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Caring for someone with bipolar disorder


Question: I am a caregiver for a 92 year old bed ridden, extremely wealthy women. She is bipolor, manic-depressive, a dry drunk, and spoiled. Physically, mentally, and spiritually she runs me down. How do I not take her burdens home with me? I'm exhausted.

Dr. Amy:  Because it isn’t as common as other diseases, Bipolar disorder is really not as well understood. At the same time, we seem, as a society, to have more sympathy for physical illnesses than we do for mental illness. If a friend is hospitalized with a broken leg, he has visitors every day. But if something breaks in the body part above the neck, we often leave the patient alone. We’re just not as comfortable around mental illness.

And then there is the difficult and often hurtful behavior that can come with Bipolar disorder. People with a broken leg or cancer don’t usually experience the extreme mood swings that come with Bipolar disorder and that can make caring for someone who is bipolar so very stressful and frustrating.

I encourage you to continue to expand your knowledge of this condition. Here are two excellent resources.

Understanding is important, but it is not going to make all of your challenges disappear. I am sure that some days are very difficult. I’d love to hear from other caregivers on how they cope. When dealing with negativity, I usually try the following:

Listen with compassion. Being subject to the ups and downs that come with Biplor disorder is a burden. I think it shows kindness to let your client express her emotions. To a point.

Maintain your own positive energy.  Sometimes when faced with something difficult, I list all of the things that are working well and for which I feel grateful. There are literally hundreds. By focusing on positive things in your life—and hers —you can maintain positive energy in face of negativity.

Help her experience beauty. I think we humans are deeply nourished by beauty. I know your client is bedridden, but I encourage you to think of the ways, large and small, that you can help her get out of her head and take in something inspiring. A book of pictures, pictures on the Internet, poetry, reading, etc.

Take breaks.  I encourage you to build some healing and relaxing practices into your work day, to shed stress each hour. Some ideas include deep breathing, reading inspirational texts, visualization, reading a magazine etc., smelling an essential oil like lavender. Find a few things that will work for you and start to add them to your daily routine.

I also encourage you to make sure you have a solid support network so that, at the end of the day, you are able to shake free of the stresses of work and recharge. Joining a support group will enable you to talk with others who are caring for a person with Bipolar disorder. Doing fun or relaxing activities with friends will help you take your mind off work day stresses.

If it gets to be too much and you feel you are not able to provide this woman with the care she needs, I encourage you to seek another client.

Good luck! 

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