When someone you love has Bipolar disorder
Those of us with mood disorders often forget that the problems which come with those conditions are not confined to the walls of our cranium. Like a river in a flash flood, these storms within our minds can overflow, washing away anyone in the vicinity.
Unfortunately, the brunt of these floods are most often borne by the one’s closest to us. Wives, mothers, fathers, children, friends, all of these people are directly affected by the actions we take (and don’t take). It’s hard to understand seeing Bipolar from the outside in, but I decided to ask my wife about her experience of my Bipolar disorder, and at least try to understand.
When did you first notice that there might a clinical issue with my behavior?
“It was Christmas. You were in the kitchen, cooking. You cracked an egg and one of our close friends asked ‘putting a fried egg on there?’ and you just exploded and stormed out. You hadn’t done anything like that before. No one could figure out why you were so upset. It just wasn’t a normal reaction for you, especially with someone who is so close to us. That’s when I thought something might be seriously wrong.”
How long had you thought it might be Bipolar before my diagnosis? What behaviors made you believe it may be Bipolar specifically?
“Before you got diagnosed, I probably suspected, maybe, 8 months beforehand. That incident at Christmas was basically a wake up call that this was not a character issue, but something deeper than that. Because I felt lost, I went searching for answers myself, and it was one of those things when all signs pointed to that based on your behavior. After talking to my own therapist, she agreed that it might be Bipolar.”
What were the biggest challenges to living with an undiagnosed Bipolar individual?
“When you were undiagnosed, you were still hanging onto the idea that the things that were happening to you were just part of your personality. The biggest challenge was that walk to home from work and not knowing which Sean was going to be there waiting for me. It made me feel on edge because I felt I couldn’t prepare myself.
Before you got into treatment, your conversation was much darker in terms of your opinion of yourself, and about not wanting to be in this world. It w. as hard to hear that and at the same time, hear you didn’t think you needed help.”
What was your experience of getting me to treatment? Were there particular challenges to getting me to accept help?
“Your denial was really difficult because conceptually, you understood what I was seeing in you, but you still couldn’t quite believe it. Taking responsibility for my own health was important. It was a difficult time. I realized that if I was encouraging others to get control of their mental health and treatment, it was counter-productive if I wasn’t willing to do the same. Me accepting that helped you to do the same.”
Once I was in treatment, was there anything that got worse? Were there any changes or effects as a result of the diagnosis that surprised you?
“Definitely what was most unexpected for me, and something I think we’re still working through…starting to really figure out together what is actually the Bipolar and what is just ‘I’m just having a bad day’ or ‘I’m sad over this.’ I didn’t realize how challenging that would be. Once there’s a name for something, it’s easy to attribute something, or everything, to it. Your condition was getting better, but it was hard to tell sometimes.”
How has the diagnosis changed our relationship?
“I think it has been a net positive. Seeing you helping yourself and coming to understand that the level of pain you were experiencing was not just ‘normal’ was a huge step forward. The struggle of not trying to be overprotective or ‘mothering’ has been challenging. Finding a balance of how to be a caring spouse and support without being a ‘caretaker’. That’s been difficult for me, but its proved to me just how strong I can be when I love someone.”
What are some steps that I have taken to get better (outside of medication) that you’ve seen improve my condition?
“Being open with what you’re going through has been really good. I can’t read your mind. Honestly, you’ve been a lot happier knowing that you don’t have to bottle that all inside. Your approach to anger is a lot better too. You’ve been a lot more mindful of when little problems can just ruin your week if you let it, and you’ve been better at identifying when it’s just not worth hanging on to. You’ve allowed yourself to be happier and let it go.”
What is your biggest fear, being married to someone with Bipolar Disorder?
“There have been times, again not as much anymore, when I’ve literally run home because I’m worried that if I’m not there that you might kill yourself. I think that’s something– regularly taking your meds has taken some fear of that off the table. I’m also scared you might someday say something to me that I just can’t forgive. Nothing like that has happened, but I think it’s always in the back of my mind.”
If you could tell those living with Bipolar one thing, what would that be?
“It means so much to the person you’re living with, or your family, or loved ones to see you making positive steps toward your own health, because they feel they have to worry all the time. Taking your meds, taking time for yourself, all those little things can ease those worries. Also, make sure to encourage your partner to stay healthy and take time for themselves as well.”
If you could tell the loved ones of those with Bipolar one thing, what would that be?
“It’s better to be proactive than reactive. Nothing’s going to get better by burying your head in the sand and pretending that there’s not a problem. Even if you end up being wrong about what it is, trust your gut. If you even think anything is wrong with your partner and are noticing behavior out of the norm, feel okay with saying something. It’s incredibly hard to do, but It’s absolutely worth the discomfort. Also, you can’t care for someone if you don’t take care of yourself.”