Thursday, January 24, 2013

Promoting good relationships despite communication problems in bipolar disorder
Got a bad connection?
Do you suffer from bipolar disorder?  If so, have you ever been accused of speaking unclearly and thus causing confusion?  To be sure, anyone could be the victim of such an accusation.  But the case with bipolar disorder does make it special, doesn't it?  The relationship between speech and bipolar disorder should be fairly obvious, seeing that it is an illness of the brain with a direct effect on thinking and emotions.  Even when a person is not going through an "episode", there are leftover effects of previous cycles of mania and depression.  These could come in the form of painful memories or consequences of what might have happened during an episode.  There is also the possibility of fluctuating neurotransmitter levels after an "episode" is finished, albeit the mood may not be significantly depressed or manic.  In other words, with bipolar disorder there are gray areas; not everything is simple black-and-white.  That is one reason why it has been said, "this illness never really goes away".

What are the possible sources of confusion in communication in the case of bipolar disorder?

The confusion which arises from the illness is very understandable.  We have to accept sooner or later that the bipolar mind works quite differently.  It would be quite evident when observed during obvious manifestations of mood-swings during episodes, but also when observed in a person over a longer period of time.  The latter is what we should try to do.  It is wise not to form opinions quickly.  As humans we tend to be really poor judges of the true character of a person and then try to compensate that with being judgmental.  End result?  Judgmental individuals tend to form negative opinions about others, overlooking even good qualities.  Surely, that cannot be a good idea.

Also not to be overlooked is the confusion that medication itself can give rise to.  How can it be that powerful chemicals are introduced into the body as mood stabilizers, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and not have a noticeable effect on communication abilities?  If something can provide relief from epileptic seizures and anxiety features, the psychological side-effects can be expected also to be fairly potent.  The need for close monitoring and supervising bipolar medication cannot be over-emphasized.  Within the circle of people who know and understand bipolar disorder, communication is still a challenge.  How much more so is that the case for those who are not a part of that circle of family, friends, and acquaintances.

Bipolar disorder can interfere with the development of social skills.  In the presence of a good support system, a person has the chance to express and grow.  But when such social support is missing or if a bipolar patient tends toward isolationism, it can have an adverse effect.  Such would be the case for those also who don't suffer from bipolar disorder.  One of the significant factors in the successful treatment of bipolar disorder is integration into society, having meaningful relationships with others.

It is not just about what is heard and what is said

If we were to limit the confusion in communication that happens in bipolar relationships strictly to the words that are heard and spoken, it would be a big mistake.  Personal feelings, situations, the relationship itself, our beliefs - such are the things that provide the all-important context to those words.  Isn't it true that, there are times even the most innocent word can hurt deeply while at other times we are able to overlook more serious errors?  This happens in all human relationships.  The imperfection of the human being is nowhere as evident as it is in the case of communication.

What can be done to promote good relationships despite communication problems in bipolar disorder?

  • Being tolerant: The ability to maintain our own standards without imposing them on someone or expecting them of someone else is what lies at the root of being tolerant.  Sounds like a challenge?  It is!  Tolerance is such a key component of preserving any relationship.
  • Commitment: In the absence of commitment, relationships don't last.  Commitments required by moral principles are steered in the right direction because, then we understand the reasons to be committed.  We are also motivated.
  • Patience: Allowing ourselves and the other person time when a mistake in communication is made does at least two things - (1) allows time for reflection, (2) allows time to cool down.  As the situation may be, this often can prevent a bad situation becoming worse.
  • Realistic, not a perfectionist: Being realistic and being a perfectionist cannot co-exist.  Erring on the side of expecting perfection from oneself is bad enough, but when we expect perfection from those we are related to it robs a relationship of peace.
  • Being a peacemaker: Who should be the peacemaker? Should it be the one who probably (or even definitely) made the mistake in communication?  It often happens that the joy of promoting a good relationship with someone we care about and love outweighs the earlier two questions.  If we take the initiative because we honor the relationship and out of regard for conscience, it stands as proof of our love and concern.
  • What experience can and cannot do: Would you do something when faced with a problem in communication because you did the same thing the last time with good results?  You might.  But also leave room to see how the current situation differs from before.  We can't really expect two situations to be identical, and the people not to have undergone changes with time.

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