It’s going to be Okay…

Should I leave my bipolar partner? “Blog about being married to a Bipolar Addict” “Fed up with it all” “Bipolar Relationships” “Should I stay or should I go”.

These are just some of the most common search terms that lead to my blog, and some of the most often read subjects.

Apparently there are a lot of people who struggle with a significant other who is bipolar. More often than not, the searches and comments relate more how to end a relationship, or justify the decision, or even gain approval from others. I’m not making any assumptions; I think that people who are successful in this kind of relationship are less likely to be searching for this type of article. Many of the comments that don’t relate to relationships are more about gaining insight or understanding in the illness. But it does seem that there are more people who are looking for help deciding if bipolar relationships are possible.

Who are they trying to convince?

I believe that if you truly love someone, and they happen to be mentally ill, it’s a tough decision to walk away. Many times it comes to that, but there can be a lot of guilt involved, and a loss of love much like a death. For the most part, no one is going to judge anyone who decides that they have to end a bipolar relationship. The person who struggles with the choice is only themselves.

That’s true, isn’t it? Does anyone really blame a person who leaves their crazy spouse or significant other? In today’s society it’s perfectly acceptable for a person to split up over a mental illness. In fact, I think it’s more understood than the person who tough it out. “How can they stay married to such a sicko?” “Why do they put up with that kind of behavior?” “I can’t believe they haven’t left yet!”

And yet, Bipolar illness is a disease. It’s not something that’s chosen or even starts with bad decisions. It’s a physical disease. True, it can be complicated by personality disorders and environment, even the decision on whether or not to seek help. But the root cause is purely physical.

Just like any other illness.

Heart attack victims often suffer from deep depressions after surviving an attack. You might think that it should be the opposite, but there are clinical reasons why this happens so much. Many times there can be physical changes in body chemistry that trigger a depression. I think there’s a tendency to look at one’s own mortality rather than celebrate a second chance. But there you have it. Recovering from a major heart attack can take months, if not years. And when you add in the mental aspect that so frequently goes along with it, it can be an awful lot to deal with.

But who leaves their spouse for having a heart attack? Society would be outraged! What a cold hearted selfish ass.

You can apply that to other illnesses as well. It can be unbelievably difficult to support your loved one through cancer. The treatments are often horrific. Chemotherapy can cause extreme weakness and constant nausea. They are sick all the time, many times requiring around the clock care. Watching the physical changes and the emotional impact of these treatments can be heartbreaking. Seeing someone’s hair fall out, or losing their fingernails, having extreme weight loss can be an emotional nightmare for the caregiver. But no matter how difficult, the expectation is that it will be handled with dignity and strength. Breaking down in private is okay, but to the world, and to the victim, you must be strong and positive!

It’s inconceivable that anyone could justify walking away.

Even though it’s also very much a physical disease, alcoholism is another condition that is justified in ending a relationship. Nobody likes a drunk. They are often abusive, and create financial havoc. They can spend money uncontrollably, be irresponsible with paying the living expenses, and lose their jobs.

Sound familiar? It’s much like being bipolar.

It is, but at the same time it isn’t. Becoming an alcoholic takes years. It’s an addiction, and without the introduction of alcohol how can one get addicted. So it starts with a choice. True, the motivation for that choice can also be from uncontrollable factors. There can be underlying illness, traits and circumstances that lead to excessive drinking. And at some point, the ability to control it becomes impossible. But there is a difference I think. There are no choices that lead to being bipolar. Yes, there are definitely choices that make it worse, but the disease is there.

But really that’s not the point.

The point is, why is one illness is different from another. Society condemns the person who leaves a chronically ill mate. Yet there is almost an expectation that one leave a mentally ill one.

I think you I see it both ways.

Personally I can’t blame anyone for reaching a breaking point. Any illness can completely overwhelm the ability of a caregiver to cope. Society dictates how we react, and what the perceptions of others might be, but everyone has their limitations. Expectations and opinions might push those limits, but we all have them.

And I believe that what is considered acceptable is changing.

Look at divorce in general. 50 years ago it was almost unheard of. And divorcees were almost shunned; there’s just something wrong with a person who willingly leaves a marriage. It was expected that no matter how bad things were, you just stuck it out. But even then, mental illness was a valid reason; maybe not always divorce, but certainly for emotional abandonment. Mentally ill spouses were quietly put away in sanatoriums, or just ignored, even locked up in their own room to wallow in their illness. Of course, there were a lot of misconceptions about mental illness then, and very few treatment options. But it was understood when the relationship ended. But now divorce is not only common, in many ways it’s expected. I keep hearing that the divorce rate in the US is 50%; personally I think it’s higher. It certainly is in my world. Out of all the people I know, it’s not one out of two who have never been divorced. In fact, I’d be surprised if it’s one in ten. It’s too easy to get out, and too acceptable. Mental illness is still a completely valid reason for divorce, but more and more it’s just not questioned at all. Illness, disease, personality, or just not getting along are becoming less important factors. People just get divorced; it’s become a way of life.

In the end it really comes down to a personal choice, regardless of the reason. On one hand it’s sad that unions are not considered to be lifelong anymore, on the other it’s good that everybody has the ability to change their life in what’s ultimately a positive way. The decision to leave a significant other is very difficult, but sometimes is just unavoidable to have any hope of a happy life. Living with a disease, any disease takes its toll. I think we just search our hearts, seek out support, and recognize when we reach the end of the ability to cope. It’s a struggle, and not a decision to be approached lightly. So I say, read the books, talk to your clergy, seek out therapy, and search the blogs.

The person to be convinced is you.   And it’s okay.

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4 Responses to It’s going to be Okay…

  1. Madison says:

    Comparing a physiological illness to a mental illness, even though they are both physical in nature is not quite fair. If someone has a physical illness heart attack, cancer etc. the symptoms the caregiver has to cope with are largely physical. Hair loss, fatigue, pain whatever. There are some emotional aspects, like you said depression after a heart attack. It makes sense that a brush with death would cause you to question your own mortality, one could argue the same with cancer or any other serious illness. But dealing with a mental illness is often nothing like that. Their symptoms are often devastating and unpredictable. In the throws of mania someone can spend a life savings, ruin a child’s college chances, gamble away a home, crash a car, contract an STI, you name it all with no warning. Depression can be just as bad depending on the persons symptoms. That all being said I think the make or break is whether or not the person with the illness seeks treatment and accepts the diagnosis, genuinely and seeks treatment. But that’s just my opinion.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sarah says:

    I think there is a lot more to it, and every situation is different. There are relationships where people with mental illness have become abusive to their partners, and there are also relationships where people with mental illness are doing their best to seek treatment and make the relationship work. Both relationships may have mental illness in common, but they are starkly different situations.

    I spent 6 years in an abusive relationship with someone who would not seek treatment (or allow ME to seek treatment) for mental illness. I felt guilty about leaving someone who was clearly ill, but I genuinely think I should have left him sooner. There is a point where people need to feel empowered to take care of themselves… something I didn’t learn until much later.

    People also break up for several reasons, not just one. If you’re taking the step to get a divorce, I like to think the person has really thought it through and weighed the entire relationship!

    At the same time, folks with mental illness who lose a partner because of it… I’m sure there is a better, more understanding partner out there. If someone doesn’t understand and respect what you’re going through, would you still want to spend the rest of your lives with them? I wouldn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. risingthirteen says:

    would like to know your opinion on the opposite . . . a bipolar partner – not admitting to their illness. manic behaviors running rampant, and the consequence was I was “left” for being reactive (occasionally) to the promiscuity, the abrupt change of direction, to not respecting my feelings. I look forward to hearing your opinion about that . . . as I continue to heal from the hurt (one year later). I was devoted.

    Like

  4. I grew up with a bi-polar mother, who had an extreme case, that included BPD and often psychosis. I recently published my memoir on my childhood. How does one “break up” with a parent like this? That seems to be the toughest question I’ve yet to find an acceptable answer to. twenty years after my departure from her mad house, and I still have not found it. Second to suffering from mental illness, there is very little worse than loving someone who has a mental illness, perhaps the only thing worse is being created out of one and not having the choice to simply divorce, leave, etc. I write about these issues in my blog. If you are interested in reading my very book, a very short read, the link is on my blog’s homepage. It might offer a different perspective. Best~ Julie

    Like

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