I think it’s time to revisit an old subject.
As with any subject, I have my opinions. I have my own perspectives. Experiences I have had and my state of mind at any given moment shape the way I see things, and affect the things that are important.
Like Bipolar relationships.
I wrote an essay almost a year ago about whether or not bipolar relationships can (or should) survive. (Should I stay or should I go? http://wp.me/p2safr-51) It must have really struck a nerve, as I’m still getting comments and messages about it after all this time. The reactions have really been a mixed bag. I hear from Spouses who have stayed with their significant other through years of struggles. There are others who say it’s impossible to stay and deal with it all. It’s a very difficult question, and can be extremely painful for all involved.
My feeling when I wrote that essay was that it was totally unfair for my spouse to quit without even attempting to save our marriage. I had finally understood that my behavior was out of control, I accepted my diagnosis, and started treatment with the promise that the illness could be managed. As soon as I started to pull things together, she bailed on me.
But a year has passed.
In the time since that essay, I’ve gone through a roller coaster of emotions, reflection, self analysis, therapy, and ultimately; healing. I was horribly hurt by the separation, and was completely devastated. It was the darkest time of my life. But now, I’ve moved past all that and can understand that there’s more than one side to this. Yes, I was on the path to getting better, but the damage had obviously been done. I didn’t understand why she hadn’t talked to me about it, and refused to get counseling, but looking back on how hard it must have been I can see how she could have reached the point of no return. Not to mention, I don’t even know that I would have been receptive to any discussions. Without diminishing my role, I also realize that there were other problems that contributed to the failure. I have gone back and read some of our emails from long before things started getting so bad, and now I can see that the relationship wasn’t nearly as healthy as I had believed. I don’t think it’s a case of sour grapes… I just didn’t recognize it at the time. Again, there’s no doubt that my being bipolar was ultimately the cause of the end of my marriage, but we both had our issues.
I have my own thoughts about all that, but they are my own opinions and better kept to myself.
In spite of the huge loss, it seems we’ve both moved on to a better place. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and we are who we are as a result of everything we’ve gone through. I’m not sure I understand why we had to go through it all, but I know that speaking for myself, it’s had a lasting impact on any relationship I may have in the future. I’m much better prepared to make good and healthy choices. I can only hope that the same is true for her. Even though I was so hurt, and so bitter about the situation, I never wished any ill will towards her, and I sincerely hope she is happy now.
So what about everyone else who is faced with the question; “Should I stay, or should I go”?
I have to say, I am in no way qualified to comment specifically on anyone else’s situation. I would never presume to offer advice or suggest what anyone should do. I don’t have the skills or training to put myself in that position, and there is no way I could possibly understand such a personal and unique decision. That being said, I do have my own opinions and perspective based on my own circumstances and insight that perhaps someone might find helpful.
Being a spouse of anyone with a debilitating disease has to be difficult. Thankfully, I’ve never had to directly experience that, but I can only imagine the frustration, fear, and even resentment that must be felt. Bipolar Disorder is a debilitating disease. It’s no one’s fault and nobody asks for it or develops it on purpose. There is no one to blame. It is a scientific fact that this is a physical illness; it may be exacerbated by environment, or upbringing or other influencing personality disorder, but the root cause is in the brain. So why should it be any different from living with someone with, say, heart disease? In many respects I don’t believe that it is any different. There are other illnesses that can affect mood and personality too. But I think that it can be different though. There is no predictability and you never know when the mood is going to change. The moods can be so extreme and many times the bipolar person is completely unaware of their behaviors. The illness can be very difficult to treat as well. And then there’s the problem with holding jobs and hospitalizations. All in all, it’s very difficult to deal with as a supporting spouse.
Personally, I think there are two key factors in living through a bipolar relationship. One is acceptance. If the afflicted spouse doesn’t or can’t acknowledge the disease it’s impossible to treat, and there typically is no sense of responsibility. If you don’t think you’re sick, how can you work with anyone to maintain a healthy relationship? I think this is probably the biggest thing that killed my last marriage. I didn’t realize how extreme my behaviors were, wasn’t getting any help, and by the time I did figure it out, it was too late. The second thing that I believe is important is education. The more both people know about the disease, the more likely it is that they can work through it. If the bipolar one can learn about their symptoms and triggers it’s more likely to be managed. And if the supporting spouse understands that the disease isn’t a choice, or will resolve itself without treatment, then it can be easier to tolerate and sympathize.
But it’s never easy.
The bottom line to me is, open communication, compassion, mutual support, personal responsibility and love are the keys to a successful relationship. But that’s true for any relationship, isn’t it? It can just be a lot more complicated.
Sometimes however, a choice has to be made.
Even with total commitment from both, this disease is so powerful and the effects can be so drastic, it just might be too much to accept. It doesn’t mean there isn’t love, or even understanding; the other person might just be too difficult to live with in spite of it all. I would never judge anyone for coming to that conclusion; it’s totally a personal choice. There are so many influences on how two people interact, it’s impossible to know anyone else’s feelings. Often times I think that people don’t even understand their own feelings, they just that they know it can’t be.
Regardless of the choices made, if they come from a place of honesty and conviction, they won’t be wrong. You do the best you can with what you have at the time. And no matter what the outcome, the experiences will become a part of who you are. I’m one who believes that everything happens for a reason, and there are reasons two people come together, and reasons why they may part. Whether you believe it was God, or fate, or just random chance; what happens, happens. Relationships are difficult at best. Bipolar relationships have their own challenges and added difficulty. But if I believe one thing:
If you stay or if you go, you’ll be where you should be. Every time.