By Elena Peters
In many ways, my marriage is no different than anyone else’s marriage. This is the second marriage for both my husband and I. We both have children from previous marriages. We both have ex-spouses that are still involved in our lives on a daily basis. We have extended families with varied backgrounds, sprinkled all around the world. We have jobs and mortgages and commitments that pull us in all sorts of directions.
Just like any other marriage, there are things that bug me!
My husband leaves the toilet seat up, doesn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste and leaves dishes around the house like he’s expecting the maid to pick up after him. We don’t have one. I guess he thinks that’s me. We have disagreements about finances and children. See, just like the rest, except for one difference: my husband has Bipolar Disorder Type 1.
Living with someone that has a mental illness adds another element to the mix of usual. It can be very trying, exhausting and difficult. There are times when my husband is in crisis and very unwell. I have to carry the burden of all the regular daily routines, like cleaning, child-rearing and paying bills, all on my own as well as support him and be actively involved in my his treatment. All this has to be done behind the scenes to the center stage of either mania, when he’s aggressive and reckless, or depression, when he looses the happiness, motivation and the will to live.
It would be so much easier if someone could tell me how long the crisis would last, that he definitely will come out of it ok and that our marriage will survive. But no one can give me those assurances. And when you begin to count the relapse in terms of months not days, the emotional toll on yourself starts to break you down as well. You begin to question. Are you really helping him? Is he ever coming back(mentally)? What effect has this on the children? Is this the real him or the symptoms of Bipolar? Are we really meant to be together? How much more can I take before I have a breakdown?
I try to hold on to hope.
When it gets really bad, I try to remember that I’m lucky. Lucky that I know what it’s like to have a caring, warm, fun loving husband. At times that makes me feel worse because the crisis makes it that much more evident how twisted and sick our lives have become. Lucky because I know we have survived this before. Worse because I know that treatment does not guarantee success. Lucky because I know that the symptoms are not a reflection of my husband. Worse because as the months go by, it’s hard to recognize that difference.
I know that I play a huge role in my husband’s success battling Bipolar. As a caretaker, even when he is stable, your role can be parental in nature: making sure they’re eating and sleeping right, recognizing triggers, monitoring medicine compliance and accompanying them to doctor’s appointments. This is all preventative care and believe me I’ve seen the results of slacking in my duties. Bipolar takes no prisoners and will remind you of its existence when you least expect it if you let your guard down.
Been there, done that. Every time is the same but different.
My advice to other spouses is to learn all you can about this disease, as well as study and observe your partner’s symptoms. Knowledge is power. The power gives you understanding. Understanding yields proper support. Make no mistake, Bipolar is a war in the mind. It doesn’t play fair. As the caregiver, you don’t have the power to heal but you can facilitate recovery and enable stability.