How Can I Help?

Yesterday was a bad day.

It’s hard not to fling drama all over it, gussy the day up with adjectives and expletives, but simple serves.  Bad.  It was a bad day.

I felt the need to email my friends and family to ask for their loving thoughts and prayers.  I don’t do this as a rule.  I can usually pull out my tools, distract my mind from losing itself in the sludge.  Sometimes I make a call.  Sometimes I meet a friend.  But, yesterday I needed the Full Monty.

I noticed that two questions kept coming up in the responses from my loved ones:

  1. What caused this episode?
  2. How can I help?

I know these questions come from love, from seeing someone they love in pain and wanting to make it better.  Nothing hurts more than watching someone dear to us suffer.  We want to fix it.

But, I can’t answer these questions.  What causes bipolar episodes?  Doctors don’t know.  Therapists don’t know.  People who have bipolar disorder don’t know.  There are theories that go in and out of fashion.  New research starts out as promising, then fizzles.  Some of us can identify triggers that may, at times, nudge the cycle in one direction or another.  But, those are inconsistent and not always in evidence at the bipolar crime scene.  What caused this latest episode, and why is it cycling up and down?  My best answer is “it’s the nature of the illness.”

A variation on this theme is the question “How can I help?”  I know I feel better if I have some concrete way to assist a person in trouble.  I feel like I’ve eased their suffering, made the situation better, done my part to make a positive change.  Unfortunately, the only way I’ve discovered to alter an episode once it starts is to create a shock of some kind.  I don’t think the folks asking this question want to hear, “Slap me” or “Give me a crisis I have to deal with.”  Even then, a shock doesn’t always work.  So, I’m not ready to stand in line to get slugged.

I’m not shy about asking for what I need.  That’s why I emailed everyone yesterday.  I needed the positive energy and loving words they sent back.  I gave them a way to help me.  But, generally, I have no idea how anyone can help, because nothing helps.  There’s no easing the symptoms, just managing and “holding on” until the cycle passes.

It’s hard to explain to folks how stressful these two little questions can be.  These are questions without answers, but people want answers.  They want direction.  They want to be part of the solution.  They can’t tolerate the idea that bipolar disorder is this quixotic and unpredictable, that there’s not something I should be doing/ingesting/avoiding to snap out of it, that there really is no cure.  I understand.  I do.

So, I’m going to give folks a couple of things they can always do to help me.  I hope this little list will bring some relief to the people I love and who love me.  I appreciate everything you do for me.  I love you.

  1. Send Money.  (I’m poor.  Money always helps.)
  2. Take me out for a Meal.  (Healthy food + Human contact.)
  3. Remind me why you Like Me (The twisted thoughts make me forget.)
  4. Take me to a Movie.  (Distraction + Human contact without the pressure of conversation)
  5. Send Loving Thoughts and Prayers (This helps more than you know.)

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rev Marshall Wright
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 09:05:46


    Just returned from posting this note to The Beamers when your blog flew in. “How Can I Help ?” must be in the cosmic winds today. IMHO, a possible answer.

    “A note about permission: Beamers are unconditional, not attached to outcomes . . . believing that for some, death is healing and in the flow of the highest good. We do not understand, nor need to try . . . it is referred to as “the mystery” for good reason. It is important that the family or the beamee themselves understand the difference. We are not a prayer group based on fear that feels the need to ask for specific outcomes.

    Lastly, many ask me personally for beams, yet are reluctant to invoke the power of the beamers as a group. Once again, I’ll highlight the overwhelming experience of our tribe . . . WHEN HEALING IS REQUESTED FOR ONE . . . WE ARE ALL HEALED . . . FOR WE ARE ONE.

    HO TO THE FLOW . . .

    Love is . . .


  2. pegoleg
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 10:02:45

    I didn’t know that even questions about how to help would cause anxiety. It seems like quite a minefield you have to dance through.

    I was in Chicago on Sunday and happened to catch 7am mass at the cathedral, so I sent a prayer up for you and your dad. I could almost see it going up, up to the beautiful vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows, then through, out and up.


  3. Kathryn McCullough
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 12:06:19

    I swear I could have written this post. You are speaking a language I understand well. Usually the questions make it worse for me, make me feel obligated to offer a satisfying answer.
    I also can’t believe how perfect your list is! Why didn’t I conceive of such a list when I was at my sickest?
    I love your writing, Sandy–your ability to shine clarity on the bipolar experience. Hang in there, my friend. You are in my heart and prayers!


  4. Sheryl Mae
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 13:13:56

    Wow! I really liked what Marshall said. Can’t you just feel those beams headed your way with energy, good wishes, or lightness coming from all directions? Ho to the flow – indeed! I think they are sending to me too for recovery following Dad’s death. Thanks beamers! Keep them coming.


  5. Hannah
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 13:31:00

    I totally agree, it is such a double edged sword being asked ‘what can I do?’, because you know that the person cares for you, & wants to do something positive to help, yet you don’t have the answers, &, for myself, as a people pleaser, I WANT to be able to make the person asking feel better by giving them an answer!! I like your suggestion of something helpful: remind me why you like me – this is a really positive thing, & I hope that when I’m in that dark place I can have the strength to reach out to my friends & ask them this. I hope that this depression passes soon for you xx


    • Sandy Sue
      Nov 10, 2011 @ 07:12:08

      It’s hard to ask for what you need, especially when the darkness folds in. It warps us into feeling unworthy, which is just the illness talking.


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