You and Me and Bipolar Makes Three

Don’s wife, Stephanie, wrote a blog that compliments this one for our Couples Series. We recommend reading them together. 

Stephanie and I, after being together for 9 years, finally got married last October. The question that I often get asked afterwards by people is a variation of “how is married life?” as if it was magically going to be different somehow. As if it was going to miraculously have changed us and our relationship into a completely different experience.  My response has always been along the lines of, “married life is good,” and it is, because my wife remains the person I fell in love with.  She suffers from bipolar disorder, is being treated for the disease, and has been for quite a bit of time.  That still doesn’t make everything perfect and better all the time. Even medicated, she still has those moments of ups and downs that are there at the base level of this disease. Medications can only do so much and with bipolar there is no cure all. What it does mean is that she is my wife, and it takes a little extra effort and understanding at times to make the relationship work. 

Bipolar doesn’t make any relationship easy. The very nature of the illness causes behaviors that can be inexplicable and often hard for people not afflicted with the disease to understand. The depression that can be so bad and overwhelming that it is a chore for the person to get out of bed that day, let alone face the challenges of the day that seem so commonplace to the rest of us. Getting up to even shower can seem daunting and take energy that she just doesn’t have.  The manic episodes that lead to projects being started and to things that aren’t always practical being seen as good idea. We won’t discuss my wife’s plans to start sewing and how there is a, not even half finished, dress that is sitting in the office, still several months later, alongside the dress patterns and sewing books that she had picked up. How the mania will lead to shopping sprees online for things that she doesn’t need, or can’t always afford; we tend to keep our money separate due to some of these occurrences.  The medication that she’s on usually keeps things at an even level, but there are still those moments of extremes. 

Stephanie is doing well for someone who is being treated for bipolar, and that’s all I can ever ask for. Not every day. Not all the time. But no one’s life is perfect all the time, even those not afflicted with a mental illness, so it can’t be expected of someone who is suffering from having a mental disorder to have a perfect life.  I knew very little of bipolar before I met Stephanie, having mostly heard about it in magazines or on television but not having a great understanding of what its symptoms were. So when she told me many years ago that she had bipolar disorder and was being treated for it, I did some reading and learned what the disease entailed. We talked about it. Some of the problems that it has caused and the choices she made because of her disease. What medications she was taking for it, and how they were working. How those medications change over time due to tolerances, and how the dosages may need to be changed because of it. I always talk with her about it, and how she’s feeling, and where she is. 

I see being in a relationship with someone with bipolar taking the same things that make any relationship work; understanding, tolerance, support and patience.  With Stephanie having this mental illness, it takes a little extra effort to take time to identify if she’s manic, or depressed. It’s an extra step to make sure she’s remembering to take her medications, as she will sometimes forget. It’s understanding those times that she’s depressed and not holding those against her, but instead offering reassurance and support and letting her know it will be ok, even if it doesn’t feel like that right now.  It’s taking the time to talk with her and sometimes reel her back in when she’s manic, and has done things like spend money that she doesn’t have on clothes that she doesn’t need. It’s not judgment but it’s talking it out with her and letting her see why that it may not be a good idea. It’s talking with her and reassuring her that you believe in her and support her in her endeavors. It’s checking in to see how she’s feeling. It is realizing if there is a manic spell, there will most likely be a period of depression that follows.  It’s not always easy, and at times it can be trying on one’s patience. It can be hovering on the edge of an argument, and we’ve had our fair share of them over time. I do my best to understand the perspectives and experiences at times, never actually knowing the extent of Stephanie’s illness and it’s affects on her all the way; not having the disease myself.  But I see that making the relationship work is about paying attention to your partner, and not giving up on them. 

It takes courage at times to tell someone that you’re not doing ok; that things aren’t going well; that you’re having a hard time of it and you can’t really explain why. What I know is that, even at those moments, it is the same person behind those eyes, and that these things that Stephanie is going through are not always directed at me as her partner. That she may not be ok now, at this particular moment, but that is just for now and that these moments will pass. She will eventually be back to being the person that I fell in love with. Which isn’t completely truthful. As I fell in love with Stephanie for who she is, mental illness and all. She has moments where she is frustrated with her disease, justifiably so, as it can be trying and draining. I won’t lie and say that I don’t have some of those shared feelings myself. But these qualities are what make her the person she is, and at both her best and worst, she remains the person I fell in love with and married. She has the courage to face her disease, courage to speak up about it and be honest and open about her experiences with it, the least I can do is not give up on her and be there to support her. 

Read Stephanie’s perspective in her accompanying blog here.

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