My Sister’s Bipolar Disorder Nearly Destroyed Our Family – How Residential Treatment Saved Us

Bipolar disorder is a serious mood disorder and mental illness that causes periods of depression and mania. It’s a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment and lifelong management. This illness is treatable, and with extended therapy, medication, and positive lifestyle changes, it is possible to live a normal, satisfying, and independent life with bipolar disorder. Families play an important role in how they are impacted by the condition and in helping a loved one manage it.

My sister, Annie, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a year ago. This illness changed our lives, at first for the worse but now for the better. Going through this ordeal with her, our family has become closer, more aware of our own mental health, and more supportive of each other. And it’s all thanks to the wonderful residential treatment she got and in which we all participated.

None of us—my parents, my brother, or I—knew anything about bipolar disorder, only that it had something to do with depression. And depression was what we thought was wrong with my older sister, Annie. She came home after graduating from college because she couldn’t find a job.

I think we all assumed she was struggling with that, not that she really had depression. She would spend her days in her room, not even taking a shower for several days in a row. But then Annie would have these days where she was the opposite: positive, upbeat, energetic, ready to do anything. One day, she stayed up all night working on her resume, and by the morning she had 20 versions. She crashed the next day and seemed depressed again.

Then, every family’s worst nightmare came true for us: One night while the rest of us were out, Annie took a handful of pills she found in our parents’ bathroom. She nearly died. We now know that suicide is a possible complication of bipolar disorder and how close we came to losing Annie. After being hospitalized for two days, Annie got a diagnosis of bipolar and our parents sent her to a residential treatment program.

Learning About Bipolar Disorder and How it Impacted Our Family

As soon as Annie went through intake at the treatment center, we all began our own form of treatment. The facility allowed family to participate in several ways, which started with learning about bipolar disorder and what my sister was going through with this illness.

We learned that Annie is not alone. More than 2.5 percent of people in the U.S. get diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We found out that Annie had a type of bipolar that caused serious depression episodes as well as these periods of mania that made it seem as if she had rebounded from feeling down.

The therapists confirmed what I suspected, which was that the manic periods were not healthy. Annie always seemed happier during those times, but that was just compared to her depression. Generally, her moods were unstable and this was causing all kinds of issues:

  • She couldn’t find a job, because depression led her to doubt herself and her ability to succeed in an interview, even with a great resume.
  • Her drinking started to become a problem, because she used wine to try to lift her mood and also relax during mania.
  • My parents got into big fights with her, mostly because they worried about Annie but also because they were frustrated with her moods and lack of progress.
  • Annie and our brother used to be so close, but they grew apart during her year back at home. Her unstable moods scared and alienated him.
  • I became depressed and anxious worrying about Annie and the disintegrating relationships in our family.

Residential Treatment Was a Healing Path, For Everyone

Treatment was, of course, most important and life-changing for Annie, but it really helped all of us. She benefitted from one-on-one behavioral therapies, a nutrition and exercise program, medication and medical care, and support groups with therapy.

As a family, we participated in an education program to learn about bipolar disorder and how best to help Annie but also in family therapy to improve our relationships with each other. We learned and practiced better communication, and Annie and our brother started rebuilding their close friendship.

Sometimes there were days just for fun. We bonded together doing recreational activities and participating in art classes. The entire experience of Annie’s three months in treatment healed all of us. We never expected that and had assumed it was only Annie who needed help. But we all needed guidance to learn how to be healthier and how to support my sister in managing her condition.

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Life After Treatment – Residential Care Gave Us Tools to Thrive

I think the best reason that my sister, and our family, benefitted from her residential program was that it didn’t just “fix” her. The long-term care provided her—and us—with valuable tools to manage this lifelong condition. We learned about bipolar disorder and that there is no cure. At first, that seemed hopeless, but the education, treatment, and practical strategies provided during her stay helped us all realize that this was just a part of our family’s journey.

Now that she’s back home, all of us are using and benefitting from the strategies Annie learned in treatment:

  • Family exercise. We all learned from Annie’s care that healthy lifestyle choices are important for everyone, and not just for physical health but for good mental health too. As often as possible, we enjoy walks and bike rides together. We’ve supported Annie in taking up running too. She’s been really focused on preparing for a 5k.
  • Meditation to manage stress. The mindfulness training she learned in therapy has helped us all. We participated in some sessions on family days and now all use meditation almost daily to help manage stress. Honestly, this has helped my sister manage her moods, but it has also brought a new meaning to my own life.
  • Mood monitoring. Another practical and really useful strategy from therapy was Annie’s mood journaling. She learned how to keep track of her feelings and moods and to use that record to identify triggers and the signs of an episode. We even meet as a family once a week to talk about all of our feelings and moods. It’s brought so much more awareness to how we live and function.

Without residential treatment for my sister, I don’t know where we would be. I’m honestly not sure if we would still have her with us. Not only has she healed and learned how to live with bipolar disorder, we have learned how to help her and have developed much stronger, lasting relationships.

If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with schizoaffective disorders, schizophrenia, and severe bipolar as well as co-occurring substance use disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.