Hello everybody, welcome to episode 206 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's questions comes from a parent about how to best support her bipolar son.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
Now our question today speaks to a unique struggle, but something highly important. Our asker has a son who suffers from bipolar, and he really relies on her when he’s having a particularly hard time. She’s happy to support him and give him time, but is a little concerned that hours on the phone with him most nights are taking away from other things she wants to prioritize in her life. How can she support both her son and herself through this? Let’s see if we can find an in-between. Here’s her question
QUESTION: “My son is bipolar, and I am one of the few people that he speaks to when he is really struggling. He does have a therapist but financially can only speak to her a couple of times a month. I eat healthy and exercise every day, have a lot of hobbies, read a lot of self-help books and have a happy outlook about life. However, talking to him for hours on end on the phone most days of the week takes its toll on me, and time away from my partner and my other 3 children (who are adults). I worry about his future with bipolar and that saddens me. If I can get some words of encouragement or tips on how to handle this I would greatly appreciate it.”
Doing Right By Your Bipolar Son
Ok. Thanks for sending this in, ma’am, and for wanting to do right by your son. It’s not an easy situation, but the good news is that there’s no doubt that you’re doing right by your son already. Unfortunately, it’s getting in the way of other needs you have, but the effort you put forth to talk with him, the fact that he clearly trusts you and your reaching out to me for help are all signs of a parent who is doing their job for a bipolar offspring.
Let’s talk about what you can do to balance the two – to show up for your son and for yourself.
Bipolar and the Individual
As you probably know, bipolar disorder is extraordinarily unique to everyone who has it. So I can’t give you blanket solutions for how to look after yourself more without them running the risk of being turbulent enough for your son that you feel guilt or that your relationship with him has been damaged.
For that reason, the person who is going to be the most helpful to you is his therapist, who understands his specific condition. I highly encourage you to reach out to her, and what I want to spend today talking about is what questions to ask her and some answers you can probably expect, but her word should definitely trump mine if she says something opposite of what I do.
What Type of Bipolar Does He Have?
First, it’s essential that you find out from her which type of bipolar disorder he has. The jury’s out a little bit on just how to classify the different forms of bipolar, but generally speaking, they fall into bipolar 1, bipolar 2, cyclothymic disorder (or cyclothymia) and other less specific forms of bipolar disorder that formulate from medications or similar medical conditions.
I won’t spend time going through all their nuances, but if your son’s therapist can tell you which one he has, you can ask her or do separate research on how he’s affected.
Knowing what type of bipolar your son has will really dictate the rest of the information you gather. But the second supplemental question I recommend you ask his therapist is what types of comments are supportive and which are not.
This will depend on his unique circumstances and parts of his life that are affected by his bipolar, but generally, you should make the effort to be supportive and understanding as opposed to reactive.
Needless to say, you should avoid comments about him overreacting, downplaying his mood swings, and generally minimizing the pain derived from even the occasionally “advantageous” parts of bipolar like increased productivity.
Being Understanding and Setting Boundaries
You can also ask her what the best thing you can do for him is. Again, so far you seem to be doing a stellar job of being understanding with him (which you’ll have to continue and when he becomes upset with you) and supporting him. This will have to carry over if there’s any tension resulting from his treatment changing or you trying to put boundaries in that wouldn’t keep you on the phone with him so often.
Speaking of that, that’s another question to ask his therapist; how can you set boundaries with him given his disorder? Maybe you can plan specific times for you talk with him in advance so you can be sure to speak with him regularly and maintain stability for him, but also be able to plan your own life around it.
You might even throw a safety net option in there and remind him that he can always reach out if it’s a dire emergency, but again, something the therapist should speak more on than I should.
And finally, it’ll be good to ask the therapist how you can delegate and get others involved a little bit more as long as he’s comfortable with it. Maybe one day a week another family member can be his point of contact, maybe you can plan get togethers with everyone more often, or potentially pay for one extra therapy session for him per month?
Conclusion: Helping Your Bipolar Son
So until you get answers to these questions, remind yourself that you’re serving a great role for your son and that his reliance on you reflects on you being a wonderful mother.
I say this not to make you feel bad about changing your approach so as to develop more time for yourself, but so you don’t forget that this time on the phone with him is very meaningful to him and is not wasted while you do seek out a way of looking out for yourself a little more.
And when you do get these answers, know that they’re only going to help his future with bipolar; the future that you’re worried about. This will be important to keep in mind if there’s any initial pushback from him as you try to impart a new schedule.
A big thanks to our asker once again for making this episode possible, as well as for caring about real mental health concerns and striving to be the best mother she can be. Whether it’s a more day to day concern we’re more apt to addressing on the show or a more severe, diagnosable problem like bipolar, we’re all affected differently by that which we carry with us.
So even if it’s someone in your family who you know extremely well, it’s never a bad idea to ask as many questions as possible of them, their mental health professionals or other trusted sources that can help you understand what they’re going through specifically. Never assume too much.
And with that, it’s about time for me to get out of here. Thanks so much for your time today everyone and for sticking around until the end. We’ll be back again soon in 207, so don’t miss out. Take care of yourselves until then, and I’ll look forward to talking to you soon. Bye guys.