What it’s like to love someone who has bipolar disorder

Pieter van Zyl is a 2015/2016 fellow of the Pfizer Mental Health Journalism Awards. PHOTO: Pixabay

Pieter van Zyl is a 2015/2016 fellow of the Pfizer Mental Health Journalism Awards. PHOTO: Pixabay



I have lived with bipolar disorder since 2005 – not because I was diagnosed with it but because someone who came into my life struggles with it daily. For both of us it’s like being between two fires – a cold one and a hot one. Together we’re on an endless see-saw.

One day Mr Manic (49) might be right up there while I (42) am down in the dumps. When Mr Manic is up, money gets spent wildly at the local pub and in clothing stores. Then I have to run around the streets of Sea Point (Cape Town) until the early hours making sure no one gets hurt.

Back at the flat Pavlov’s Dog blares on repeat until the doorman comes around for the umpteenth time to ask us to turn it down because the neighbours are complaining.

Read more: ‘We can also be happy if we’re just given a chance’: Pretoria man with bipolar disorder shares his story

I dare not touch the volume knob because if I do heavy glass ashtrays start flying around the flat; glasses, books and cutlery that cause paint and plaster to come off the walls.

The next day the storm has subsided because the pills he eventually took are doing their work.

Depression knocks regularly over the next few days with threats of suicide. Then I’m dragged down too . . . The swing between mania and depression can strike on the same day, even in the same hour.

30 March is World Bipolar Day, a day that promotes awareness of this psychiatric illness.

“Seeing someone you love battle every moment with something you don’t understand isn’t easy,’’ says Herman le Roux from Pretoria. He’s the senior administrator of the website and Facebook group for the support group Bipolar(s) Supporting Bipolars (BSB).

Read more: ‘My husband was a drug addict – and I had no idea’

“Sometimes we become impatient and at other times even angry. We can’t always understand that someone can feel that way because we’ve never felt the same. It also makes us sad because the person we knew sometimes becomes a stranger to us. We don’t always know where we stand, what exactly is happening. We’re just novices in something that’s so complex,” he says.

“Just remember, we’re the other side; we see what it does, how unhappy it makes you, how you fight it. We’re proud of you when you stand up and fight back. The thing we want most is for you to have hope, for you to be happy,” Herman says. Support groups such as BSB offer a safe place online to reach out and get support for those living with the disorder and their loved ones.

Go to facebook.com/groups/BSB.Group or bsbwebsite.com

  • Pieter van Zyl is a 2015/2016 fellow of the Pfizer Mental Health Journalism Awards. For help call the SADAG Mental Health line on 011-234-4837.
  • For more information and referrals to experts and other support groups go to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s (SADAG’s) website, sadag.org or call 011-234-4837. Call the Mental Health Information Centre on 021-938-9229 or email them at mhic@sun.ac.za

Do you have a loved one living with any sort of psychiatric illness? Send your contact details and a summary of your experiences to the writer of this article, pvanzyl@media24.com.