I wrote a reflection recently on how I live with others, which was essentially about navigating the many webs of relationships in my life for optimal mental health and well-being. Living with bipolar disorder means that I need to remain vigilant to the potentially severe changes and challenges of mood which are characteristic of the illness. However, I want to shift the focus to how others live with me for this blogpost. I include here a number of reflections from important people in my life and I respond to each while being mindful of their needs. I am sincerely grateful to them for agreeing to publish their comments which I hope will resonate with readers.
“There was only one time when you were different than usual over the past year. You were talking very quickly and loudly, and we were both concerned. But you were still able to express yourself. We checked in with you on that occasion and you were fine the next day. As far as your low mood is concerned, we don’t notice anything unusual about it.”
When I am with my friends, they need to feel that there is a sense of cohesion between us rather than focusing only on my agenda. They need to feel anchored in the present moment, and if I am talking too quickly and too loudly, it is best to calm myself through deep breathing, clearly speaking, maintaining eye contact, etc. In this way, my slowing down establishes a shared sense of groundedness between us. It’s interesting that low mood has not been brought up as a problem as I tend to experience it quite a lot. I guess the important thing is not to escape low mood but to get through it so that I can remain grounded for the sake of my friends.
“I tried to help when you were not 100%, for example, by making jokes and going for walks. For me, that’s what a partner [girlfriend/boyfriend] means: being supportive and loyal. Partners form a team, one of them should be stronger if the other is in need. Accompanying is the core. And yes, I also need to feel connected in a relationship.”
Wow, I was totally surprised and grateful to hear that my former partner basically took on board my needs as if they were hers. How selfless and inspiring! I fondly remember when her strength and compassion got me through some tough times. I valued her accompaniment and made an effort to share my vulnerability with her as soon as possible. I tried my best to look beyond myself and to make her feel loved by inviting her to my family home, asking about her dreams and meeting her loved ones. Now that we are friends, I hope to express my gratitude by being a loving presence in a different way. To truly connect as companions!
“We love working with you! We know that you have challenges from time to time, as do we all. Like you, we also need the office atmosphere to be one with little distress and anxiety. We don’t do conflict here: if there ever is any, it is resolved very quickly. It’s important to treat each other with kindness all of the time. And even though you only work part-time, we often miss you when you’re not in the office. It’s most important to have a sense of humour, and we have lots of fun here!”
It’s a great workplace! Yes, I need to be aware of my colleagues’ challenges and never to assume that my needs are greater than theirs. The office atmosphere is so important – I try to do my part in being supportive, e.g., creating an open space for communication by having a good chat during breaks. I try to be on top of work tasks and if not to let them know asap. It’s also good to go the extra mile through helping with their tasks, deadlines, etc. Above all, I endeavour to be an instrument of calm – to patiently endure when challenges come our way and to always be willing to smile. I enjoyed dropping my colleague a note to say ‘Hi’ when I passed by the office on my day off… and here’s to the fun and Christmas celebrations!
My mam said: “I need to be able to relate to you like any of my other children, to treat you like anyone else. Sometimes it would be good to know certain things about bipolar so that I can be more mindful. Sometimes I also need support around the house and a break from things”. My sister said: “Being a good listener really helps“.
It feels comforting and reassuring to hear my mam’s words, and I want to respond by helping her and making her feel most at ‘home’ in her own house. With regard my condition, I let her know that I find it helpful doing mindfulness exercises with her in the late evenings – a minimum of stimulation at this time works perfectly to calm my mind and I know she feels the benefit of it too. I try to support her around the house by caring for granny (who lives with us) as much as possible, giving my mam well-needed breaks to do what she wants to do. And I’ve begun to surprise her with flowers! Regarding my sister, it is good to nourish the ‘usness’ in any given situation by inquiring about her day, caring for her through my actions, e.g., making her a cup of tea, and creatively expressing ourselves together, e.g., singing, art and writing.