Speaking Bipolar – A Mental Illness Translator

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.

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.

What you say to someone with Bipolar isn't always what they hear. Get a glimpse inside their mind with the Bipolar Translator. | #Bipolar #BPD #MentalIllness #FamilySupport


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.

Bipolar, Chronic Illness, and Spinning Plates

If you do not 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.

What you say to someone with Bipolar isn't always what they hear. Get a glimpse inside their mind with the Bipolar Translator. | #Bipolar #BPD #MentalIllness #FamilySupport

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.

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.

What you say to someone with Bipolar isn't always what they hear. Get a glimpse inside their mind with the Bipolar Translator. | #Bipolar #BPD #MentalIllness #FamilySupport


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.

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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 manic.

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.


What you say to someone with Bipolar isn't always what they hear. Get a glimpse inside their mind with the Bipolar Translator. | #Bipolar #BPD #MentalIllness #FamilySupport

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 very true. Painfully true. And I sincerely apologize.

I tend to destroy the people I date. That’s not hyperbole. There is quite the path of destruction behind me.

When you have bipolar, you have two very defined and intense responses in relationships. These instincts are much stronger than that of 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.”

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What you say to someone with Bipolar isn't always what they hear. Get a glimpse inside their mind with the Bipolar Translator. | #Bipolar #BPD #MentalIllness #FamilySupport

Can you win?

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.

And when two bipolar people date? Well, look out. I know some end up married, but I honestly have no idea how that ever works.

If you are bipolar, I know you can relate to much of what I wrote here. If you are 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 or a friend who is diabetic or a recovering addict. We all make changes and allowances for our friends and loved ones.

You can read more about bipolar relationships in the post Bipolar Musings: Riding in Chaos on the Relationship Carousel.

Thank you for putting up with us. If you enjoyed this post, please share it on Pinterest or other social media.

What are some other common expressions that you bipolar-translate in your head? Please comment below.

What you say to someone with Bipolar isn't always what they hear. Get a glimpse inside their mind with the Bipolar Translator. | #Bipolar #BPD #MentalIllness #FamilySupport

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31 thoughts on “Speaking Bipolar – A Mental Illness Translator

  1. This is a great post, Scott. It’s wonderful to read this from a man’s perspective…bravo for writing about the illness that must not be named. 😉

    I’m bipolar type 2, so there are some differences — but so many similarities in coping mechanisms etc. Our friends are indeed treasures.

    Healthy, Savvy & Wise

    1. Stephanie, Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It’s important for all of us to help hold each other up through this struggle.

  2. Scott Thankyou so much for sharing this… I have been with the most fabulous man for the past 8 months but i’ll Be honest it’s been a roller coaster as I’m positive he is bipolar, infact I’m 100% positive he is. When he is in his ‘ dark’ times he wants to do it alone and pushes me away and yet when he’s in his ‘ yellow happy times’ there is no one on this earth I would rather be with. There is very little out there to help and support people like me that just want to love someone with bipolar…so Thankyou so much for writing this as it helps people like me so much. Sadly I have recently vacated my seat on the roller coaster, not because I wanted to but because I had to… I hated giving up on my beautiful man but it was exhausting and it hurt but I remain hopeful that we can resolve things… Thankyou again xxx

    1. I’m sorry you ended up having to take a break from your relationship. I know it’s been very hard for people to date me. If you see potential, try not to give up on him. He might just need to know that someone will stick around. Thanks for your comments. I hope you’ll stop back again.

      1. I had a depressive episode, he heard me talk and told me, “that is the Bipolar talking” I believe he read it, I also shared with another friend who has bipolar and he enjoyed the read.

  3. Wow. I truly did not realize how ignorant I was of my own illness. This article provided a clarity on issues that I have never truly explored. My relationship with my family has been strained for several years because of the misunderstandings and maybe this article will help some light for them as it has for me. Thank you.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. I would like to turn the post into a series because it tends to be the most popular post on my blog. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  4. Wow! Tx so much for this….I always wanted to explain how my bipolar made me act the way I do but I didn’t really know how to articulate myself so that people can try to understand. This is a keeper for sure….

  5. Great article! I have bipolar schizoaffective disorder and rapid cycling. And your text is spot on! He says this, I hear that. It’s like every time he says something, I am convinced in my heart that he wants to hurt me emotionally. Really sad.

    🙂 bookmarking your page!

  6. Really good read! I have been in a relationship with a “nonpolar” for the better part of 27 years. The first were the most rocky, as I was just developing bipolar. The last few have been sketchy as well, on both our parts for one reason or another. I love the way you were able to clarify what we are thinking vs. hearing. It can be difficult, especially someone new to the disorder or newly learning their selves. Thanks so much!!

  7. I shared your website on my Pinterest page. I have access to over 500,000 people worldwide via social media sites via my blog Bipolar Bandit,and FB group and page Mental Health Advocates United and Advocates for people with mental illnesses. I hope you consider liking and joining the group. We do allow you to share your blog on the weekends. In addition, if there is any way you can help me, please let me know. Mickey3333nc@gmail.com Bipolar Bandit can be googled. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/405886985165366132/

  8. So glad I read this. My sister-in-law is bipolar, and so often I have absolutely no clue what to say without creating some sort of angry reaction from her. For some reason Bo, though, can joke all he wants around her and she takes it in stride. I just kept thinking it was my fault somehow, never saying the right thing.

  9. I cried to realize how true this was.i relized may way is not the rite way. my main problem is trust. I don’t trust the system documentation on who can see my information..HIPPA is a joke..I was in the medical field and I no that stops me from getting proper help.butvty for this it open my eyes

    1. Christine, Trust is a common issue when you are dealing with mental illness, but at some point you have to trust someone. I understand, though, because I still fight every day the inclination not to trust people. As hard as we might try, we can’t fight this battle alone. Maybe try to find a support group in your area or online that can direct you to a trustworthy medical professional.

      Thank you for commenting and sharing your experience. You are right, HIPPA has not done most of the things it was designed to do. Please don’t let that stop you from getting the help you need. There are good doctors and nurse practitioners out there who will keep things confidential.

  10. I’m not sure what it was that made me open your article but gosh, I’m so glad that I did. I have never been diagnosed with bipolar as I don’t really experience manic episodes unless I’m really into someone and I really want their attention (and then when I’m ignored I self-destruct). Reading this though has resonated with me profoundly. I don’t know if that’s my Borderline talking or not but I hear things the way that you have described and fight with myself to try and hear things like a “normal” person. It’s so painful when you never really feel secure with another person. I thought that maybe I was just insecure and overly sensitive or over-dramatising some things but this may be the reason that I do the things I do. You’ve given me something to speak with my psychiatrist tomorrow that’s for certain! Thank you!

    1. It makes me so happy that this post resonated with you. You are not alone in your struggles. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. Keep fighting.

  11. I really love this post. My husband and I are both bipolar and it has been the best and worst years of my life. We love each other very much and it will be 20 years in May. I can seriously relate to the part about having friends or lack thereof. Most people do not understand why we do the things we do. I will stop talking to someone for a period of time and then wonder why I haven’t heard from them. I thought about it and realized that I wouldn’t talk to me either. Thanks for the post.

    1. Twenty years of marriage in today’s world is really something to celebrate. Congratulations!

      It brings me great joy when my posts resonate with someone. Thank you for taking the time to let me know.

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