Marriage and Mental Health: How a Rough Start Built a Strong Foundation

Sean’s wife, Sarah, wrote a blog that goes with this one. We recommend reading them together. 

In terms of mental health, we live in the best possible time; and the future only looks to be even better. We have resources and treatments, and an impressive number of professionals in the field who are skilled at properly diagnosing their patients. Are there still issues? Of course. For every success story being told, there’s another one involving a setback: wrong medication, side effects, and yes, not every professional is equal. But it’s worth acknowledging how far we’ve come. To everyone out there still struggling, please hang in there. 

My wife and I married in January of 2009, complete with the emotional highs one would expect. In April, we made a move by two states, provoking the emotional less-than-highs that typically accompanies a relocation. Feelings were intensified, on top of which our collective skills at communicating were…in development. 

It was under these circumstances that my wife’s bipolar disorder made itself known. 

To further complicate the situation, I’d been dealing with chronic depression for the majority of my life without understanding that’s what it was. If you’re wondering how somebody could not know they have a mental health issue, you only have your own experience to go by with no basis for comparison. In my case, I’d always assumed that I was just an introvert, or unmotivated. And when you’re going through an experience as wonderful as falling in love, capped off with getting married, that depression disappears. I thought I was cured. 

Of course normalcy started to creep back in right around the time that my wife’s bipolar episodes began. She knew she was angry. She didn’t know why. She certainly didn’t know how to ask for help. And because of my depression, my natural reaction was to close myself off (which was the last thing she needed). 

We’re one of the fortunate couples. We had very little in the way of resources, but we decided together that we needed a therapist, even at the risk of going into financial debt. We found one, and she was good. By the second session, she suggested that my wife might have bipolar disorder, and urged us both to check ourselves into mental hospitals. That was our first step into recovery. 

Now I need to explain that we didn’t come out of our respective hospitals feeling like everything was fine; but we did come out feeling like everything was eventually going to be. We knew it would take a long time, but we had a hope that wasn’t there before. We had medications, and a better support system. And most of all, we understood on a basic level what the issues were. 

Today my wife and I have very different reactions to the memories of this period in our marriage. She remembers saying and doing things that continue to cause her remorse, and as such she periodically asks me for forgiveness that she’s never needed. I remember my wife being on fire. Burning and screaming because of a pain that she couldn’t see, much less extinguish. 

That was seven years ago. Today my wife and I kiss each other goodbye in the mornings and hello in the evenings. I tolerate her silliness at night and she tolerates my grouchiness when I first wake up. We have spats and we step on each other’s feelings, and then we work through the miscommunication or oversight and we find each other again. The point is: this is who she always was. She’s not her bipolar disorder. She never brought it on herself, and any reaction she had to the pain of the episodes was never her fault. The woman my wife is, is who I fell in love with, who met this unfair challenge head on, who keeps taking her medicine, who tells me what she’s feeling, who guides me through the uncomfortable process of telling her what I’m feeling, and who without realizing it reminds me every day just how lucky I am.

Read Sarah’s accompanying post here.

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