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.

Bipolar Valentine Part 2: Adventures in Dating

You have mastered the art of first impressions. It’s easy to reel them in and land the date. As long as what’s underneath doesn’t creep it’s way to the surface, that is. How does a person with bipolar disorder survive the dating world? My answer: mindfully.

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In 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.

The noise in your head is louder than the conversation between you and your date, but you somehow manage to keep your composure. Your date is beyond attractive. You still cannot believe you are here. Your head is getting louder and you can’t feel your tongue. Now this could sound like any first date jitters, but the difference between jitters and what you are experiencing is the fact that any chance of a future with you and this person, in reality, includes you, this attractive person, and your bipolar. The three of you. Admittedly, knowing this can be discouraging.

Dating in itself is hard. It is full of anxiety and expectations. Dating when you have a mental disorder creates it’s own set of difficulties because the disorder isn’t typically visible to the naked eye. Mood disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression, or even anxiety disorders don’t necessarily have symptoms all the time. Mood swings and triggers induce symptoms that result in behavioral changes. Understandably, this can be a huge pain in the ass when in the market for a mate.

So, what makes for smooth dating?

First and foremost, make sure you are ready to date. I’m not saying all of your ducks need to be in a row. (I mean really, who’s are?) I’m referring to having your mental health in check. Are you stable? Have you been consistent with your medication? Are you depressed? Manic? Having thoughts of harming yourself? You know the rest. It is so very important to be in a healthy place before bringing someone new into your life. If you are not really ready, then it’s not only unfair to that person, but it’s unfair to yourself. Besides, dating is fun and the point is to enjoy one another. You can’t do that if you are sick.

Another key to dating is to know yourself. Know where you stand on issues such as marriage and children. Odds are they will come up at some point and it’s no secret that bipolar disorder can complicate these things. But please know bipolar is not poison to domesticity! (I can tell you first-hand.)

When do you spill the beans?

No doubt this is the scariest part. The part of dating when you have to tell your partner about the thing that you try to not let define you. The thing that can turn you from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in a matter of minutes. The thing that allows you to hear colors and taste sounds. The thing called bipolar disorder.

It’s tricky because it is possible to reveal your bipolarity too soon, and it is also possible to reveal it too late. The best time to bring it up is as the relationship has reached a level of intimacy where you are ready to be exclusive and make a commitment to one another. When you are entering a deeper trust mode.

When talking about bipolar, be mindful that the person you are talking to may not have had previous experience with it, at the same time they may have had a bad experience with it in the past. This is also a highly stigmatized disorder. Be delicate, but make it clear that what you are about to talk about is important and personal. Gauge the conversation as you go, and try not to react to their reaction if it is not what you expected. Go ahead and tell them about your treatment regime and your feelings with having the diagnosis. Try not to use a ton of technical medical terms so it’s a little less intimidating, and easily comprehensible.

d9d34d2303b499e42364119e0aef7cacBack in 2006, when my wife and I were just dating, I remember being pretty nervous about telling her my diagnosis of bipolar type 1. I really liked that girl a lot and was so scared she would think I was defective or crazy or something. I waited until we had been dating about a month. At this point we had grown exceptionally close and developed intimacy. We went on a camping trip and I basically blurted it out at the campfire. She didn’t freak out or judge me. I learned that she had previous experience with her mother being bipolar. Her life growing up with an untreated bipolar mother was mostly dysfunctional, so she has seen the ugly side of the disorder. Of course because of this I thought she would run, but instead she was very knowledgeable and chose to give me a shot. It’s about learning to trust one another and take chances.

What about the dreaded psych hospital?

So you and your new mate have been dating for a handful of months and all is peachy. And then it happens. The dreaded episode. It could be depression or mania- doesn’t matter, either is shattering. And you find yourself in a psychiatric hospital. Perhaps you’ve been there before or maybe it’s your first time. Either way, on top of regaining stability and utilizing treatment, you are going mad over the fact that you have to tell the new girl/boyfriend that their partner is in the looney bin. What is the best way to handle this situation?

Well, for starters, make sure you keep your partner in the loop prior to any hospitalizations. Granted, that may be awkward since it’s still in the beginning stages, but it may help to bring up treatment options and discuss the possibility of being admitted into the hospital for a medication adjustment.

I was first hospitalized when I was 18. At that time I was dating a wonderful girl who treated me well. While we weren’t that serious yet, after a couple of months I could see it going somewhere. Maybe it’s because I was young, or because I was freshly diagnosed, I never told her about my bipolar disorder. I think she got used to my moodiness so when I didn’t call her for a few days, she wasn’t concerned. I didn’t tell her I was in the hospital. I was too ashamed and didn’t want her to see me like that. When I didn’t call her for even longer, she figured that I just didn’t want to see her anymore. When I was finally discharged, I assumed she didn’t want to see me so I didn’t call her. For years I regretted not contacting her and I wondered what could have been. (Side note: We did reacquaint years later and she wished I’d have talked to her about what was going on with me. We have since drifted, but I was able to gain closure. And I have since been happily married to my wife.)

Try these suggestions for dating done right:

If you see things going in the positive direction with your new partner, encourage them to educate themselves a little bit on bipolar disorder. There are a lot of good books and websites available. This could make it a little less overwhelming for them and establish a connection between the two of you. It also makes it easier when you do open up about what you are experiencing.

Be honest about what you need. For instance if you are feeling depressed, maybe you don’t need someone to try to cheer you up. Maybe quiet meditation serves a better function. Make it clear what is helpful and what isn’t.

Share your positive qualities. We all know having bipolar also comes with some intriguing qualities as well. We’re vibrant, creative, passionate, and unique!

b08191d09ac31c91ed1f84e56576f8eeCan it become more?

So you really dig this person with whom you’ve been canoodling and you’re starting to feel the urge to utter the little ‘ol “L” word. Good for you! Of course there is so much running through your head. It’s no secret that relationships with a bipolar partner tend to not fare well. Statically 90% of bipolar marriages end in divorce. That’s depressing in itself. Don’t let the statistics scare you. It is possible to take it to the next level. Just check in with yourself often and put forth the effort to maintain stability.

I will be focusing on marriage and long-term relationships in the third and final segment, Bipolar Valentine Part 3: In Sickness and Health, Mania and Depression. And if you haven’t already, check out my previous segment Bipolar Valentine Part 1: Is It Love or Just Bipolar?

Bipolar Valentine Part 1: Is It Love or Just Bipolar?

You feel sexy. You feel on top of the world. Your heart has never been more full. You’ve never been so turned on. You want attention- and you’re getting it. It’s euphoric. It’s definitely love…or is it?

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In 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.

Well, is it love? Or is it bipolar?

Picture that you just met someone you are insanely attracted to. You notice every single detail about their perfectly angled face, the tiny dimple on the left side near their mouth, and their adorable laugh. You are dizzy with intoxication by the very scent of this perfect human specimen. Upon this meeting, you are charming, so very charming. And you are drunk on your own sex appeal. You are suddenly very aware of your flesh. You take notice of every detail of the night air, senses beyond heightened, and you are convinced that that very moment was created especially for you. You and this person with whom you share a heavy fondness. Not only are you practicing your most seductive moves, you desire to make love all night long, and release yourself into the throes of passion. Sighhhhhh. Sounds like a scene straight from a romance novel. Could it be love? Perhaps. But in someone with bipolar disorder, these feelings could be symptoms of hypomania or mania. Common signs of mania include feeling unusually high and optimistic (or irritable), grandiose ideas, racing thoughts, impulsiveness, impaired judgment, little need for sleep, unrealistic beliefs, delusions, acting recklessly without consequence, feelings of euphoria, and increased sex drive, also known as hypersexuality.

“When you’re in a hypomanic or manic state, you’re also more likely to feel you’re in love,” says Elizabeth Haase, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and a member Human Sexuality Committee of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry. “You may then act on that feeling when making major long-term life decisions, not understanding your state had something to do with what you were feeling.”

For someone enduring a manic or hypomanic episode, sex is often the main course in a banquet of other amplified feelings and behavior. Hypersexuality is when someone experiencing bipolar hypomania or mania has an increased libido or is excessively interested or involved in sexual activity. The thing is, a high sex drive isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, most of us would think that is quite wonderful! It becomes problematic when there is no regard for consequences that could become of the sexual activity. This can include extramarital affairs or cheating on your girl or boyfriend. Sexually transmitted diseases are a tremendous concern as well, especially if someone is sleeping with multiple partners. Regret and shame are often the result of impulsive sexual activity. Hypersexuality can also trigger a sex addiction in some people. And don’t forget about the interpreted emotional connection people tend to believe they are feeling with their sex partner. The bitter aftermath of manic sexual relationships typically end in heartbreak, one side or the other.

29d9c9b8a66dc439b71fa7773c55575cI do recall experiencing a pretty wild manic episode in my early twenties where I felt like I was on fire. I was feeling hot, looking good, and my moves were working for me. (I was also delusional, had extreme grandiose ideas, drank too much, did too much cocaine, and felt on top of the world.) I was very in tune with my sexual side and ended up dating four girls at the same time! In my mind I was a sex goddess. Who needs sleep when you can do other things all night long? Of course I also felt I had an emotional connection with each of them. Everything was intense and special. That is until I started to come out of my mania. I first had a breakdown, then like most manic episodes, I had a huge mess to clean up. Needless to say, people got hurt and I was confused, emotionally.

So, how do you know the difference?

It is important to know what triggers your episodes. Examine all other areas of your life. If any of the symptoms of manic or even depressed episodes seem to describe your life, then something is off balanced. If you are on medication, make sure you are taking them as prescribed. If you take them as you are supposed to and are still experiencing manic symptoms, then it is imperative to talk to your doctor for an adjustment. And if you are comfortable with the path you are leading, regardless of how reckless, I urge you to use protection, for reasons I don’t need to explain.

If you are in the clear and pretty balanced, but still have feelings of intense passion and attraction to a certain special someone, then it sounds like you have a hot, steamy case of romance! If done right, both lust and love are very rewarding. Those intense feelings are consistent with the beginning stages of romantic relationships.

ecee8e6b34c6c1f06bd39cb5ea18f657I can’t say it enough, it is so healthy to know yourself and your bipolar patterns. New love is on the list of common potential triggers. There are so many emotions and changes that even non-bipolar folks act like fools when they are smitten by a beautiful new face. Also, don’t ever be discouraged because you have bipolar disorder. There are many bipolar people in successful relationships. I will be exploring bipolar dating in my next segment, 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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