.bipolarMay is Mental Health Awareness Month. For this week’s edition of Self-Care Sunday, I thought I would reprint a post that first appeared on Blessed (but Stressed). Head knowledge helps us understand and change our heart attitudes. Many of you have contacted me and told me how difficult it is to explain to family members why a person with a mental illness can’t just ‘Pray and get over it.’ This book acts as a manual and provides a valuable resource for all family members and friends.

Why Don’t Babies Come With Instruction Manuals?

I remember the nurse wheeling me out of the hospital with a lanky newborn on my lap dressed in a white onesie with vibrant giraffes strewn all over it. My first baby wearing the first article of baby clothing that I’d eagerly purchased the minute I found out we were expecting.

As we settled our daughter into the rear-facing car seat we had borrowed from a friend, I felt a sense of unease. The nurse had already wheeled the chair back into the hospital and the electronic doors had swooshed shut with authoritative finality.

That’s all?” I thought. “They let us take a baby home just like that?” Admittedly, it WAS our baby—I had the bread-dough midsection and bloodshot eyes to prove it. Surely, though, the nurse had forgotten to give me something. A how-to manual would have been nice.

It took me another seventeen months to get my act together and feel confident so that when we brought our second daughter home, I didn’t keep glancing over my shoulder hoping they’d run out with a manual as we drove away. I filled the intervening months between firstborn and second born with research and experience. How-to books served as my after-the-fact manuals and taught me all about feeding schedules, potty training and when to call the doctor. I felt capable.

They Don’t Give Manuals for Adolescents, Either

For a while, at least. When I closed the trunk on our Prius and pulled away from the crisis center almost twenty-one years after bringing home our second beautiful daughter, I once again wished someone would hand me a how-to manual. I longed for guidance on how to help our once sparkling daughter navigate her way through her deep depression. I wanted answers.

And three months later, when my husband brought Sarah home from her second crisis center stay—this time with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder—I couldn’t believe that anyone in their right mind would discharge a patient who clearly still suffered from the aftereffects of mania into the woefully unprepared hands of shell-shocked parents.

Sure, a sweet nurse had given me the title of a great book to read—but Dr. Kay Jamison’s book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, didn’t fall into the how-to category. It gave me hope that my daughter could achieve a normal life, but as a memoir, it didn’t give guidelines for how to navigate the diagnosis.

At Last: A Manual

I have discovered the book that every newly diagnosed patient with bipolar disorder should receive upon discharge (along with copies for all adult family members): The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, Second Edition: What You and Your Family Need to Know by David J. Miklowitz, PhD.

Miklowitz, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), School of Medicine, and Senior Clinical Researcher at Oxford University, UK, directs the Integrative Study Center in Mood Disorders and the Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program at the UCLA Semel Institute. Dr. Miklowitz’s numerous publications include the award-winning book for professionals Bipolar Disorder: A Family-Focused Treatment Approach.

Whew. Now that we have his credentials out of the way, let me explain why I love this book. Prior to my daughter’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder, I thought bipolar was just a happy/sad cycle that some people experienced (not to mention the name of my brother-in-law’s snowmobile/UTV racing team—Bipolar Racing). Now I realize that bipolar disorder has many facets and it has very little to do with happy/sad cycles.

The Skinny of Bipolar Disorder

Know someone with bipolar disorder? Find out how to survive and thrive. #bipolar #mentalhealth #familyI used to think that a bipolar disorder diagnosis equaled a life-sentence of pain, misunderstanding and trauma for both the patient and everyone who loves him or her. Not true. Miklowitz lays out challenges that will likely face everyone involved and takes each involved party through possible scenarios. The scenarios show how each person can move beyond copying to thriving.

When Sarah received her diagnosis, I worried that she would never be able to have children (should she want to). Miklowitz includes a chapter just for women that analyzes the risk factors. It helps women make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health.

I used to think that a bipolar disorder diagnoses meant one person struggling alone whilst everyone else in the family felt confused, betrayed, or outraged. Not true. Miklowitz shows how a family-focused treatment approach actually helps prevent relapses that require hospitalization. Trust me, hospitalizations equal trauma for everyone involved.

The survival guide serves as a true how-to book on thriving with a bipolar disorder diagnosis. It explains in laymen’s terms all of the vocabulary that attends the diagnosis, and explains the medications and side effects.

Adolescents and Bipolar Disorder

The median age for a bipolar diagnosis is 25 years of age. It stands to reason that families need to educate themselves as much as possible about the illness. More importantly, family members need to understand their role. They can act as a support team member but not a manager or owner of the illness.

Family members need to understand they are team members, NOT managers or owners of a #bipolar diagnoses. #mentalhealthmonth Click To Tweet

Patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder can do two critical things to help manage their illness. First, they can select a support team. With input from the support team, they can create emergency plans of action. The plan states what they want to happen when they start to slip into either a manic or depressed episode.

Above all, The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, Second Edition: What You and Your Family Need to Know serves as a framework for honest and difficult conversations. But those conversations pave the pathway for those affected by bipolar disorder to learn to thrive rather than just survive.

Have you learned to thrive with a bipolar disorder? Or maybe you’d be willing to share with us about a family member who has thrived despite their diagnosis. The more we talk, the more we stop the stigma!

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Know someone with bipolar disorder? Find out how to survive and thrive. #bipolar #mentalhealth #family


  1. I bought two posts today both relevant to mental health…Listening & Mothering

    It is refreshing that families are voicing their experiences & that good reference books are being published. After working in the area of mental health for over 38 years this is an exciting development & greatly needed.

    You’re welcome to join me in the tea party!

  2. One of my friends found out she had Bipolar disorder in her thirties. I wonder if she was just coping unaware during the years it went undiagnosed or if she would not have been able to manage it if it had manifested. Would love to hear your thoughts on that, Anita. And thank you for sharing your story from the perspective of a mom this week, as well as your daughter’s story last week. Both vantage points are so needed! Thank you both for your vulnerability and bravery!
    Beth recently posted…Comment on Know God by The Unfair Task of Accepting Your Mate’s Aging BodyMy Profile

  3. Your posts have been both transparent and brave. And much needed for us all. Whether coping with the diagnosis, or helping someone we know, this is a challenge we all will contend with in some way at some time. Thank you for the book recommendation as it will be a good resource to keep on hand !
    Joanne Viola recently posted…Here’s What It Takes …My Profile

  4. Mental illness has long been an issue in my family. What’s helping me is learning more about it, because as you said, the diagnoses often don’t come until adulthood. I’m educating myself about it and as I do, I realize why my friends in “normal” families can’t relate to the level of problems we have. Thank you, Anita, for being a solid online resource for me as I continue learning.
    Sarah Geringer recently posted…How to Set Boundaries on Others’ Bad BehaviorMy Profile

  5. Thanks both for sharing about your own story and offering resources. These are so beneficial for those who are walking through new territory and for those who want to walk well alongside them.

  6. Dear Anita, you continue to be a generous wealth of information! Our oldest nephew was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just three weeks ago. At 48, he has fluctuated between productive worker and employment his whole adult life, and has rarely lived on his own. My prayer is for he and his parents to finally have some understanding, and peace. Your post is on the way to them next. THANK YOU!

  7. Thank you for being so transparent and sharing this! And thank you for sharing this resource as well, as I know a few who are now learning to live with bipolar disorder and it isn’t easy.

  8. Nice to know that such a good book exists on BPD. You mentioned something that never crossed my mind but I think I too felt kinda same when my first born was discharged from hospital. I felt a little helpless on how to proceed further with childcare, precautions to be taken. I am glad that my mother was there with us and she almost took care of everything.
    John Gatesby recently posted…Coronavirus Induces Oxidative Stress Leading to Autonomic Dysfunction Often With Delayed Symptom Onset – Part 2My Profile

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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