Some time ago, Bob posted a story on our original Bipolar Blog called “Heartbroken and devastated from ending a marriage with my bipolar wife.” In his story, Bob talks about all he would do for his wife only to feel unappreciated and heartbroken. I don’t know Bob or his wife or their situation. Nobody really knows what goes on behind closed doors in anyone’s home. However, I could sort of relate to Bob’s description of how he responded and how he felt.

When you’re in a loving relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder, it’s common to feel frustrated and unappreciated at times. No matter how much you do to show your love, your loved one may not be in a condition to return that love or respond to it in any positive way. The more you do without receiving anything positive in return, the greater the frustration and resentment.

You might start to wonder, “What about me? How long should I have to put up with this?”

What I’ve learned from living with and loving someone with bipolar disorder is that expressions of love change, at least temporarily, in the midst of major mood episodes. Come to think of it, they change in the midst of any major illness that incapacitates a loved one physically, emotionally, or mentally. In the case of bipolar disorder, these periods of illness may be only temporary and, we hope, short lived.

During these times, the normal things you do and say to please your loved one no longer work. You can speak all five “love languages” fluently, and nothing you say or do is powerful enough to break through the barriers or trigger any sort of positive response. Reason doesn’t work, either. The person is ill and needs some sort of intervention that puts them back in control of their mental and emotional facilities.

In the midst of full-blown mania or major depression, love may meanmaking tough decisions perhaps closing bank or credit card accounts, limiting access to drugs or alcohol, or even having your loved one hospitalized against their will. This is the tough love that nobody really likes to engage in, but it’s often the only course of action that helps manage the episode with the least possible collateral damage. A forced hospitalization may diminish the intensity and duration of the mood episode. Other interventions, such as closing bank or credit card accounts don’t stop the disease but they may mitigate the fallout.

Love usually means putting your loved one’s needs before your own. What your loved one needs when he or she is in a manic or depressed state and lacks the insight to realize what’s going on is your objective perspective, clear thinking, and assertive presence. This is exhausting. It often feels like you just can’t keep going, but in the midst of their mental chaos you may need to continuously repeat your own internal mantra reminding you that it isn’t about you right now it’s about your loved one.

Please share your experiences of tough decisions that bipolar disorder has forced you to make in helping a loved one during a major mood episode. What happened? How did your loved one respond at the time? How did your loved one feel about your decision after fully recovering from the episode? If you have bipolar disorder and a loved one stepped in to help, please share your experience and insights. Did your loved one’s efforts help or make things worse? How did you feel at the time and afterwards, when the mood episode had passed?

Photo by Kristal O’Neal, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.