When You (or Someone You Love) Is Bipolar

By Temma Ehrenfeld 
November 03, 2016

These self-help books and memoirs can guide you. 

The words bipolar disorder summon a picture of destroyed lives. Untreated, some people swing wildly between months in bed to manic gambling sprees. However, people with bipolar disorder can be stable and flourish with effective medication and coaching. The key is a regular daily schedule and seeing and avoiding the triggers that set off a cycle.  

The correct bipolar diagnosis is often long in coming. It’s common to seek help during your lows. Many people don’t think to tell their doctors about the hyper, or manic, periods, when they feel powerful, dynamic, and attractive. You may go for years getting intermittent treatment for depression, generally antidepressants. But if you have bipolar disorder, antidepressants can actually induce manias and speed up cycling. 

A variety of self-help books can help you or your loved one manage this illness. Each one has its own strengths. Consider reading a set, including a memoir for insight.  


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“The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know” (2011). Author David Miklowitz, PhD, directs a Los Angeles research center and clinics for both adults and children and teens. Choose his guide if expertise inspires you and makes you feel safer. Miklowitz explains the science clearly, sorting out the jargon. There are actually four categories for bipolar disorder, and the differences confuse both patients and clinicians. But he gets to the bottom line, alongside real-life examples. You’ll find detailed information on how clinicians choose a medication for a particular person and the side-effects you may experience. The book also includes forms to help you track your symptoms, a suicide prevention plan, and contracts that cover an agreement with a caregiver on how to respond to emergencies, with space for multiple signatures.    

“When Someone You Love Is Bipolar: Help and Support for You and Your Partner” (2009). Author Cynthia Last, PhD, a therapist in Boca Raton, Florida, treats patients with bipolar and suffers from the illness herself. She offers solutions for couples to try as a team, drawing upon her practice and long marriage. She and her husband, Barry Rubin, celebrated their 29th anniversary in 2016.

In a candid forward, Rubin, confesses that he once worried that his wife’s mood swings meant she didn’t love him. Last believes that Rubin fell in love with her when she was in a manic state, and still carries that image in his head as her ideal self. 

Working around her illness, Rubin says, strengthened their marriage. “Just as someone would steer a person walking on crutches away from cracks in the sidewalk,” he writes, he learned to help her avoid triggers for a mood change. Last’s book also includes clear, thorough checklists, examples from her practice, and information on medication and therapy.  

“The Bipolar Workbook: Tools for Controlling Your Mood Swings” (2006). Author Monica Ramirez Basco, PhD, is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy. The exercises she offers in this book are designed to help anyone understand their daily habits, moods, and thought patterns. You can take charge, knowing you have tools to move you through the times when you are confused, overwhelmed, or frustrated. 

Worksheets in many books can be overly detailed; Basco’s are refreshingly to the point. Her writing is extremely clear, and her stories unusually well-matched to her explanations. As a caregiver, or simply a friend, you might also do some of the exercises and share your results.

“Madness: A Bipolar Life” (2009). Marya Hornbacher gives a raw and eloquent account of her years from the age of four into her thirties with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. Be prepared for profanity and scenes about cutting yourself. “Here’s the Hell of it: madness doesn’t announce itself. There isn’t time to prepare for its coming. It shows up without calling and sits in your kitchen ashing in your plant. You ask how long it plans to stay; it shrugs its shoulders, gets up, and starts digging through the fridge,” she writes

“An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness” (1997). Kay Redfield Jamison, who also wrote the best-selling classic, “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” (1996), is a clinical psychologist and expert in bipolar disorder, who suffers from it as well. Her poetic style and insight helps readers find value in the experience of illness or in loving someone touched by its pain and drama. “The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you first must make it beautiful,” she writes, adding that bipolar disorder is a “distillation both of what is finest in our natures, and of what is most dangerous.” 

You might also consider these recent books: 

“Living With Someone Who's Living With Bipolar Disorder: A Practical Guide for Family, Friends, and Coworkers” (2010)

“Welcome to the Jungle: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bipolar but Were Too Freaked Out to Ask” (2010)

“New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder: Your Friendly, Authoritative Guide to the Latest in Traditional and Complementary Solutions” (2007)


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April 01, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN