Loved One Suffering From Bipolar?


You know, I got an email from someone saying, “I am a Bipolar Sufferer….” and it bothered me. What she wrote in the email is not important for this message, but the introduction is. I thought to myself “bipolar sufferer?” Do you have to suffer from bipolar disorder? I asked myself. Does everyone who has it actually suffer from bipolar disorder? Then I thought about it. No, in my opinion, everyone who has bipolar disorder does not necessarily suffer. I know my mom no longer does. Nobody that works for me with bipolar disorder suffers any more. Once your loved one reaches stability, I believe the “suffering” part is over. On the other hand, just using the term “sufferer” is probably a misnomer.

In general, we say people are suffering. For example, we may say, “They are “suffering from the flu,” or something as trivial as that (not that the flu is trivial, just when compared to something like bipolar disorder). So we need to define “suffering.” One of the ways that Webster’s dictionary defines suffer is: “to submit to or be forced to endure.” Another is: “to endure, death, pain, or distress.” And another: “to be subject to disability or handicap.”

According to these definitions, I can see how someone undiagnosed or newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder might truly suffer. But as they begin to recover, I believe the suffering lessens.

I think it also has to do with your attitude. Like whether you feel that you are in control, or the disorder is in control. For example: How you talk to your loved one with bipolar disorder and how you talk to yourself is really important. Watch the wording you use. Like this woman in the email. If you think of yourself as a bipolar sufferer or your loved one as suffering from bipolar disorder, doesn’t that make it a very negative thing? Even something that can’t be defeated? Or recovered from? Something that controls you? Instead of you controlling it? Don’t you think things will be far worse if you think of it in terms of suffering?

A couple of those definitions made it sound like a horrible thing, to suffer. And it is. On the other hand, let’s look at the term “recover.” Webster’s dictionary defines it as: “to get back, to regain…” “to find or identify again…” “to bring back to normal position or condition…” “to save from loss and restore to usefulness.” Do you see how these definitions are so much ore positive?

If you concentrate on recovery more than suffering, you will have a much easier time of it.

Well, I have to go!

Your Friend,




  1. I am successful with my Bipolar II most of the time. I take my meds exactly as prescribed. I try to do most everything I can to maintain my stability. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered the worst trigger for an episode for me is surgery. They are pretty sure it is the anesthesia. My next to last episode was a mixed episode that lasted 18 mos. I thought I was going to be crazy for the rest of my life. It was hell! I was free from that episode for just over a month; then another surgery! Another episode!

    Even when I’m OK, if I commit to something, chances are I will be unable to follow through. Despite meds ( which only are effective so long) I sink into such black deppression I’m unable to brush teeth, answer phone or door.

    Bipolar on my best days is a curse! All the times my meds quit working and it’s trial & error with all the horrible side effects. Three wks. & try something different. On & on & on. Oh, believe me when I feel normal, I’m everywhere cause I know it want last. I have a black cloud hanging over my head! I’m single. Who would ever choose this path?

    Of three daughters, the oldest outright says there is NO such thing; my second daughter says she knows there is (of course shhe does) she is one! Untreated & won’t talk about although she agreed with me she pbly was but she doesn’t want to be labeled. My third & baby girl says she is on the fence & would like to see a blood test proving it! Oh yes it is heaven! Other than my mother, so much for my support!

    Of course, mom told me on my Father’s side it was always called “Plunkett Disease”!

    I’ve discussed my trigger with anesthesiologist, psychiatrist & surgeons, but still no success! I’ve never held a job for more than three yrs.


  2. I agree that the term “sufferer” can be translated into something much more positive as a treatment regimen is adopted. But in the mean time — when the bipolar person is in denial or not willing to accept treatment — sufferer can apply not only to the bipolar individual but also to those close to them that love them and attempt to support them. The constant rollercoaster fluctuations of the bipolar moods can wreak havoc on all involved.

  3. David,
    I have begun this learning journey years into the
    experience with bipolar.
    My grandson has been diagnosed with bipolar approx.
    3 years ago. Before that we only knew that his mother
    was dealing with it combined with alcholism, drug use
    and married to my son also an alcoholic.
    Son is recovering,got custody of the 3 boys about 10
    years ago. Single dad working long hours. Boys un-supervised etc. much more.
    Question: How can I best help when Eric 29 with
    BP walked away from High School, counseling, group
    home,Job corp, involutary placement in ST. Hospital
    (yes, he walked out of there too.) Lost numerous jobs,
    numerous homes, 1. brothers, 2. mine, 3. friends,out
    of town and in town, his dads several times.
    Alcohol, and pot medication periodically.
    He was able to qualify for indigent care but
    misses appointments. Got into automotive repair school
    where he did well for awhile while working part time.
    Dr. changed med because he wasn’t doing well. began
    to imagine people were staring. New med made it worse
    according to him.
    School counselor and boss suggested he take some
    time off, lost his home, wanted to got to VA. Got a
    job there and lost it, called from a hospital in Ohio,
    had turned himself in to de-tox.
    He was able to see his DR. here, and was accepted
    by the Salvation-army into a 90 day program. Smoked
    pot, and is not on the street after wearing his welcome
    out with several friends. He has trouble sleeping and
    helps himself to food.

    So far your programs and info. educating me alot
    but no one is likely to take him in.

    Any suggestions? Disability may be a partial
    solution but he wants to work. He just needs too
    much supervision and still has the addictions.

    I just don’t want his life wasted if there is
    a path the try. No insurance is available and we
    are all just squeezing by.

    thank you for your insights, We all have a lot
    more to learn and a person that can’t stay on course.


  4. Thank you Dave! It has taken me years to realize attitude is everything not only with BP, but with life in general. I lost my father when I was 15 years old and went through periods of manic followed by depression with periods of extreme anxiety. It was not until I reached the age of 24 that I was diagnosed with BP disorder. For many years I felt like I was stuck at the age of 15 and although I was in denial about my mental condition, I knew something was terribly wrong. Yes, I had periods of suffering in the past, but I am beyond that now. Today, I am 67 and understand my condition and I am no longer in denial, yet I have discovered I can be a happy productive person and enjoy my life. I feel people like Dave has helped so many, and he is right about attitude. Also, I have learned through his knowledge, that I can recognize when I am going to have an extreme mood swing and control it. Over the years I have discovered tools that are so helpful such as Meditation, exercise, and reading positive thinking books, such as “The power of NOW” Everyone does have the power to change their attitude and transform their life for the better. I think change is a process and I wish I had discovered Dave’s knowledge and other tools in my youth, but they were not availabe then. My life feels normal most of the time, and I have discovered a new kind of contentment and happiness. Also, I have grown spiritually as well in the process. I no longer allow labels to define who I am. In the eyes of God, we are all spiritual beings having a human experience, and he loves all of us. Thanks Dave for making a huge difference in my life. Best regards, Joy

  5. David, I truly enjoy your messages. Today though I felt a need to let you know how I differ in opinion. To have Bipolar that you have not recovered from is to suffer. This suffering can go on for years with much effort to recover. This to me is not considered “recovery”. One living with BP whilst working on finding balance that helps to feel as best one can suffer. Sometimes recovery isn’t even possible with the many factors that need to be worked on to achieve it. Not everyone can recover. And furthermore “recovery” can take many, many painful years to achieve & a relapse IS a possibility. This is suffering as well. It is a constant piece of your life that needs to be handled everyday. Even then slight imbalance and unpredictable bouts are real as well.
    Now I was diagnosed 11 yeas ago after suffering for over 10 years. Some of those 10 years were spent ruining my life and being misdiagnosed. Those years I/ my family suffered. Even after diagnosis the suffering continues. I have been struggling ever since trying to find balance. Several doctors, many/many medication cocktails and much effort on mine & my Mothers part – We still suffer. Is it not true that some cannot reach a level of balance that the BP is always there, always a constant struggle?
    I consider myself a realist. Yes, people & their loved ones suffer. However, the possibility of recovery is always there. So in my case I believe “suffering” BP is appropriate as it is the true nature of my experience. The only other way I could think to further explain is – I am suffering BP for over 20 years (then it can further be mentioned) and hope to control it. Today it does control me – it is a constant struggle, my loved ones are affected, I am constantly trying to help them and others understand it while having to continuously take necessary steps to keep it under as much control as possible & deal with the occasional (with out warning) episodes that still occur. How long does one have to not have any episodes to be considered “recovered”? Even then the diagnosed will always be going through the motions/doing what needs to be done (at the illnesses control) to maintain balance. The same treatments can & do lose effectiveness leaving the BP person to start over again. For me I consider all the damage the illness did to my life as a constant suffering that changed much of my life for the worse. To sun it up – in my view those with BP will always “suffer” from it. They will always have it first and foremost as a possibility to interfere in their lives & always need effort to “control”. It is never gone. So the suffering is always there. But one should look at things as positively as possible. Even consider the possibility of not having it a part of who you are.

  6. Thank you for writing this, Dave. My husband was diagnosed with bipolar in March of this year. It’s been a wild ride, but in the last couple of months things seemed to have evened out. The combinations of medications seems to be working with minor adjustments still being made here and there. I needed to hear that I wasn’t alone in feeling like my loved one doesn’t suffer constantly anymore. I was beginning to think I was insensitive to his struggles.

    The twelve years before my husband’s diagnosis and treatment were definitely full of suffering. Both of us were fighting for our marriage constantly, neither of us understanding what was making life so difficult sometimes. I’m glad I stuck through the mood swings and other frustrating parts of bipolar until we found out what was wrong. I get to enjoy the fantastic parts of my husband now.

    Again, thank you for showing me it is okay to focus on the fact that my husband is recovering. It is okay to look at the positive and to enjoy this part of life together.

  7. I’m a regular reader of your blog (although I tend to leave them & then read them in clusters). I’ve been mulling this one over in my mind. I think that yes there is suffering with Bi-Polar Disorder, but I also think there is suffering in life in general. Is suffering through Bi-Polar worse than suffering through cancer though? I was diagnosed (finally) with BP II when I was 32, after YEARS of things being off-kilter. 10 years of that was with a diagnosis of MDD. Of course, that meant anti-depressants, which we know can trigger manias. Every time that happened it was considered a bad side effect & I was switched to another SSRI. After diagnosis of BP though I was able to see that it was mania. I always thought of mania as being grandiose & on top of the world, but my typical expressions of it was rage. The first psychiatrist I saw told me I didn’t have Bi-Polar when I asked (as my mum had it as well) & that even if I did it would take 6 years for him to diagnose me. Some would say that I suffered those years, from when I was a pre-teen, to when I was diagnosed in my 30’s. I would probably agree that there was a lot of suffering. (I did attempt 3 times & lost custody of my 3 children) I don’t consider it suffering from Bi-Polar though. I HAVE Bi-Polar, I am NOT Bi-Polar. Having Bi-Polar Disorder is an experience. Sometimes negative with lessons learned, sometimes positive, also with lessons learned. I try not to equate my suffering with Bi-Polar, but with Life itself & the difficulties that can arise. I also try not to look at it as something to recover from. We know it can not be “cured”, so how do you recover? Can someone be in recovery from Diabetes? No, they can be treated though. Bi-Polar is a different way of experiencing life. It is not a good thing, but it is not necessarily a bad thing either. Perhaps I see things this way as I am currently stable (& enjoying the “calm” as opposed to the rage). I know another episode can happen, but I try not to dwell on it, or ruminate on the ‘what-ifs’. I have even had minor episdodes since diagnosis. Bi-Polar is part of my life now. By equating it with suffering, or recovery, it becomes a problem (for me). By equating it to another type of experience makes it a learning curve. I might be the only one to look at it that way, but that’s what works for me. (& isn’t that what matters?) 🙂

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