Friday, December 23, 2016


I'd like to talk about support from family and friends for loved ones suffering from depression and bipolar disorder, specifically how people perceive and process your mental illness. In a general sense, I believe there are three kinds of supportive individuals. No one is 100% on the mark, these are merely observations I have made. Often times there are a mix of people in a network of support, so this article is centered more on individuals than groups as a whole. By network, I am referring to family, friends, co-workers, employers, etc., of individuals with a mental health diagnosis, specifically bipolar disorder, and depression, which is a debilitating component of bipolar disorder.

In my experience, the network can be explained as a representation of concentric spheres with a core at the center, a median in middle, and a mantle on the outside. A cross-section of the Earth lends itself perfectly to the explanation of levels of support within the network. The most supportive individuals are closest to the center. Lukewarm individuals who seem to care, but may tend to keep their distance, have reservations or conditions, in the middle, and those who simply want nothing to do with the matter forming the mantle.


The first example is composed mainly of family and friends who embrace your disorder as they embrace you.. That is, people who show empathy, compassion, for the daily struggles you encounter; people who show genuine care and concern. It's rare to find people who will go out of their way to help, however, people who will call or text to check-in on their loved one who is fighting the battle. I've rarely seen this level of support. However, I did have a girlfriend once who would text me several times just to see how my day was going. Although that relationship eventually ended in disaster, it is this level of support that can really be helpful.

Not all family necessarily fits into the core, but in my experience, I've found that parents are the most likely, especially if the two biological parents are married or at least still a couple. It's about love. It's about undying devotion that a parent has for their child, or at least they should have.


Between the core and the mantle lies the median. This group includes friends, family and co-workers who may show concern, often more accurately pity, but tend to keep their distance, and only reach out when it is convenient for them or for their own motives. There is nothing worse than a person who displays false care for personal gain, for example to gain the approval of others, or to make themselves look charitable or sincere. Conspicuous concern would be an accurate term. When you prey upon the misfortunes of others, you are a predator. And keeping your distance from someone you care about in a time of need is cruel. This is also what I call a conditional relationship:  a connection between people that is dependent on certain conditions. For example, a condition could be not wanting to get involved when someone is severely depressed, or hypo-manic. A fair-weather friend so to speak. I've seen and heard about individuals who seem to have very loving and caring parents who want nothing to do with their child when they are in crisis.


On the outside lies the last layer:  the mantle. It is composed of people who essentially want nothing to do with the individual. This can be anyone:  friends, relatives, co-workers, employers, etc. These are people who essentially have turned their backs on the individual, heading for the hills long ago at the first sign of trouble. Often times they are still connected to the individual, but refuse any contact, or agree on interaction upon unreasonable conditions, sometimes in a quid pro quo pretense. These people more often than not have had a severely negative influence on the individual and interaction with them will often serve to worsen the situation.

If you want to take the Earth cross-section model to the limit, I would say the crust would represent people who have completely turned their back on the individual and no longer want anything to do with them. This can include anyone:  family, friends, co-workers, romantic interests, and even employers. There's always a reason behind everything, and individuals suffering from depression and bipolar disorder can be very difficult to live with, even unsafe. But in my experience, these are people who have been involved in some kind of violence or victimization, on either part, the individual or the other person. Relationships at this level are completely toxic, but sometimes so because of a complete lack of compassion. I have found that these are people who have essentially had enough, or are in general, completely put off by mental illness.


The support concentric spheres model is based on observations within my own network, and observations I have made within friends' networks. I am not a clinician. The Three Settings on the Dial series is intended to be an account of my own personal experiences and observations which is why I chose to do very little or no research for the articles for the sole intention not to pollute my personal account with extraneous facts that may or may not have applied to my situation.

In reflection, the majority of my support group has lied within the core, but as I explained in Part 1, often times when you are in a constant state of crisis, it is not hard to turn inward and begin to see a warped version of reality, or to completely lose contact with it altogether. On many occasions, I felt disconnected from my brother. As hard as he tries, my brother, and sister-in-law, God bless them, have never been able to completely wrap their heads around my disorder. He doesn't understand how something that is going on in my head can affect my daily routine, my work, or my ability to function. He doesn't understand why, in a crisis, I sometimes shut down completely, like an electrical appliance that has shorted out. Like many people, he knows others who suffer the same condition, but maybe function at a higher level, or on different but parallel levels that are more relevant to them, who don't have the same problems that I do.

For years I feared losing my brother. We were so close, we always knew that if all else failed, we had each other. But in retrospect, he was never anywhere outside the core. Like all of my family, he lost patience with me at times, but when I really needed him, he was there. There was never any condition to his empathy, but he was not afraid to proclaim that he wouldn't stand for certain things.

Once I was able to escape the black hole, I had a powerful revelation. I was able to see just how many people I had in the core; friends, co-workers, even relatives. I could not perceive this while the black hole twisted my perception. I fell inward. Once an extrovert, I became an introvert. I can remember a time when I could not stand being home alone. I would call down my list of friends until I found one that was willing to go for a drink or a movie. I craved the interaction. That died out progressively as I sunk deeper into my disorder, into the black hole, until I was going to movies by myself and drinking alone at home.


I have known many bipolars over the years. In my apartment complex, there are many people who have bipolar disorder. And I have close friends who suffer from it as well, actually, one of them is no longer with us. People have a hard time understanding the diagnosis. Equally baffling is how I can look at a person (friend, co-worker, celebrity, etc.) and accurately calculate a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. And I can see depression as if it glows. People don't understand this. Having spent the majority of my life fighting depression and bipolar disorder, being able to see it is completely natural for me. I don't even need to try.

For example, I have a close friend that I met at a job two years ago. She's very smart, she had just graduated college, and she used to talk about traveling Europe. I loved to hear her stories of her experiences. After a while, when I would see her come in to start her shift, I noticed something was not right about her. I didn't know what caused it, but I knew what it was:  depression. We became friends and I helped her through some tough times. She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I want to be there for her. I want her to know that she can always count on me. I want her to know that I want to be the anchor she can rely on, that I am part of her core. Because after losing a friend to suicide earlier this year, I know first hand that being in a person's support group is the most important thing in the world while they are going through some of the hardest suffering.

To clarify, if you know someone who is suffering, and you are part of their support group, unless you make a concerted effort to be in the core, you are not helping. People in the median and mantle are irrelevant, and as I stated previously, they tend to do more harm than good.. People need to understand that there cannot, there can NEVER BE, any conditions when you care about or love someone. I have seen time and time again, a person in an individual's network, offer to help, only to manipulate or ask for something in return. Predators.

Just because you can't see our pain, doesn't mean it isn't just as real as something physical. Just because you can't understand the turmoil we endure day to day, doesn't mean that we don't need your support.