My bipolar doesn’t just affect me, it also affects those closest to me, and in different ways than it affects me. Because she’s been around for all of the highs and lows, and because she has experienced each of those highs and lows differently than I have, I have asked my partner to share her thoughts and experiences in a guest post.
Here’s what she had to say:
My partner and I have been together for nearly twenty years. The whole time I have known him, I have suspected he might be bipolar. We were poor. We had no insurance. There really weren’t options for finding treatment.
Like many people, the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid saved his life. We now have a treatment plan, a great team of doctors and hope. He has access to medication and we are developing holistic tools for managing his disease.
Bipolar is cyclical. After nearly two decades of the not-so-merry-go-round I’ve picked up on a few things. First, life is full of ups and downs and all arounds even for neurotypical people and their families. Our highs are a bit higher; our lows are a bit lower. Second, no part of the cycle will last forever. When we are on our way up or on our way down I know there will be a crash or upswing to mania. I stay present in the current situation while steeling myself for the next.
When someone you spend most of your time with is euphoric, raging or being swallowed by darkness, it is difficult for their energy to not influence you. I developed coping mechanisms for this while not having any professional support available to me. That means some of my coping mechanisms were maladaptive and while they worked in the short term, in the long term they were harmful. Recently, thanks to therapy of my own and support from my partner’s doctors, I have been able to find ways to keep a long view on everything so I can recognize reality.
Many spouses of persons with bipolar are abused. There is no other word for the emotional wounds inflicted through yelling, throwing and breaking beloved items, mocking, accusations, and criticism. No one should be held in a relationship by fear. When a person feels unsafe in a relationship they should leave. This does not just include feeling physically safe. Emotional safety is important, too. There are many times I should have left my partner. Many times he begged me to leave, for my own good.
We reached the tipping point when healthcare became available. Getting help became a condition of our marriage. Treatment plan (not just meds) adherence is a condition of our marriage. Now that I can see his symptoms in a cyclical perspective and distance myself from them, I can create boundaries for myself to ensure he doesn’t treat me abusively. I know what is symptomatic behavior, and dealing with it in a dispassionate way helps me protect both of us. We have agreed upon protocol that was set up in a time of wellness that is approved by his treatment team.
Bottom line: being a partner to a person with bipolar is more about me than him. I have the responsibility to take care of myself emotionally. I bear the responsibility of knowing when I need to step away. I bear the responsibility of calling on others who are more skilled at helping a person in his situation. I cannot cure bipolar; no one can. I can’t force my partner to take his meds. I can’t will my partner out of a manic or depressive part of a cycle. I can only keep myself safe and assist in anyway he chooses to allow me to.
I take the long view and it helps. It helps me realize that this particular manic cycle didn’t go as high or last as long. This particular depressive cycle will hopefully not dip as low or last as long. That is the best we can hope for. While that is happening I am giving feedback and keeping myself safe.