The Role of Love as a Healing Force in Bipolar Disorder

I just watched A Beautiful Mind again and found the premise that love conquers all somewhat hyperbolic in the film (I kept thinking, “If you’d just take your meds…”).  But then I remembered my college English teacher, who said hyperbole usually contains a shred of truth that it is built on. So, I thought I would chronical my life and loves and examine the effect one had on the other.

To be sure, my Bipolar Disorder has affected those who love me.  I think about my children’s father: we were married 17 years and he developed Generalized Anxiety Disorder about 7 years into the marriage. He and my last husband both cited my bipolar as one of the reasons they left me. The lies, infidelities and mood swings in general, became too much for each of them.

My children’s father took on a role of enabler to my bipolar whims from very early in the marriage.  My brother described me as a steam roller and him as my devotee.  Bear in mind that I was untreated during 10 years of that relationship and addicted to substances the last 3.  However, once the patterns in our relationship were set:  me flying whimsically from one cause or project to the next with him in the wings babysitting…the stone may have been set.  Their Father loved me a great deal and used to say my Bipolar Disorder was like cancer (I never cared for that particular comparison) and he’d never leave me for being sick.  However, he set no limits on my behavior and left for exactly that reason.  Bob was just the opposite.  He hated the whims.  He tried to control them and, ultimately, me.  I resented and rebelled. He left 3 years ago, but we remain friends and he is still my cheerleader (and still tries to control me to some degree).

Enter Calvin:  Calvin is a balance of the two former relationships.  He loves the good and bad, sets healthy limits for what he will accept and often cries with me during low periods and—unfailingly—celebrates (with moderation) my victories.  I’ve been trying for days to figure out how/why we are such a yin/yang couple.  Calvin is a left brainer, IT/computer, gamer, mathematics type (I am not).  Calvin faces everything calmly and even temperately (I do not, but strive to).  Many of my friends who have Bipolar Disorder are married to similar left-brain types and I can’t help but notice the similarities.  They tether us to earth when we threaten to float away…

So when does love add to your recovery and when does it stunt it?  The following are truths from my 3 long-term relationships; perhaps you can see some truth for you as well?

Ways Relationships Can Hinder Mental Health:

  • When they are overly permissive
  • When they are overly controlling
  • When the other person is prone to mood swings
  • When the other person has Bipolar Disorder or a Personality Disorder that is a) untreated or b) causes them to experience unpredictable mood swings
  • When the person is uneducated/unwilling to be educated in what to expect from their partner (I used to bring Bipolar Disorder facts printed out to dates…this may be extreme 😉 )

Ways Relationships Can Help You Overcome Symptoms of Bipolar:

  • When your partner is educated on Bipolar Disorder
  • When your partner has a support network
  • When you have a support network that is not EXCLUSIVELY your partner
  • When your partner is more pragmatic than mercurial
  • When your partner is patient

Can love conquer all?  Probably not, though my creative soul yearns to believe this.  Can love help you cope with symptoms?  I’m sure of it!  Calvin talks me into doing the next right thing (taking meds, going to Dr….) when I need a push, he calms me down when I’m overstimulated, he presents reason when delusions threaten to get the best of me and he often reminds me of the things I already know from educating myself.  I wouldn’t be hopeless without him, but I’m much more hopeful, much more often, thanks to him.


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