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11/13/12

My Partner Has Bipolar Disorder

I am married to someone that is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It isn't a secret but has been a new chapter in our lives that I haven't publicly talked about, in respect to my partner. I recently asked him if it was okay if I talked about it on my blog. I felt like enough time has passed (it has been 2 years) and we are more comfortable talking about it. It is a significant part of our lives and I know other people can relate. I also think it is important that mental illnesses not be attached to shame and stigma the way they are. That goes for people suffering from the disorder and the people that are in their lives. About 2.6% of people in the US suffer from bipolar disorder and millions of people worldwide. It is not uncommon and especially prevalent in creative people, like Vincent van Gogh and Kurt Cobain. It is easily undiagnosed as some people enjoy the "highs" of their mood swings, feeling more productive. It can also take years for there to be enough evidence for a doctor to diagnose it correctly and is often misunderstood.

Bipolar disorder is defined by Wikipedia as:
A psychiatric diagnosis for a mood disorder in which people experience disruptive mood swings that encompass a frenzied state known as mania (or hypomania) and, usually, symptoms of depression. Bipolar disorder is defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or more depressive episodes. At the lower levels of mania, such as hypomania, individuals may appear energetic and excitable. At a higher level, individuals may behave erratically and impulsively, often making poor decisions due to unrealistic ideas about the future, and may have great difficulty with sleep. At the highest level, individuals can show psychotic behavior, including violence. Individuals who experience manic episodes also commonly experience depressive episodes, or symptoms, or a mixed state in which features of both mania and depression are present at the same time. These events are usually separated by periods of "normal" mood; but, in some individuals, depression and mania may rapidly alternate, which is known as rapid cycling. Severe manic episodes can sometimes lead to such psychotic symptoms as delusions and hallucinations.
I love him more than anything in the world and a few years ago I thought I had lost him forever. I mean, he is my best friend and my whole world. I saw someone I knew since I was 16 act out of character and do things that scared me. It took two years to diagnose when the episodes began. The first time, it started with him staying up all night and having grandiose thoughts and at it's worse I was calling the police and was close to losing my job. This isn't always the case, but in my case he was never violent or abusive towards me or anyone else. There was just a lot of flighty erratic behavior such as getting up at night and running through the neighborhood, not sleeping, hallucinating and acting out or behaving strangely. This included an incident at my workplace and that was when I had to call the police.

I could no longer be the super wife that I thought I was. I realized that we needed help before the worse imaginable happened. At this point, we didn't know what was happening, why it was happening or what to do. I was in a panic 24/7! I thought about how he could be arrested for trespassing or that a situation could escalate and he could be hurt in a misunderstanding or even shot by police. It seems silly to call the police since that was my fear. But it was the only choice I had. It was that or tie him down and lock him in the house, which I was fully prepared to do! Thankfully, the officers that arrived were very understanding and treated us well. They made sure I was safe and that my husband was safe. They made sure he was brought to the hospital and that was the beginning of what ended up being a handful of psychiatric holds that it took to diagnose the disorder.

At first we were told his behavior was temporary and he would be okay. We went back and forth to hospitals, often given medications that only intensified the symptoms. Finally there was a moment, in the  midst of an episode, when I realized something else was happening and we needed a new approach. A therapist had mentioned bipolar disorder as a possibility a year before and since everything else had failed, I knew it was exactly that. I remember we were outside at home, and I looked at him calmly and said "You are acting strange again. We should go back to the hospital." He agreed. We finally went to the hospital educated, knew which medications to refuse and was able to make a choice together that it was best to have a longer stay in a psychiatric hospital. We finally had a diagnosis and a plan. I would miss him terribly but those couple weeks would save his life.

I could tell that through all of it, he was feeling a tremendous amount of pain and fear over what was happening and things he said or did. To him, it felt like a dream, or more like a nightmare. He was somewhat aware of what was going on but really just felt out of control, like a dream, it was happening to him. He pleaded to me to take his life one night at the hospital. From then on, I never blamed him for what was happening. We were going to go through this together and our lives would be changed. We went from being married teenagers to adults in the their mid-twenties learning how to deal with the effects of mental illness on our relationship, family and friends. Not everybody understood but we had each other and the worse of it was over.

He lost his job and was able to find a new one, but they ended up letting him go too. Even though we faced living on one income for a while, we were thankful to be on the other side of this mountain we had been climbing. I know he was relieved. Relieved that there was a treatment that would take off the pressure. The pressure of constantly having to internalize and suppress the disorder. The doctor said that usually people have it all their lives and little things and behaviors can be signs. But that over time, it just gets harder to manage by ourselves and starts affecting how well you can function. It's like a roller coaster ride that starts slow and gets faster and steeper. I think about how strong he must have had to be to hide it and control it by himself all those years. Then something will happen to trigger an episode and then you are more likely to have another and they usually get worse each time. For him, the trigger was the sudden death of my grandmother that we were both very close to. I was away from home assisting with her hospice care. Then, I was in a car accident and messed up my back. There was a lot of stressful things happening at once. After that was when almost two years of episodes, doctors, hospitals and confusion started. 

Looking back at that time, it seems like a lifetime ago. Millions of years ago! To go from feeling helpless and desperate for answers to knowing what is wrong and how to make it better is a huge deal. I still love him just as much as before. Actually, even more. We have been together for 13 years and so much has changed in that time. We grew up, transformed from doe-eyed half-hearted Christians to passionate Humanists and Atheists, learned how to be caregivers, and we got through this together. They say that your body regenerates cells and after 7 years you have a completely new body. Well, that seems even more true with us. Everything we ever thought we knew and wanted changed.

It's not something every couple survives. There was times when I felt alone, fucking angry and could barely deal with it. I thought about separating. I actually kicked him out for one night and missed him so much that I asked him to come back right away. I was just so afraid that I would hate him for how we was acting, even though it wasn't his fault. But my heart told me it wasn't over and we were going to deal with this shit together.

As soon as we knew it was bipolar disorder and had medication to control it, everything started making sense and getting better. It was like our lives started over again. Those two words, Bipolar Disorder, saved our marriage. It isn't a death sentence or a source of shame. It was the answer we were looking for. Things are now stable and he found a job that he enjoys and is excelling at. We trust each more than ever. We can laugh at some of the crazy things we have been through. Instead of feeling like we are drowning, we have a lifeboat and floaties and a little island where we can live happily ever after.

Yes, my partner has bipolar disorder but it isn't what make him who he is. It isn't a bad word, a problem to ignore or embarrassing. I will gladly stand up with him and yell it to the world. 
- Rachele

39 ♥ COMMENTS ♥:

Shannon said...

You are a gem! I am bipolar too! And I am not ashamed!

catherine said...

I'm so glad you shared this. I have bipolar disorder as well. My illness is one of the most intense things me and my husband have faced. It has been a daily battle for us to survive and life full lives. My bipolar is mainly on the depression side. I can say I have been depressed for most of our married life (9 years) with very few reprieves. Most of our friends and loved ones don't quite understand how every day is a fight to stay alive. I have intense suicidal thoughts and am in therapy twice a week and on loads of medication and am trying every day to stay here.

I am very lucky to not have to work. My husband works for his family's business. His parents understand my illness and gives him time off when he needs it to help me. I don't think people know how prevalent mental illness is and how difficult it is for those who face it.

My blog www.life-collection.com shares my day to day struggles. Sometimes I feel nervous about sharing how things really are, but I also want to be authentic and hopefully help someone who is feeling similar or knows someone who is.

Anyway, thank you so much for sharing!

xx, C

Misti K said...

I've only very recently found your blog, and have very much enjoyed the crafty and fashion posts...and now I'm here for good! My husband and I have been together for 15 years, meeting in high school as timid half-hearted Christians and fully blossoming into joyful atheists. Both of us have battled with depression and for 3 years, I was MISdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. That misdiagnosis almost cost us our marriage. But after finding a proper psych, and armed with an accurate diagnosis, I'm healthier than I've ever been and our marriage is getting stronger.

Thank you so much for sharing.

Elena Davies said...

This was wonderful to read. It's so clear and apparent how much you and your husband love eachother and as silly as it sounds I find it so inspiring and hopeful knowing other married couples are so in love after so long.

I have Recurrent Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder, both of which have a huge impact on mine and my husband's life. I am unable to work and it puts such an enormous amount of pressure on us financially which in turn has an impact on our relationships. It's tough sometimes but we manage to struggled through. We have only been married for just over a year but unfortunately our first year of marriage was one of my most unwell years. However, knowing we've gotten through the last year it does feel as though we will be able to get through anything. I feel a tremendous amount of guilt for the pressure my illness puts on us sometimes but it's entirely my own issue and my husband never makes me feel anything other than completely loved and supported.

It helps so much though knowing that other couples who have a mental illness in the mix manage to get through it. There's a lot of support for me but hardly any for my husband or for us as a couple.

Thank you for writing this. I love your blog, you're such a beautiful, honest person. xx

Suburban Sweetheart said...

Thanks for sharing your story. <3

anya_kay said...

Thanks you for choosing to share this part of your life. This is the work that will allow people to discuss, rather than hide mental illness. This is the work of eliminating stigma.
Again, thank you!

Jessie said...

Thank you so much for sharing this!

I have bipolar disorder and I think people often forget how much it can impact on your partner. My husband has been a constant source of unconditional love and support but I know that it has been very hard for him and he has had to make sacrifices.

I'm glad that you're both happy and healthy and I'm grateful for you both opening up and showing the world that people with bipolar can lead very happy and fulfilling lives :)

rae - say it ain't so said...

Wow. It is very brave to share this, and for him to let you share this. I think it is so important for people to speak up and show that this like this happen to "normal" people and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Thank you for sharing it,

Stefanie Warner said...

My father and grandfather suffer from mental disorders. I know it's hard and at times and mostly confusing and frustrating. But I believe like you, the world we live in need to hear about these things. There is no shame involved, rather the true definition of bravery. Thank you for this Rachele, from the bottom of my heart.

Emily-Ann Hill said...

Mad props to you for posting this! I know exactly how it feels to be living with someone who has "episodes"... sometimes it feels like it's the end of your life as you know it. You feel like you will never see that person again.

This may be a long comment, so I apologize ahead of time. I am on the opposite end of the spectrum from you. I live with someone who was misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and it nearly ruined our lives. My dad was brought up in an abusive household, but he has always been a wonderful husband and a loving father. I have always been a daddy's girl. When I was seven, my little brother was born and was diagnosed with a rare heart condition that required open heart surgery at three months old. My mom had to quit her job and my dad began working seven days a week. He did this for six months without more than a few days off. Then my great-grandfather passed away from cancer. My great-grandparents took my dad in when he was eight after his mom threatened to kill my dad and his brother then herself (she was doped up on a ton of different meds and basically lost it after my grandfather left with another woman). My dad became very, very depressed. Who wouldn't? He went to the doctor and they diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. He went to a psychiatric hospital for a little while. Then began the cocktail of medications. Unlike you, we were not educated on what to refuse. We didn't really understand what the diagnosis meant. That is when the side effects started. He would go to the doctor about one side effect, and they would stick him on another to take care of that one. Suddenly this man that would sit around and do arts and crafts with me, who would make palettes on the living room floor and "camp out" with me, became a stranger. He was angry all the time. He would shake and sweat in his sleep. He became violent. One night I watched a scary movie and wanted to sleep in my older brother's room. I started crying and my dad came into my room and spanked me so hard with a plastic ping pong paddle that it shattered. I can never remember him spanking me before that.
It got worse. One night we came in to him OD'd on Zoloft. He would not wake up. I remember my grandfather on my mother's side cradling him like a child and pouring Sun Drop into his mouth to try to wake him up. I have no idea how that worked, but he finally came to. The last straw was when I was playing in the living room with my little brother and I heard a thump and a scream. I ran to my room where my dad had knocked my mom onto the floor and was sitting over her with his fist raised like he was about to knock her teeth out. I was just a kid, but I ran at him as hard as I could and knocked him backwards. He blinked like a fog was clearing and I saw it in his eyes as he realized what had just happened. We moved out and my parents separated.
Losing us made him quit everything cold turkey. On the nights my brother and I would go back home with him he would literally scream in his sleep from the withdrawals. It was horrible. Eventually he came back. We became a family again Now he is the daddy that I loved so dearly and missed. My parent's marriage is one that gives me hope for my own future one.

So, in other words, I am glad you posted this. I seriously teared up because I KNOW where you were. I know how you felt and it hurts almost like the person has left you. Thank you so much for having the courage to post about what it is like to push through mental illness. Again sorry for my novel!


Emily-Ann
higherthehair.blogspot.com

buberella said...

Good for you guys for sharing this! I'm glad to hear that you are both okay and that he is receiving treatment that his helpful for him! *HUGS*

Emma said...

Thank you so much for posting this. As someone who suffers with depression, this post was so refreshing to read- especially to hear it from another person's perspective.
A mental illness like depression or bipolar is so difficult to deal with; both for the sufferer and the people around them. I know my friends have difficulty dealing with me when I'm in a "bad way" and it can get so lonely sometimes- your husband is very lucky to have someone so strong to support him through this.

I've only been diagnosed recently, but I've been this way since I was 14. For 7 years I was trying to convince myself that I could pull through on my own and completely suppressing and hiding what was happening to me from all my family and friends. To be honest, I think I was ashamed- I felt so weak that I was letting my 'moods' dictate my life. But, now I've been diagnosed, it feels like this big weight has been lifted. I don't feel weak any more. It's such a relief that I can finally get the information and the help I need now. I really wish I'd gotten help sooner.

Best of luck to both you and your husband,

Xx. Emma @ ever so

Caitlin A. said...

I think it's so awesome that you were so willing to share this; it isn't easy to talk about this stuff, since there is such a stigma about mental illness in this country. I think your honesty is awesome, and thanks for sharing your story!

Meghan Edge said...

Thank you for posting this. I don't talk about it on my blog, but I suffer from depression and severe anxiety, and it's really inspiring to hear stories of people dealing with these kinds of issues. It is freaking lonely here, and sometimes it's hard to treat what you have as a condition or illness because it's not the same as a cold, you know? One day at a time. :-)

zalika said...

I had tears in my eyes reading this. You are a gem of a person and I am so happy I got to know you

Becky Bedbug said...

As difficult as it is to post this, it's a very important message. The love you have for your husband is clear and you are so strong to deal with this.

I'm speaking from personal experience. My fiancée was diagnosed with depression and possibly psychosis a couple of years ago. He was the only earner in our household so, when he lost his job as a result of his illness, we had nowhere to live and had to move in with our respective families. The hardest part, though, was worrying about him constantly and the sense of loneliness.

There is so much information out there on having mental illness but I felt so isolated being the partner of someone with mental illness. Not even the counsellors at uni understood and belittled my problems. Luckily with medication, he recovered. Now we both have jobs we love and a new home.

Thank you for posting this. It's so important to know that you're not alone.

Becky
xx

Rilana said...

Thanks for sharing. it made me teary. Every marriage has its issues. It so lovely to see couples actually work through it, instead of taking the easy way out (divorce.) My husband and I have been married for 15 yrs and together for 23. We still have to work at it. HUGS to you and the Mister for having to deal with all of that and still coming out roses. :-)

Zoee Montpetit said...

Thank you for writing this post. It's good to find (awesome) people to relate to. I grew up being surrounded by mental illnesses pretty much, with my mom being bipolar, my grandma having extreme social anxiety & psychosis. This does not include family friends and whatnot that also had mental illness. I personally struggle with social anxiety and depression myself as well. It's hard to find people who understand, even though it's so common. A lot of people don't want to talk about it, so thank you. I'm glad things are going great for you two! :)

Karin said...

sooo many thanks, much love and overall awe at your strength, love and understanding. You are a beautiful couple and a damn amazing woman! xo

Michelle Clement said...

I am crazy happy you're posting about this! My husband has bipolar, and it is crazy, crazy hard to deal with sometimes. I feel ya. Not many people in our lives actually know about it, because he would rather people not know and attach the usual stigma to him before they get to know him - totally not my place to tell anyone he's not comfortable telling - but it's not something I can openly blog about, which makes me feel a bit fenced off, once in a while. I'm glad he's happy and doing well on medication - from my experience, I hope he's not a smoker, either: the mood swings that go along with nicotine cravings make things much worse! All the best to you two... :) You're not alone!

doghead said...

I've been going through the same hell with my partner for the year and a half, about 6 months after the birth of our son. I always though he was just the selfish anti-social intellect type with bouts of depression until the manic psychosis with delusions set in, We also did the whole song and dace with the cops, hospitals and various medications. Luckily he seems to be fairly stable at this point although still hating his meds and no permanent damaged occurred except for a totaled car, as he was not and has never been violent. Now he comes to visit for the weekends but for the most part I care for 2 children on my own, it's hard at times to blame the illness, it's important to share our stories, I suffer with depression and anxiety myself, I am so thankful for support from our friends and families. Best of luck to you and your husband!

Alessandra said...

Thank you for sharing this part of your personal life. It's so good to stop, read and think about this reality! Thank you!
xxx Alessandra

Rebekah Haynes said...

so powerful, and so grateful that he chose to share this with the world. There is still so much ignorance concerning mental illness in our society.

geetabix said...

Thanks for sharing this Rachele. It doesn't make sense to me that there's such a stigma about discussing our mental health when 1 in 5 people will be depressed at some point, and other people will experience all sorts of other mental health issues. The stats suggest we ALL have someone in our lives with mental illness - is the silence just to protect them from upsetting questions while they're healing? I loved reading your post as I've never heard someone my own age talk about the effects depression has had on their marriage, and how they maintained a strong relationship. You are a fantastic blogger and writer!

bok said...

Rachele - you are very strong and compassionate, it must be harder than i can imagine - but your hubby is a lucky man! I wish you both health and happiness.

Dora Panariti said...

Hi Rachele! It's great that you shared your story. I know it's not a shame etc to discuss about it, neither the fact itself of course, but there are so many people that make it look like that. I am so proud that you stood out and "yelled" it. Your words are inspiring and -believe it or not- healing to others that don't have the courage to follow your steps.


Big hugs,
Dora

BethBluestocking said...

Hi Rachele- I have been in love with reading your blog for a long time now (I think I squee-ed a bit the other day when you reblogging something from my tumblr! You're like my idol!) and I finally wanted to comment on a post and say thank you for writing this. I guess it is just really inspiring knowing the person I look up to can be so strong! My boyfriend also has Bipolar Disorder, and it gives me hope that we can work through everything. We've had our ups and downs, but things are seeming like they are looking up. It's just nice to know I'm not alone :) especially if it's from the person I look up too! So thank you! :)

Alli Gator said...

I also want to thank you for sharing this. I've experienced significant difficulties in my life due to Bipolar disorder. My Father was a sufferer, and that left me as a young carer. It was a challenge. Not many five year olds have to comfort their weeping Father in the middle of the night as he lays in the hallway gripped by the torture that Bipolar can cause. There has been a lot of intolerance. My Father lost his wife, neither of my brothers talk to him, and his own Mother, though she loved him, certainly saw him as "damaged" as opposed to unwell.


It upsets and frustrates me infinitely that there aren't more sophisticated treatments for those who suffer from mental disorders. At the end of the day, if you are diabetic, there is no stigma to taking your medication. Yet people will openly admit they wouldn't date someone on anti-depressants. Mental illness is another form of psychical illness. It can be measured, quantified, and is often caused by very psychical phenomena, the chemicals in your brain. Your brain controls EVERYTHING. Upset the chemicals and christ alive... it's bad business. I find it shocking and archaic that people don't treat mental illness with the seriousness it deserves.


I have also dated people with mental health difficulties (don't even get me started on people saying "you deserve better", they wouldn't say that if my partner had something visible like a broken leg!), and my Mother has a personality disorder. Compassion for others should always come first, understanding over judgement. It's something I feel very passionately about, and I've written you an essay so I'll wrap this up, but thank you again for discussing this. My love to you, as it's hard to be a partner of someone who is unwell, and my love to your husband, because I know first hand the torture bipolar can impart, and the frustrations/feeling of being a burden, that you can go through with it.

gabrielle said...

What a powerful post! Thank you both for being strong and brave enough to share your story. As you said, mental illness should not have a stigma attached- our brains can be ill just as the rest of our bodies can, but mental illness is still feared and misunderstood. So glad that you were able to find therapies that work for your husband and that he is doing well and feeling so much better now.

I love your blog, but this is my favorite post. People very close to me have struggled with various mental illnesses, and the isolation and shame can be almost as bad as the illness itself. Thank you for saying your piece.

I wish I could give you both a hug. Is it weird to say that I am really proud of y'all? Well, I am. Y'all totally rock!

Knitsyarn said...

I am very moved by your post. We spent 6 scary years before we received the diagnosis for our son. Knowing what you face is so much easier than the unknown. I'm thankful you are sharing your story.

Sarah said...

First of all, thank you to Lucas for his openness to sharing with the world. I have Bipolar I Disorder and am managed medicinally for the time being (Lamictal and Topamax being the drugs my brain likes) and am currently living a fairly normal life. I once was at a point where I couldn't keep a job, friend, or boyfriend due to my constantly cycling moods. I lean more to the manic end of the spectrum and was always financially and sexually reckless. Getting a diagnosis and meds literally gave me my life back. Now I advocate for mental health awareness as much as I do for fat acceptance. Mad props to both of you for working through it. My saintly husband and I have been married 6 years, happily so. Living proof there is life after bipolar.

Rachele said...

That means a lot to me! It feels good to talk about and see how relevant it is to so many other people. It's easy to feel alone when nobody talks about it!

LiveLoveRandom said...

Wow!!!! You guys have been through so much together. I'm glad you were able to grow together. My wife is bipolar also, and sometimes she thinks it's okay to stop taking her medication. I don't know why she does this, but we all have to sit down and talk every time it happens. It's a long hard road, but at least there are many ways to handle it. Good luck! And keep strong.....

Xo,
Eeka

Shay said...

I also have bipolar so I know exactly what you two were- are- going through. Congrats for standing by his side and coming through it !

unitedstatesofbecky said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I am glad to see effort to help remove the stigma that is placed on people who suffer with mental/chemical illnesses. I'm so glad you posted about this as it is not an easy thing to share - at least not at first. I think the more people talk and open up, generally the easier it gets. I have clinical depression and anxiety and even now I'm sometimes afraid that if I share my history of having been in psychiatric, people will judge and be put off. It's not who I am it's just another entry in the catalog of all the things that make me - me. And so it goes with everyone, I think. It was (and sometimes still is) very hard on my husband because over years of treatment, I've learned that while it gets better, it never goes away, and there are still going to be times when things get bad. But having people who love you and accept you and will help you, even if they don't fully understand, is one of the most important things.

Vero said...

I discovered your blog only a couple of days ago, I love it! You are so touching, funny, inspiring... I wish I'd live round the corner, I'd invite myself in for a coffee ;-P

UltraMagnus said...

Thanks for all of the comments! I am the subject of this post. I'm definitely better for being aware of my condition. It's helped our relationship, and made me a more confident person. I'm definitely an artsy/creative type, with a big imagination as a kid, so I can say I noticed myself being a little "different" since my grade school years. My memories the two manic episodes I've experienced were like strange, foggy, surreal dreams. Just being aware that it's possible again, has helped me be more aware, and responsible. Sleep does wonders if feeling that an episode is coming on. It's all about living in the now, and triumphing over each day in this crazy world. Thanks for reading!

Jesikah Mouacdie said...

As someone who has struggled with Bipolar Disorder (& other things) for years, this made my cry. It's wonderful that he has you in his life. Compassion & understanding towards people mental illnesses can be hard to come by.

Heather said...

Thanks for posting this.


I have bipolar II. My episodes are often rapid cycling. Very rarely do I have a break from the extreme, and I am on very high doses of anti psychotics and anti depressants. My manic episodes often get to the point of violence, and my depressive episodes often result in my technical death. I've probably died over 15 times.


I fight my biology every single day of my life. Unlike you, however, I am deeply ashamed. I am a full time college student, a full time employee, and a single mother to a five year old. If I weren't so broken, I could handle it. As it is, I almost killed myself last night.


Still, it's always nice to hear about people with the disorder who are doing well. I wish I could. My case is too severe for there to be any hope for me.

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