Over the past year I’ve written a lot about how I’d how I’d like to be treated in a relationship as someone who’s bipolar. Of course it’s always been from my point of view. I want to be accepted, understood and supported. Who wouldn’t want that? But with all the inquiries, number of views and comments I’m starting to think about what I would do if I wasn’t the one who was bipolar.
What if the situation was reversed?
If I were in a relationship where I was the healthy one living with someone who is bipolar, I’d like to believe that I would be that accepting and supportive person I’d like to have for myself. But would I be able to?
I think back to all the depressions I’ve had over the years. My depressions can be really bad. I get so deep in the despair and hopelessness that everything else around me disappears. My world shrinks down to my miserable core. Those around me become inconsequential. After all, there’s no way they can understand. So I withdraw from all emotional contact. There have even been times where I’ve become suicidal, not even recognizing what it would do to the loved ones I left behind. Of course this behavior is not intentional, or even recognized. The chemicals in my brain change my thinking and drive my mood into the pit. It’s not a decision I consciously make, it just happens. And it’s happened a lot. For a healthy spouse that must be extremely difficult to deal with. I’d really hate to see someone I love suffer. I’d feel like I needed to so something… anything to make it better. Those of us who have experienced that abject horror of a severe depression know that any attempts to help actually make it worse. They don’t get it and the suggestions and help that they offer can just piss you off. Would you please just leave me the hell alone! That has got to be heartbreaking and more than a little frustrating. I consider myself to be sympathetic and understanding, but how long could I remain so, and what about it happening over and over? Where is the breaking point?
The mania is a completely different situation. Unlike a depression, I think manias are not as easily recognized, especially when there is not a diagnosis to provide an expectation. They can start off very subtly. In fact, early mania can be a lot of fun to be around. There can be an excitement and humor that is entertaining and enjoyable. That level of mania is desirable by everyone. But that rarely happens. Over time though the ‘good’ mania changes. Speaking for myself, the energy gets out of control and the mood turns dark. I have a tremendous amount of anger which morphs into full blown rage. I have never directly attacked a loved one, but my unbridled hatred can be just as destructive. It’s got to be very hard to be sympathetic with someone who is so abusive. And there are frequently financial consequences. Not only can there be the spending sprees, but in anger there can be damage to property such as holes in the wall and wrecked cars. Even if you know that your spouse is in a mania, how do you cope with all that?
I have said many times that the key to dealing with someone who is bipolar is acceptance and communication. And I do believe that is true. That doesn’t mean it always works however. This is an illness that is very difficult to treat. Even with successful treatment there are relapses and times when the meds stop working. There is always the threat that it can return full force at any time. I’ve heard people say that they feel they are walking on eggshells, or constantly on guard; monitoring every little change in behavior. I can only imagine the pressure and anxiety that creates.
One of my ex wives told me once that if she found me attempting suicide, she’d do nothing to stop me. She said if I was that miserable, then she would just let me go. I’ve actually had my own experience with this. My second wife had her own issues and illness. When my children were very young, she attempted to take her own life by overdosing. We had fought earlier in the evening, and I was sleeping on the couch when I heard a loud thump. When I went to check, she was lying on the floor unconscious and barely breathing. There was a suicide note and empty bottle of tranquilizers by the bed. We’d been having many problems, and I had already begun to suspect that she was very ill. And I have to admit, I stood there for perhaps 10 minutes contemplating what I should do. I could go back to the couch and my marital problems would be over. Eventually though, I knew I had to help her. I called 911, and she was taken to the hospital where she spent three days in intensive care. Yes, she was sick; yes she was miserable, but she was also a human being suffering from something bigger than she was. Not to mention, she was the mother of my children. Who am I to deny them of their mother for my own selfish reasons?
There was just no way I could let that happen.
But we never know how we’re going to react in any given situation until we have to face it. And everyone has their own breaking points and tolerance levels. That doesn’t make one person better than another, it’s just the way we are. I’ve heard from a lot of people who say that they just can’t take it anymore, and in spite of the love they have for their spouse, they have to leave. And I’ve heard from others who have stuck by their other half in spite of everything. And, in my opinion, they are both right.
So if the shoe was on the other foot, would I stay or go? I think I have as much understanding into the disease as anyone. But would that make a difference? Empathizing with someone who’s depressed is one thing, but it doesn’t lessen the frustration. Abuse is abuse, even when it’s understood. I’ve likened being bipolar with having other physical diseases such as cancer or MS. And there’s a lot of truth to that. But there can be challenges dealing with mental illness that can influence the effects of those involved. And there are times when even other illnesses can be too much to deal with. But there should be no judgment for whatever decisions anyone makes when faced with these situations. It is what it is, and we do the best we can with what we’re dealt with. But the question remains; what would I do?
I haven’t a clue. I’ll let you know when I have to make the choice.