It’s no one’s fault.
I was 18 years old, pregnant, scared, and lonely when I met my now-husband. We became best friends, and two years later he married another woman and had a baby. Fast forward six years: we were madly in love and engaged, then married.
One year after that, my husband came home after work, sat down at the kitchen table, and told me he wanted a divorce. I refused, and not very nicely. A few months after that, he was diagnosed with Bipolar 2, and our marriage was in for a hell of a ride.
Ten years later, I published a book about our marriage, and have had a lot of sleepless nights and many lessons learned about loving someone with bipolar disorder. Here’s what you need to know:
1. When Your Partner Is Diagnosed, You Won’t Know What’s Coming
Even if you understand mental illness (I was already struggling with anxiety and depression when my husband was diagnosed), you don’t know what it’s going to look like in a particular person. There are general parameters of symptoms, but they can vary wildly from person to person.
2. They May Not Know They Are Ill
Part of having bipolar can be what is called “anosognosia,” a weird word for a simple idea: a mentally ill person who’s unable to perceive that he or she is ill. This means a huge part of bipolar is that, when your loved one most needs help, your partner will be least likely to look for it or accept it.
Some people with bipolar can be very proactive about their care, but this is usually after treatment has begun to help. Part of what makes bipolar so scary is that it takes an enormous amount of work to manage, and “an enormous amount of work” is almost impossible for someone very ill with bipolar. Therefore, recovery is a long, hard road, save for a lucky few who respond to medication immediately and beautifully.
3. They May Not Have the Same Ideas as You About How to Get Treatment
If I had my way, my husband would have been scarfing fish oil like it was beer, contacting his inner zen daily, eating a perfectly balanced diet, and taking regular strolls in nature to reconnect. Let’s just say these things didn’t happen.
4. You Will Struggle With Letting Go
Let go of the idea that you can heal your significant other or that your love can save them. Let go of the way things used to be before the disease take hold. Let go of waiting for the disease to let go. Let go of thinking if your partner would just “try harder,” then he or she wouldn’t act ill when having a bipolar episode.
5. You Will Feel Guilty
I still struggle to accept that it isn’t wrong for me to be happy or light if my husband is in bipolar depression. I struggle to know where letting go crossed with “I’ve done all I can,” because we do a lot — almost anything — for those we love the most.
6. The Medication Might Not Work
And if it does work, it might stop working. Many people with bipolar have to try more than one or two medications, or combinations of medications, before they find something that works for them. Staying on top of the medications could very well become partly your responsibility, too.
7. Throw “Should” Out the Door and Accept What “Is”
You ‘shouldn’t’ have to be sad a lot, right? Well, nobody wants to feel sad. People with cancer, pain disorders, lost jobs, and broken hearts “shouldn’t” have to suffer either. But we all do.
When you love someone with bipolar, you have to stop listening to the “shoulds,” and think about what really IS and what works for you. If helping your partner manage his or her medications makes you feel better and keeps your loved one more balanced, great. If it makes you feel resentful and stressed out, and your partner feel hen-pecked, then don’t do it.
8. You Will Need to Re-Learn That Taking Care of Yourself Is Important
Even if you already knew this, it’s hard to remember when the person you love is struggling so much. You can’t be calm, loving, patient, or gentle with your partner or yourself if all your mental and emotional energy is going toward the other person.
You don’t want your relationship to start feeling like a caretaking role — and trust me, neither does your partner. So remember to include what nourishes you every day. I go on four-mile runs a few times a week, write, read novels, and talk to my girlfriends and my mom. I spend a lot of time being ridiculous and laughing.
9. Don’t Let Your Relationship Become All About the Illness
Take note if you’re paying more attention to the disease than the person. If your conversations all end up somehow coming back to bipolar or your idea of a date night is group therapy, you might want to reconnect as just people who love each other, and drink some wine and watch bad TV together.
10. It’s Not Your Partner’s Fault That He Or She Is Sick
It’s up to you to educate yourself about this disease. Get the support you need; it’s up to your partner to accept and take responsibility for treatment.
If your or your partner has bipolar, these are some great online resources for help:
- Bipolar Burble: Natasha Tracy runs this site, which is the home of real-life experience, and suggestions for those with bipolar and those hoping to learn more about it.
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: Wonderful resources including support groups.
- Stigma Fighters: A website run by Sarah Fader that has collections of essays by people with all kinds of mental illness.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: 10 Brutal Truths About Being Married To Someone Who’s Bipolar.