I need some information about coping with a bipolar family member whose personality/behavior has changed drastically since she began getting treatment. Specifically, she has been going into hurtful rages and tirades (all verbal). I'm her closest family member, and I don't know if she's just really really angry with me about stuff or if her medication/treatment is a factor. This is very long, I'm sorry.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to try to give as much info as possible, since this is anonymous.
My older sister is in her early 30's and was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We lived together last year, and I noticed really odd behavior on her part for several months. Whenever I checked in with her, she said everything was fine, but there were disappearances and outright lies. She's in a very long-term relationship with a partner who works on the road, so she was able to completely change her behavior when necessary, but was still being odd. At times, she would lash out at me or say cruel things to me or my boyfriend, and sometimes completely ignore hers. Finally one day out of the blue, she tearfully confessed that she had been doing terribly self-destructive things, such as occasional meth use and random promiscuity, and that she was seeking help to stop. I was shattered and stunned. This was completely uncharacteristic of both her and any other family member (as far as I know) and I was totally at sea, but promised I would do what I could to support her. She begged me not to tell her boyfriend or the family until she had worked through the shame and got up the courage to do it on her own. I reluctantly promised on the condition that she stayed in treatment and had a plan for coming clean.
Well, she relapsed, but I still couldn't bring myself to betray her. I covered and lied for her to her partner whom I consider a brother-in-law, called every treatment center in the city to find out how to stop her from killing herself, begged her to come home when I knew she was out using or worse, and checked in on her whenever I had a free moment between my two jobs. It was the most stressful, difficult time of my life, and I still feel like I let her down in some important way.
When she finally came clean to her partner, it was such a relief for everyone, and I was really proud of her. She was soon diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was put under the care of a psychiatrist in addition to her regular therapist, and was looking forward to having medication. The two of them were happy to have an understandable medical explanation for the weird behavior (manic episodes were pinned as the culprit), and were going to work through things together.
I moved out shortly thereafter to attend grad school in another city. We parted on good terms, and I kept in touch with my sister as much as I thought she would welcome. She said she and her boyfriend missed me and had enjoyed having me there. But, I have to admit that I was happy to have a break from the whole thing, and to focus on my own life and relationship for a while. A month or so after I left, she mentioned that her medication dosage (I don't recall the name) was going to be increased. I didn't really think much of it.
A few weeks later she called me terribly upset about a (truly) trivial family matter that I hadn't even heard about from my notorious busy-body mom. She got more and more agitated and insistent to the point where she was repeatedly dictating the inquiring email I should send out, over my objections that I could write it perfectly well on my own. When I pointed out that she hadn't contacted said family member herself she flew into a rage and accused me of being uncaring and thoughtless, hung up on me and refused to answer when I tried to call back. Nothing like this had ever happened between us; we've always been the closest siblings in a big, blended family. I got super depressed after this episode and didn't really talk to anyone in the family for weeks.
Not long after, her boyfriend wrote me a long email detailing all the ways I had pissed them off both before and during the time that I was living with them, going back two years. He accused me of not paying enough for rent and utilities (even though we'd agreed on a fair, market-based amount when I first moved in to their condo and they'd had ample opportunities to renegotiate), not thanking them enough for allowing my boyfriend to stay over for three days to help me pack and move before I left (he wasn't usually allowed to stay the night--in my room-- if they were both there because they felt the place was too small), etc, etc. Even though I was indignant and disagreed with a lot of what he said, I wrote him back and apologized, and asked what I could do to mend the relationship. I also pointed out that my sister's behavior during our last phone call was very strange and overblown for the situation. Neither of them responded.
Tonight, I got another phone call from my sister. This time she brusquely asked me if the return address on the Christmas gift I'd sent them was the address I wanted my mail forwarded to. When I confirmed it was, she started in on another rant about how she was just going to say her piece about me but she wasn't ready to dialogue. I said I would listen. She vented for about 15 minutes, getting louder and louder about all the things I had done that had angered and insulted her and her partner. When I tried to interject at any point after that, she said she had no interest in hearing me try to defend myself, that she had a lot of rage (she emphasized that word) that she had been holding in and that she was going to get it out and that would be it. She accused me of not respecting or appreciating her, and I asked her to please give me examples, but she wouldn't. When I finally asked her why she was screaming at me when I wasn't arguing back at all, she got even louder. I'm not proud of this, but I finally just hung up. I couldn't take it any more: she wasn't letting me speak, she was screaming in my ear and wouldn't explain what I had done that was so terrible to merit no possible defense. All of this was completely out of character--she's usually very quiet, reserved and mild-mannered.
I tried to soothe myself, but between the phone calls and letter from my sister and her boyfriend I'm feeling like a terrible, shitty sister and person, and I've been crying for hours. I had no idea that I had caused my sister to feel so much anger and hate towards me. I admit that maybe I could have done more for her, but I was so overwhelmed with everything, and felt very alone in dealing with it all, though I know that's nothing compared to what she's going through.
My own boyfriend, while admittedly biased, has assured me that they are really unfairly maligning me, based on what he knows and has heard and seen, and thinks something else is going on. Besides the possibility that I might just be a bad sister (confirmed by her boyfriend), I'm worried that something is terribly wrong or that she's back on drugs. The rest of my family now knows that she is bipolar, but they have no idea about the rest of it, and I don't want to reveal that and draw more of her ire. My older brother admitted that last time he talked with her she was in a manic state, and said that although she promised to check in with the rest of the family, she kept repeating that would not call my mom (whom she inexplicably hasn't spoken with in months, despite lots of overtures). We don't have the most functional family, but we try to be there for one another as much as possible. Basically, she's systematically shut everyone out, but her boyfriend seems to think that's okay--he's close enough with all of us to have asked for help if he thought things were out of control.
TFL;DR: Is my sister's bipolar medication causing her to fly into rages/manic states? And is this normal for the initial stages (first few months) of treatment? Or is it possible she's actually no longer on medication, or is on the wrong kind, or is using illegal drugs and therefore is in some kind of danger? Is there anything I can/should do to help her or heal our relationship, or should I just back away the way she seems to want me to? I'm at a complete loss right now.
Thank you for any advice.