For Better or For Worse…or For Bipolar

So you said “I do” to a sweet face with bipolar. Congratulations. By now you’ve probably seen a few mood swings, maybe a manic episode, and quite possibly some depression. Or maybe not. Your experience depends on many factors: how long you’ve been together, how long your significant other has been diagnosed, if he or she is medicated, your own stability, and to what severity his or her bipolar is.
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Here is a brief bipolar marriage primer.

I’m writing this today because it has been one of those days where my wife and I couldn’t seem to get along. From the second we woke up, until she just went to bed, we were at each other’s throats. Having been diagnosed 13 years, I know what has happened in my past relationships. It’s easy to be afraid or uncertain when loving someone with bipolar. Known for risky behavior, infidelity, mood swings, self harm, mania, and severe depression, it can be a lot to become involved with. Not to mention, divorce rates are significantly higher in bipolar marriages. So, after some meditation and reflecting, here are a few tips for living in a bipolar marriage, or in a relationship with a person with bipolar disorder:

  1. Let your bp spouse BREATHE! Seriously, the more we feel smothered, or like we can’t safely release, the tension only builds and we could explode or lash out.
  2. Remember that you LOVE your spouse. It is safe to say that your bipolar spouse is very passionate. This passion will come through in his/her worst moments. But you love this passion, because it also comes out in their best moments.
  3.  Be FIRM in medication arguments. I am constantly trying to get off of my meds. Constantly. And I act like a child over it. But my wife is made of stone on the issue. She has made it non-negotiable since we both know how topsy turvy our life will get if I quit meds.
  4. Ask her/him what she/he NEEDS. It’s likely they are angry because they need something. They will most likely not express this while yelling at you. The yelling is usually being triggered by something else that he or she may not even realize is the core problem. This is where you step back for a moment, take a breath, and ask her.him what they need to alleviate the situation. Odds are they’ll tell you. Their #10 will go down about 5 notches. Peace will ensue.
  5. Pay attention to TRIGGERS. These are whatever things set your spouse off. And I’m not saying cater to their every whim, but if you can do so reasonably, try to avoid said triggers.

Those are just quick, go-to points for coping. I write about relationships and marriage pretty often, so check out some other posts on how my wife and I keep holding on!

Sometimes I Get So Angry…

Oh my goodness I need to rant right now. I don’t know what it is but my wife is seriously pissing me off today. For no apparent reason. I’m trying to put this situation into perspective. She just started a brand new job last week after two years being home, while I just returned to work this week after a five month lay-off. We have a four month old baby. We’re super exhausted. And I know with the seasonal changes upon us, my bipolar tends to remind me of it’s existence. I don’t know what to do. Maybe I’m making excuses for our fighting. Maybe not. I hate feeling so angry. FRIENDS-FIGHTING

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.

Diamond In The Rough, A Poem

One of the toughest challenges for those with mental illness is maintaining relationships. It takes extra effort and compassion. I am lucky to be married to a strong, amazing woman. This poem is in tribute to that part of my marriage.

Diamond In The Rough

Driving alone, I love the dark.

I take the freeway to your heart.

Breathe my dust into your lungs,

A gentle scratch and we are done.

My blood is bitter; you taste sweet.

You watched me shatter on the street.

Was that in vain?

Am I still stable?

Think it’s time to cut my cable.

A glittered sundown with a barren tomorrow,

I fill your being with elated sorrow.

Did you yell?

Or cry it out?

Polluted words flee my mouth.

You inhale this whirlwind even still,

Through hazy hearts, I feel your will.

Am I the diamond in your rough?

Let me know when it’s enough.

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