Maybe you have seen Silver Linings Playbook? Well, good, you know what Bipolar Disorder is! It's nice to see mental illness being talked about more and not in a shaming way. I have talked about it on my blog before and I think it is important to share our stories and overcome the stigma. I wrote this a couple months ago.
"Let's watch a movie. We have popcorn!"
"Let's watch a movie. We have popcorn!"
With an accusing tone he says, "I can't believe you said what you did."
Shit, I feel guilty and remind him that I was frustrated and hurt. "I didn't mean it. I don't feel that way all the time. You were manic and I was at my wit's end."
He prepares to give me the silent treatment and hides away for a while. I check in periodically with hugs and assurances that I love him and that I'm not mad anymore. But I can tell his mind is occupied with negative thoughts and it might take a while for him to come around. I leave him alone for a while and give him space. It's been quiet long enough so I peek in on him again because I am worried and protective. The light is off and he is laying on the hardwood floor using a sweater vest, that he wears to work, as a make-shift pillow.
"Are you okay?", I almost shout because my mind is racing with worst case scenarios and that he is more depressed than I thought and that he passed out on the floor or some other horrific situation. He sort of sighs a yeah and tells me that he is feeling down. I tell him I know and I lay next to him in a tiny room with barely enough floor space for the both of us. We talk while laying on the floor and all the anger and frustration I had earlier that week disappears. I have to accept the fact that even with medication, he suffers from Bipolar and the ups and downs happen and the illness can still take over. Being close to a full-blown manic episode led to an inevitable depressive state.
It wasn't the first time we have been through it and although it is painful, it teaches us more about how to deal with it and still show that we love each other. Even though he has Bipolar Disorder. Even though it wasn't the first time I jump to asking him to stay somewhere else because I just can't deal with it. I really don't want him to leave. I would rather we talk. He doesn't leave this time and doesn't show any signs of needing hospitalization or that I need to take his wallet and keys away. Thank fucking God. That is rarely necessary It just happens every once in a while and we get through it and it makes us tougher. Hopefully, I also learn when to be more gentle and keep my snappy little mouth shut. It's harder than it sounds! I have to remind myself that sometimes it is the Bipolar talking and the best I can do is be loving and try not to let it hurt my feelings.
Being a little tough and equipped is not a bad idea when your 31 year old partner for 14 years was diagnosed only 3 years ago. We didn't know when we got married that we would be saying good-bye in a Salem hospital, too close to the real-life One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest mental hospital for comfort, and then doing it all over again a year later. If I asked my 16 year-old self if I would be calling the police on my then boyfriend and future husband, I would never believe it. But I did and I am thankful for it every day. Without those worst moments of my life, we would still be wondering why things were such a roller coaster.
Now, we know the reason and do our best to manage with it as part of our lives. It's part of our history, sometimes the present and most definitely our future. I am not always sure how to handle it. I work at being kind and loving. I cope by writing heart-breaking letters to him and then tearing them up later. Just to get out the thoughts I have when he is not being himself. Other times, I blurt out my feelings and overwhelm the situation. There isn't a perfect way to be a partner to someone with Bipolar Disorder. Someone that can get paranoid, consumed by obsessions, moody and distant. Neither of us grew up with honest dialogue about mental illness and there isn't a manual that you get after your first hospital release. I won't lie. I can get lonely and my feelings can get hurt. But we love each other and accept that it is part of our relationship and an illness that isn't anyone's fault.
These days, it's much rarer to go though an episode than before we had a diagnosis. It doesn't take long before we are making each other laugh, cooking a meal together or snuggling on the couch again. We talk openly about it with each other, just like sex or anything else in our relationship. We make jokes about the time he was convinced that aliens were taking over and how I had to chase after him in the middle of the night when he ran out the door in his pajamas, convinced I was trying to kill him in his sleep. And we are good for each other. Someone on the outside might think that the rough times are not worth it. But they are. He teaches me patience and what it's like to truly love someone and I teach him that he can find happiness on bad days and be spontaneous. I watch out for him and we support each other. It's a balance that can take work but I don't think anyone can say any healthy relationship is work-free. In fact, most of our friends see us as the stable, successful relationship and say that we get along better than anyone they know. You can't tell by looking that one of us has Bipolar Disorder and that the other one probably has undiagnosed behavior that causes her to talk to cats and wait last minute to do everything.