Bipolar Valentine Part 3: In Sickness and Health, Mania and Depression

I love you. I hate you. I want you. Don’t touch me. Marriage and bipolar. Is it a toxic combination? According to NAMI, statistically 90% of marriages with at least one bipolar spouse will end in divorce. That is a sobering number. You can’t deny that it’s a bit discouraging to those not yet married, and scary for those of us who are. So before we go any further, let’s ask- is there even a point? Absolutely.

b3265cde38e270325fd8828a36e074f0In lieu of Valentine’s Day, I’ve pieced together a three-part series on various aspects of bipolar disorder and love. This is meant to be informational with a shot of perspective, and a smooth aftertaste of personal connection. Please feel free to leave feedback or share your own experiences.

It is possible for people with bipolar disorder to endure successful long-term romantic relationships, and even marriage. There are many factors involved because every individual and every relationship is different. What works for one couple may not work for another, and vice versa.

Factors to consider:

One factor to consider is the time of diagnosis. While the symptoms are usually present for a period of time, we all know getting that official diagnosis makes a difference. It provides an answer and treatment options, as well as a name for what is going on. (I don’t like the term “label”). For several couples, the diagnosis comes years into their marriage. They receive the news together and unless they’ve already suspected BP, it is brand new information. What usually happens in these cases is a sense of relief, followed by frustration, and a new sense of responsibility. Changes must be made in the every day routine.

Other couples have it a little bit differently when the person was diagnosed prior to their union. In this instance, the non-bipolar partner entered the relationship knowing something was unique about it. In my last segment, Bipolar Valentine Part 2: Adventures in Dating, I discussed how to tell your new partner about your BP diagnosis, and about my own experience with my wife. Both types of couples face challenges.

“Following a diagnosis, the first and most dominant response from a spouse usually is sympathy, says David A. Karp, professor of sociology at Boston College and author of The Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope with Mental Illness (Oxford University Press, 2002). “But further down the road, a spouse may experience emotions they don’t think they should be having—anger, frustration, and even hate.”

Indeed, caring for someone who has a mental illness can be more draining than caring for someone with cancer, says Dr. Karp. When a spouse does something for a mate with a physical illness, they are usually met with gratitude. People who have bipolar disorder, on the other hand, often deny the diagnosis, are unwilling to comply with medication, and—worst of all— treat one’s spouse like the enemy.”

Another factor to consider is if there are any children in the picture. Since bipolar disorder has ups and downs that can be unpredictable or inconsistent, it is especially vital to double up the top priorities to both the bipolar spouse’s needs as well as the children’s needs. Kids should never feel like the mood swings are their fault. And in reality, sometimes the hustle and bustle around the house is what triggers an episode. It is important to have a strong partnership with your spouse when you are not functioning at your best so the kiddos will have stability.

How can we make it for the long haul?

I give my wife a splintering headache every single time I go hypomanic or full blown manic. I lie about my meds. I drink. I stay out all night. I argue with her. I hate sleep. I become very self-involved. And I no doubt make her feel like shit. When I get depressed, she can’t get me out of bed. I ignore my responsibilities and don’t even care. I know she knows when my patterns will start. I know she goes through hell. But…we make it. We get through it and carry on. Have we come close to ending it all? Oh hell yeah we have. But chose to work really hard instead. Here are a few tips that really work.

I swear by education. Read about bipolar disorder and have your spouse do the same. One book I recommend is Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, by Julie Fast.

Finding the right doctor, usually a psychiatrist, is imperative. Make sure your partner joins you so he/she can become acquainted with your doctor in case of any future emergencies. A good doctor is someone who listens to you, addresses your concerns, and explains the recommended course of treatment. Both of you having a good relationship with your doctor is important for your relationship with your spouse.

Other factors in your treatment include the right med cocktail, and any support groups you join. It is mandatory to get your partner on board with all of it. This is one thing that has held my marriage together these last 7 years. My wife is my medication manager and during my rough times, she sorts and distributes it for me. Even when I’m able to administer it to myself, she is my daily reminder of when I’m supposed to take it. Without her, I know I’d forget or choose to not take my pills. Without the pills, I’d be a hot freaking mess! She also encourages me to attend my biweekly support group.

One of the absolute most important things in a bipolar marriage is having rules. Yes, rules suck. But in this case, rules are the glue holding the package together. Establish grounds for when to call the doctor, to disclose suicidal thoughts, to have your partner notify you of red flags, when to go to the hospital, to communicate your triggers, and a commonly broken rule- to always take your medication! In my house, my wife has given me the medication ultimatum that if I refuse to take it, she will pack up herself and our son, and go stay somewhere else. That thought kills me. So I stay motivated to comply.

My last biggie is communication. More specifically, speaking the language of bipolar. Make it clear what “highs” and “lows” are and what things you might verbalize differently in each of these states. This way there is no cause for alarm if you are transitioning moods.

Enough of the technical stuff, where’s the love?

d55dc7e5bb39d7d2ed43d96fe7dd2663I can’t say this enough- do not make your bipolar the center of your relationship! For any marriage, with or without mental illness, it is important to nurture the relationship in order for it to grow. It’s just like any living thing. If you stop feeding it, it wilts and dies. The bipolar is just a part of it. Your relationship consists of many other parts. Give these a try:

  • Re-examine your core values and what brought you two together in the first place.
  • Carve out some time in your busy lives for a date night.
  • Have passionate sex.
  • Laugh together.
  • Go on a road trip.
  • Renew your vows.
  • Say “I love you” often.

If you haven’t already, check out the first two parts of this series, Bipolar Valentine Part 1: Is It Love or Just Bipolar?  and Bipolar Valentine Part 2: Adventures in Dating.

Nectar Madness now on Twitter!

Hey everyone, I just did this page a solid and joined Twitter under the name @NectarBipolar. Still a baby tweeter, I’m getting the activity up and running. It would be great if my blog followers also followed my Twitter feed. I promise to stay fresh on the communication!

Click this link:
https://twitter.com/NectarBipolar

If You Have A Bipolar Loved One

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Very recently I was asked for advice on something that is very important regarding Bipolar Disorder and loved ones. How do you talk to someone with Bipolar Disorder? What can you do to show support to a loved one with Bipolar?

Most of us reading this know that it’s a sensitive subject and all too often someone will say the wrong thing and we may react in a manner that is the start of the next world war. It is imperative to have a solid support system. Loved ones who you can trust to be there for you no matter what, and who can help you out with your Bipolar Disorder during an episode.

I’ve compiled a list of some ways loved ones can show their support in the most effective manner possible.

Validation.
Validate the disorder and take your loved one seriously. This is possibly the most important thing to remember, and could make or break your relationship with your person. Validate that what they are feeling is real and not ‘just in their head’. Accept that they have some limitations and that the limitations are part of the Bipolar Disorder. If there was something they could do yesterday, but cannot do it today, believe that it’s true, and accept that it is part of it, but that it will be okay.

Reassurance.
Tell your loved one that you are there for them and that you love them no matter what. Bipolar Disorder is a very involved illness and every individual with BP is unique, with unique symptoms, which may progress over time. They need to know that you are not going to judge them or become annoyed with their disorder. Many people with Bipolar tend to experience feelings of guilt. Offer that reassurance that it is not their fault, and you do not blame them for them having BP.

Education.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and for your loved one is to learn about Bipolar Disorder. This includes the different types, the symptoms, the treatments, and everything involved. There is no cure for Bipolar Disorder- only treatment, meaning BP will be in your loved one’s life for the rest of their life. Encourage them to help you learn. There are many excellent books, websites, and organizations that provide resources.

Practice Patience.
Bipolar Disorder is not an easy diagnosis to swallow, nor is it that easy to live with. Try to remember for all the frustration and irritation you may feel, your loved one feels it even more so. They may even feel guilt for being sick, or experience low self-esteem. Bipolar people can be easily distracted, have difficulty with concentration and focus, and be forgetful. Expressing anger and frustration will only make a bad situation worse. It is crucial that you have patience.

Be Respectful.
Show your loved one respect when it comes to their Bipolar Disorder. Please watch that you do not treat them as if they are less-than or stupid. Don’t say things to make them feel like they’re crazy. Bipolar is just like any other illness and you wouldn’t look at someone with Diabetes or high blood pressure like they’re a damaged good. It’s the same thing; just instead of a physical, medical condition, your loved one has a mood condition- or chemical imbalance in the brain. Another way to show respect is to take your loved one for their word and don’t try to push them. If something is bothering them, don’t make light of it and assume that it is petty, and expect them to move on. Respect that if they get into a certain mood, and have to handle a situation their own way, that this is probably preventative and they are controlling a potential trigger.

Be Helpful.
You can help your loved one not just by saying you’ll be there for them, but by actually being there. Participate in things like scheduling appointments and offer to help organize things at home. If he or she needs help managing medications, go ahead and offer your assistance. My wife counts mine out each week and assigns the proper pills into the daily pill sorter. As trivial as it may seem to someone without a mood disorder, may of us with BP have a hard time with medications. (And many of us have a harder time admitting it.)

Trust.
Do your loved on a favor and trust that they can still make their own decisions, even about treatment. Sure, sometimes they may need a little bit of extra help, but they can still function at a high capacity when they are well. Please do yourself the favor of trusting him or her, otherwise you will feel like the crazy person trying to keep up with every possible mood, emotion, swing, and trigger.

Here are a few tips:
• Not every swing is an episode.

• Consider external factors before jumping to conclusions.

• Don’t assume someone knows when he or she is having a manic or depressed episode, conversely, don’t assume someone doesn’t know when they is having a manic or depressed episode. Talk to them.

• Don’t get upset if he or she is forgetful. BP affects the memory, as do medications that treat BP. Try to be patient if they don’t remember things.

• Don’t assume someone is overreacting for no reason or “just being dramatic”. Overreacting is a symptom of bipolar disorder, which may lead to a dark depression or fit of rage.

• Make your friend or family member recognize and take responsibility for their illness and actions, should they become irritable or say something unkind. Then forgive them and love them regardless.

• It is not okay to joke about Bipolar Disorder, even if your loved one does so him or herself. It is a defense mechanism and their right to do so.

• Work together to recognize triggers and develop a confidence system, where you can be open with one another if you notice any behavior or thought patterns that may be unhealthy.

• Respect boundaries and don’t hover.

• Be positive and praise the progress your loved one makes.

For additional information, see: What Not to Say to Someone With Bipolar Disorder