Bipolar is a cruel illness for so many reasons. Perhaps one of the worst is the fact that you often cannot trust the way you perceive the world around you. Hence the need for a Bipolar translator.
I have joked about writing a book with this title for years. Those of us with bipolar know that we have our own special language. And we also know that the words you say are often not the words we hear.
What follows is a collection of statements I’ve seen a lot in my mental illness journey. You can read more of my journey is the series: Surviving Bipolar.
But You Called Me Fat/Stupid/Lazy
Most likely those are not the words you said. If they are, shame on you. Those are ugly words and should not be spoken.
More often than not, they are not the words you said, but they are the words we heard.
For example, for a few weeks, I had been unable to attend my Bible Study. Things were so bad internally that I was struggling to leave the house, let alone be around a group of people.
When I felt up to it again, I went to the next Bible Study. A well-meaning friend came up and said, “It is so nice to see you tonight.”
Those words about sent me fleeing to the parking lot and speeding away in my car.
Why? Enter the Bipolar translator.
Because what my bipolar brain heard was, “So, you finally decided to show up. Where have you been? You have no good reason for not coming to Bible Study. And how long until you stop coming again.”
Raise your hand if you understand.
Think you or a loved one might be bipolar? Read the 12 Signals That Point to Bipolar for more information.
But The World Looks Dark
The bipolar brain likes to put its own slant on the world. The polar opposite of rose-colored glasses, the bipolar translator makes everything negative and insulting.
“You look nice today,” becomes, “You normally look like crap. I’m surprised you were able to put a semi-presentable outfit together.”
“You look like you’ve lost weight,” becomes, “You are a fat pig. You don’t really look like you’ve lost weight. I’m just trying to shame you into finally losing some.”
“What you cooked is really good,” becomes, “Wow, I didn’t know your skills extended beyond frozen dinners. Or did you just buy this somewhere?”
You get the picture.
If you don’t have bipolar, this may sound like a crazy over-exaggeration, but I assure you, it is not. That’s why you need to understand a Bipolar translator is sometimes needed.
This is the very real struggle that those of us with bipolar struggle with every day. This is why we sometimes get a blank look on our face and take a moment to respond after you say something. And this is why we sometimes just turn and walk away without saying anything.
Part of our mind knows what you said. It knows that the words you said are likely what you meant and contained no hidden message.
But the stronger, uglier part of our brain paints everyone as the enemy.
And every enemy is out to get us.
But You Said I wasn’t a Good Friend
I’ll be the first to admit that I often am not, and have not been, a good friend. My intentions are generally good. It’s the bipolar followthrough that is often a little off.
Or a lot off.
When you are friends with a bipolar, you have to recognize that you really have two very different friendships.
One, the friend that wants to include you in every activity and talk to you twenty times a day.
Two, the friend you rarely hear from and will turn the other way if they see you in the grocery store.
I have bipolar friends, so I know this very well. In fact, my best friends are bipolar. We seem to be drawn to each other. Go figure.
That doesn’t mean that things are easy.
And the phone kept ringing…
Someone who is very special to me did not realize she was bipolar growing up. Her family had some inkling but were a little apprehensive about getting the help they knew she needed. It was only when things started to get really bad that action was finally taken.
One afternoon she decided she needed to talk to me. I was having one of those bad days and not talking to anyone, including my family.
Still, she wanted to talk so she called me. And called me again. And called me again.
My answering machine (yes, this was some years ago) had 38 messages when I unplugged it and took the phone off the hook.
She was in stage one above.
Not long later she entered stage two. Not only did she not want to talk to us, but she almost dragged her brother down the road with her car when he tried to get in to talk to her.
I am very proud to say that today she is a wonderful woman and happily married. When we get to be together, we laugh about what she was like before medication.
But Then We Run Away
What makes friendships even harder is that we frequently try to cut people out of our lives completely. I can’t say what triggers this. If you know, please share your thoughts below.
At times it is the bipolar translator in our head.
If we are not invited to your dinner party, then you were never our friend.
If you have to cancel plans, even if you are sick, then that means you got a better offer to be with someone you really like.
And forget about what you say.
I foolishly used to say I remembered everything. It’s true there are many conversations I do remember verbatim. But on manic days, nothing can be trusted, including the memories made while experiencing mania.
You may have said, “I missed you at the Super Bowl Party,” but I heard, “Everyone was so happy you didn’t come. We had such a good time without you and your mental illness drama.”
You say, “Friday doesn’t work for me to have dinner.”
We hear, “I keep trying to tell you I don’t want to be your friend. When are you going to take a hint?”
If you are friends with one of us, well, that makes you a very special kind of person. I want to thank you right now for enduring us because most likely we will never tell you.
But You Said You Wanted to Break Up
There is a very good reason why I no longer date. If you are someone I have dated, you know the following to be accurate. Painfully so. I sincerely apologize.
I tend to destroy the people I date. That’s not hyperbole. There is quite the path of destruction behind me. Think category five hurricane.
When you have manic depression, you have two very defined and intense responses in relationships. These instincts are much stronger than that of a non-bipolar person.
One, self-preservation is always in high gear. Every situation is dangerous and every person is out to hurt you. It becomes imperative to keep people at a distance and to sometimes cut them off completely.
Two, the fight or flight response is always in panic mode, and flight is our number one option.
You say, “Let’s have date night Wednesday.”
We hear, “I am leaving you for someone else. But I don’t want you to be all crazy, so I want to tell you in a public place so hopefully, you won’t make a big scene.”
You say, “I’m not sure I can get together this weekend.”
The Bipolar translator hears, “I’m done with this relationship and just trying to let you down easy.”
There’s more relationship observations in the post:
Bipolar Musings: Riding in Chaos on the Relationship Carousel.
Is It Possible to Win?
Unfortunately, it is often a no-win situation for the non-bipolar party. There are times you cannot say anything right. No bipolar translator can fix that.
You say, “I love you and am here for you.”
Suddenly we are suffocated and overwhelmed with no choice but to run for the hills.
On the other hand, if you don’t tell us you care, then the relationship is about to end.
And when two bipolar people date?
Well, then, look out. I know some end up married, but I honestly have no idea how that ever works. I have never been successful in that equation.
What About You?
If you are bipolar, I know you can relate to much of what I wrote here. If you’re not, please don’t get scared away.
Yes, having someone in your life with bipolar does bring its own unique challenges. But it is no different than having a friend in a wheelchair, a friend who is diabetic, or a recovering addict.
We all make changes and allowances for our friends and loved ones.
Thank You for Trying
To all those friends and family enduring bipolar relationships, thank you. Thank you for putting up with us. Thank you for not running away. And especially, thank you for loving us even when we can’t love ourselves.
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What are some other common expressions that you bipolar-translate in your head? Please comment below.
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