Bipolar Disorder, Relationship, and Recovery

Individuals with bipolar disorder experience a distressing pattern of ups and downs in mood that can interfere with school, work and relationship.  Even when medical treatment is helpful, people with bipolar disorder often struggle with inconsistency.  They may unexpectedly miss appointments, classes or work shifts; sometimes just one and sometimes a week or more at a time. When this occurs without explanation, other people have difficulty knowing what to make of it. For example, missing work shifts without explanation can be interpreted as a lack of caring about or commitment to work, when in fact the person with bipolar disorder might care very much about the job but got depressed and couldn’t get out of bed for a couple days.

The concept of recovery refers to the strategies people can use to “recover” from disruptions that the ups and downs of bipolar disorder can cause in an individual’s day-to-day life.  Developing relationships and communicating are key components of recovery.  For example, a college student chats with or emails each instructor at the beginning of a semester to explain the ways their bipolar disorder might interfere with attendance during the semester, along with noting that the class is important to them.  If a mood episode occurs that results in missed classes or assignment due dates, an email is sent to the instructor to explain what is happening, and to ask for a chance to recover (e.g., get class notes or a few extra days to turn in an assignment).

Oftentimes others will have empathy and compassion for the person whose bipolar symptoms are disruptive to life.  Using recovery strategies can sometimes mean the difference between passing a class or failing it, or keeping a job versus having to look for a new one.  If you struggle with ongoing symptoms of bipolar disorder, ask your therapist how you can use recovery strategies in your life in order to better maintain your work, school and relationships with others.

Author: Brett May, PhD