I’ve written about relationships several times before, but a couple of things have happened recently that compel me to delve in again. In the last couple of days I’ve received several comments and messages from my blog from spouses of people with bipolar disorder. All the comments were about how difficult it was to deal with their spouse, and how they want to end the marriage. The second thing that happened was, I was contacted by my soon to be ex-wife about providing my address so she could have me served with divorce papers. She left me because of my illness, so these comments really hit home.
I can’t say that I don’t understand how someone, including my ex, would find it too hard to continue in a relationship with someone suffering from this disease. We can be very difficult to live with. Speaking for myself, I’ve had a lot of experience with marriages failing because of my illness. I’ve been married four times, and each one ended as a direct result of being bipolar. The first three, I was the one who decided that the marriage couldn’t continue. This last one however, my wife is the one who said she couldn’t deal with me, and kicked me out.
From the very beginning of this relationship, my bipolar symptoms were evident. We hadn’t been dating long when I went into a severe depression. I had a lot of valid reasons for being depressed. Within a period of three weeks I had been fired from a job, been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and my mother had died. The truth of it is however, I was already headed down before any of this happened, and I most likely would have gone into this depression without all the external factors. But, it was easily justified and she was understanding and sympathetic of what she thought was a circumstantial episode. It took a while to get through it, and we ended up moving in together when I couldn’t afford my rent due to the unemployment. But I did recover, and for a year or so things were on an even keel.
Then the mania hit. My manic episodes are marked by excessive rage and grandiosity and this one was no exception. But again, there were external factors that made it easy to explain. My new job was with a foreign owned company whose culture treated Americans like second class citizens. We were expected to be stupid, and my own intelligence was questioned on a daily basis. So I got angry. And I started thinking that I should be the one running the company so I could protect the other American managers. As time progressed, so did my illness and my anger turned into rage. It’s important to mention that at this point I hadn’t been diagnosed as bipolar, and we both believed that I was completely justified in my feelings about the job. But the rage was having a direct impact on our relationship, and I would rant and rave every evening about how unreasonable the idiot owners were. And it continued to get worse. I could go into the details of what was going on, but the bottom line is, every evening I would yell and scream not at her, but to her about the conditions at work. I know I made her life a living hell, and it eventually became overwhelming.
There is no way I could maintain such a high level of distress and I finally crashed. And I crashed hard. She had insisted that I see a Psychiatrist a few months earlier to try to control my over the top behaviors, and within a few days after my crash she convinced him that I needed to be hospitalized. It ended up to be a life changing moment, as I was fortunate enough to have a Doctor who not only diagnosed me, but was able to convince me that I was truly bipolar. But the damage had already been done. I didn’t know at the time, but my wife had already decided that the marriage was over. A month after my hospitalization, she kicked me out. In spite of all the problems we had with my illness, it never occurred to me that the marriage was in trouble, and I was devastated.
But here’s the thing.
I had made a vow that I was committing to our relationship for better worse, through sickness and in health. When we got married she already had her own medical issues, and there was a good chance that she would end up disabled and in a wheelchair. It didn’t matter. I loved her, and would have stood by her no matter what happened. So what was the difference with my illness? Bipolar disorder is a physical disease, no different from the degenerative arthritis she was facing. Yes, I was hard to deal with. But it was no picnic dealing with her symptoms either. Sure, we didn’t have any idea what I was going through prior to my diagnoses, but once I knew, I was being treated and had a good chance of completely managing the symptoms. But she never even gave it a chance. I begged her to go to marriage counseling, but her mind was already made up. The marriage was over.
I’ve spent the last year contemplating our relationship and trying to figure out what really happened. And I always come to the same conclusion. She bailed on me at just the point I was getting things under control. Would the marriage survived? I’ll never know. But I do know that I feel betrayed, and am extremely bitter as a result. And I know that I’ll never completely trust anyone else. I will never remarry and am destined to live alone the rest of my life.
So to those who feel like their marriage should end because their spouse is bipolar, I ask you this. Why should one physical disease be different from another? What if the situation was reversed and it was you who was sick. Would you expect your spouse to stick by you if something catastrophic were to happen to you? Bipolar disorder is no different from Multiple Sclerosis or Epilepsy. It is a disease of the brain. Doesn’t your spouse deserve every chance to make the marriage work? The symptoms are hard. The consequences can be devastating. But every marriage, every relationship is faced with problems and hardships. Just because bipolar is considered to be a ‘mental illness’ shouldn’t be any different from any other challenge.
But let’s be fair. My other three marriages were ended by my choice. Shouldn’t I have given them the chance to make it work? Society has made it too easy to end any marriage without justification or cause. Our parents or grandparents tended to stay together no matter what hardships they faced, but now it’s totally acceptable to quit at the first hint of a problem. I’m guilty of that, I’ll admit. It wasn’t until I was on the receiving end that I understood just how devastating a decision could be. I’m older and wiser now, and I have come to realize one thing when it comes to relationships.
If I had put as much effort into making a relationship work as I did finding a reason to end it, I most likely would have just celebrated my 32nd wedding anniversary.
But I never even gave it a chance.