The Bi-Polarized Marriage: An All Too Real Journey

“As much as it’s a biomedical condition, people with mental illnesses can’t be let completely off the hook,” says Dr. Karp, who himself has major depression.  “Of course, we can’t expect them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they’re acutely ill, but during periods of wellness they owe it to their spouses to do whatever is in their power to help themselves.”

from Married and Bipolar By Sandra Kiume, Psychology Today

One day you wake up and you realize that what lies before you is a journey that you never expected to take, in which the course is invariably determined by circumstances over which you had no control and in many ways even less understanding.  Such was the case when Jennifer my wife was just recently diagnosed as being bipolar.

While there was to be certain a degree of relief in that the diagnosis, which was made close to 2 years after she started taking anti-depressants and about 6 months after she started her sessions with 2 qualified counselors, provided some explanation for her at times erratic behavior, it also opened the door to both trepidation and uncertainty.  A kind of “this isn’t something for which I signed on” pause, as one attempts to measure or quantify the extent of the impact of an illness which manifests itself in unacceptable and destructive behaviors that invariably ripple throughout the family unit.

Without focusing too much on the acts to which I am referring, such as lying to the bank to obtain a replacement bank card (she had turned over her original card to me because of previous financial indiscretions) and then proceeding to spend $600 in a matter of hours on items such as lottery tickets, assuming the role of caretaker as a means of managing and limiting as much as possible the negative impact of her actions is tantamount to Larson’s Far Side cartoon which depicts frustrated parent snakes lamenting the fact that they can’t keep their innumerable off-spring confined to their human-type playpen.  Now I know what the little dutch boy must have felt like when after plugging four leaks with his two hands and two feet, a fifth leak sprung just out of reach.  In short, and no matter what you do, it never seems to be enough.

“Julie says it’s easy for her to become “very selfish” when she’s either manic or depressed. At one point, Daniel sat her down and told her, “I need you to pay attention to what’s going on here.” “It was a real wake-up call,” she says. “It hurt at first to know I was hurting him, but it made me realize that I had a responsibility to him and our marriage, not just to myself.”

When as part of my research into the illness, I came across Tatty Lou’s article, who herself has bipolar disorder, “Spouses of Bipolar Sufferers …The Other Half,” I have to admit that it initially did little to assuage my growing concerns.

Specifically her comment that “so many people in their community are focused on the well-being of the bipolar person that they forget about the spouse” including her emphasis of the fact that  “it can be very difficult to be the other half of a partnership in which someone is chronically ill.”

Add into the equation, Tatty’s acknowledgment that “spouses of bipolar sufferers often are the caretakers and caregivers of the relationship,” and that they are expected to “hold everything together when emotional hurricanes hit their families . . .  hanging on in spite of everything that is flying around them just waiting for the calm,” I felt even greater uncertainty.

You have to understand, and in line with Tatty’s assertion that the majority of people who are close to the caregivers, “expect them to be strong and almost heroically brave, when sadly, they, too, have weaknesses and fears,” I too have a life in which I have faced numerous challenges.  The difference is that I am used to operating within a relatively stable emotionally range in which I do not get too high or too low.  Or as Jennifer has often put it, I am as sure and as reliable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.  Of course this balance is due to my faith in God and the unwavering belief that all things do in fact work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

Ironically, and despite the reservations that are deeply rooted in a belief that we live within a world that requires us to behave responsibly and to take ownership for our lives and actions . . . a life according to choice – not chance  mindset, which is one of my greatest frustrations with the manic aspects of Jennifer’s illness re irresponsible behavior and lies, it is this greater faith in a loving God to whom I am now turning for guidance and quite frankly help.

Make no mistake, I have no illusions – although I am going to continue to voraciously devour any and all research material in an effort to equip myself with the proper tools to deal with the illness, I know that it is not going to be an easy road.

However, I do love Jennifer very much and can see through the obfuscation of her ailment the beauty of her mind and gentleness of her spirit and, like groping through a thick fog I will continue to reach out to that ephemeral lumination with the hope and belief that the haze will one day clear to a brighter and happier realization of the promises of an amazing life.

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