to separate my loved one’s from their disorder!!! It is VERY difficult! My Mom, who passed away 7 years ago, had been struggling with this disorder for many years. I had no idea what it was, I thought that she had a problem with alcohol and was depressed. I did not find out her diagnosis until a month after my son was born which was about 6 years after her 1st “episode” and hospitalization, but even then I did not know that she had bipolar disorder. And I was angy and resentful because at the time of the birth of my son, was another full blown episode which lasted a long time (a few months) with 30 days in a psychiatric facility and then after being released she ended up with a collapsed lung or lungs and ended up in ICU, and almost did not make it. She had not yet met her Grandson and it was Easter…..he was born in November. I was angry that she was acting out and looking for attention at one of the most joyous occasions of my and her life!!! But I did not know that she had this disorder….the doctor slipped in telling me, I think because they did not think she would make it and I am the only child.

    She got better and was able to get stable after a series of really bad events and meet her only Grandchild when he was about 1 years old (heartbreaking) that it took that long but a healing occured between us when I finally realized that what was happening was not her fault. She got to know and love my son and passed away when he was almost 5.

    For the past 5 years I have been separated from my husband and he has been experiencing the same symptoms as my mother. But I have not been able to separate the disorder from him yet. He is not being compliant in taking his meds and has a substance abuse problem that is so terrifying. I am at my wit’s end with this stuff as I have been dealing with it on a personal level for 29 years of my 43 soon to be 44 year old life!!! It is thoroughly exhausting!!! And when I try to discuss this with my husband, everything is my fault, which I know is not true, but it is so hard to deal with.


  6. I love Andrews’s blog! I couldn’t agree with him more. Thank you!

    I have bipolar and when I start to get emotional, depressed or manic my partner copies me and starts to do the same behavior, which then makes me worse. This cycle just goes round and round. I try to hold back, calm down and not let anything show but when you live with someone it very hard to do consistently. I ask him if he has bipolar and say that he should take all these meds too. I have tried many different strategies to stop this but he says that he feels what I feel. If someone out there can give me some tips it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for all your emails David, they helped me so much through tough times.

  7. What a well put example of seperation, i used to get anxious when i was waiting for my daughter to explode,now i have a better understanding of her symptoms,Although patients does not come over night understanding is the key.I value all the information you post on a daily basis.Thankyou Deanne

  8. In the past, I have said, “I am bipolar.” I realize now that I “have bipolar,” and am NOT defined, personaliy-wise, as anything BUT a “person with bipolar disorder.” I know it’s more than semantics, but the difference is there…

    Fortunately, during my three manic episodes, I didn’t do a whole lot to be held accountable FOR. My Mom always “cleaned up after me” – paid my outrageous phone bills, cleared out my rented room or apartment, and settled things with the people I worked with or shared a house with. Looking back, it was as if I were “scotfree,” and allowed to “get away with” my impulsive behavior.

    Having not been hospitalized since I was 29, I am “on my own,” with no Supporter, and have had to become responsible for ALL my actions. If that means I’ve maxed out my credit cards and owe $10K+ in debt, well, then, I have to pay the piper. It IS hard to be accountable for my actions as a “person with bipolar,” but, hey, “I was never promised a rose garden” in this life, and I cling to the hope of a better life to come.

    BIG HUGS to all bipolar survivors and those who love us. May God bless you real good. I pray for my country.

  9. Dave i wrote you before and i cant do it anymore i am so depress and he even set me up to come to his house and then called the police on me i think bi-polar and a mean streak is in my husband and he has no feeling for anyone he is running up bills and is calling sex phone numbers and has order 200.00 worth of x rated movies on cable. i am living with my mom and then he moved 3minutes away from me i am so hurt by him i do not want to see him again i do feel sorry for the next person that gets involed with him in ten years i have lost everything i wored hard for he was younger then me della shafer

  10. Andrew (D.I.) is a good writer. He, like many other people who cohabit with a bipolar condition, sometimes forget how their behavior is affecting the ones in their lives that love them the most. There absolutely is a wonderful side and soul when he chooses to let that side shine. But you make a good point also – the storms kept coming until stability existed in your mom and all the storms sometimes outweigh the good stuff. That doesn’t mean we forget the good qualities and the person behind the Jekyll and Hyde personality traits, and clearly someone suffering from a mental condition that makes their behavior at times intolerable does not want to be defined by the condition, but it does mean that as family members we have to, at times take long breaks or we ourselves would be defined by all the words that are not digested in the mouth before said during manic episodes and abusive rages. I think we can all relate to this as supporters. There is nothing dull by the experiences of loving someone with a mental health condition, but it is a sad sad day when that same person will not listen to our experiences also. As a family we have been defined by having “a crazy” in the family. We have been scapegoated (blamed for the condition) and refused communication with extended family. We have hurt to the depths of our beings all in the name of one person living with bipolar disorder and yet there is no medication for us but healing from the trauma of the totality of the experience. But there is medication for the condition so aptly named bipolar so things don’t spiral so far out of control that there is only nothingness where there was once being.

  11. He said, “The other wonderful effect of separating the label/condition from the person is that it holds each of us responsible for who we are and what we do.”

    That means that your loved one, being separate from their disorder, cannot blame the disorder for what they say/do.

    If only this was true!
    But why so often is the behavior blamed on having bipolar disorder then?

  12. Why was my comment erased?
    For those of us who have gone through the depths of hell and back with an individual with bipolar disorder – why would you erase the comment?
    Afraid there are two sides – the family’s experience too?
    That is what this blog is for I thought – the supporters?
    I crafted my response with love and care but obviously it hit a REAL nerve.

  13. Dear Family member,
    It is the hardest thing to separate the person from the Bipolar and our journey( as supporters) is as long as it is from the tip of my finger to the furtherest star( to coin an indian proverb: but it is a journey I humbly suggest we supporters must make if we are to come through this calamity in one peice. I don’t for one minute believe that my daughters BP episode was as devastating as yours there can be no comparisons- each case is different and unique and awful, but, the day I separated my beautiful daughter from her horrendous disease( and this includes all her attempts to hurt me and herself and the neglect she visited on her children)
    I began to heal, I began to hope I began to find a way through this disaster, I began to see a future.No I didnt free her from her responsibilites to herself our her kids , the hardest thing I did was stop enabling her by excusing her behaviour or making excuses for her behaviour.)I had to change the way I felt about mental disorders, about how I communicated with her , about how I enabled instead of supported my daughter- even now I have to stop myself from becoming anxious when she drives the car out of the yard to go to work, I have to still stop myself from beimng anxious when she is 10 minutes late home from work. Those with BP have down days too!!!
    She is still the beautiful bright courageous daughter I had before she was diagnosed with BP we just have a new “normal”life she has reconnected with her children she has returned to the workforce as a research assistant at the university she has been 5 months stable
    ( she was a medical student in her last year before her episode)
    When I let go of all my anger and bitterness and negative thoughts (concerning her horrendous actions when she was in her major episode)and decided to separate my daughter from her enemy
    ( bipolar) I allowed myself to hope and believe there was a future for my daughter
    Hope and positive thinking cannot survive in negative frame for either the loved one or the supporter.
    I love my daughter I hate the bipolar.
    Thank you Dave for the help you extend to me through the emails you send in the past the emails have been the only bright lights in a sea of blackness and bleak pain.

  14. That was beautiful Shona. I am on a new journey. And yet another experience I was so hoping I would not have to go through – my son is also showing the same behavior and bipolar symptoms that my husband did and still does.
    I am saddened but determined to keep the disorder and the person (the loveable boy) separate even as it marches through the next generation and I am punched, pinched, scratched, kicked, cursed at and frightened in the midst of one of his storms also. There must be some way that generation after generation does not have to suffer from this horrific condition, when it is genetic.

  15. I write a year later of our experience. We gave our very bipolar et al family member a chance to be with us as a family again a year ago. It lasted 6 months. The abuse toward us worsened every day. We were in better shape a year ago when we still held hope close to our hearts, than we are now, when all hope that he will go to a psychiatrist that does not collude with him, take the proper medications, and want to live in a way that is not abusive toward the family that once loved him. I say once, because we are so hurt and traumatized, there is nothing left of the good memories, only the vile vomit he continues to disperse in writings – threat to murder – and the behavior has intensified to extremes that are completely intolerable. So we withdrew as family members and now i write as an x family member, for our own sanity and peace to survive the aftereffects of this horrible tragic disease process that is unrelenting in its nastiness to those that try to interact with a bipolar et al (meaning comorbidities of personality disorders) family member.

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