What’s It Like To Live With: a Partner With a Bipolar Disorder
“I have to constantly tell myself that it’s not his fault; it’s a disease.”
Our series, Peripheral Vision, explores the untold stories of people we encounter on a daily basis.
My husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few months ago, although I think we should’ve asked for help much earlier. As someone living with a significant other with bipolar disorder, I not only have to take control of the situation, but also see to it that my kids are fine and our families know that we’ve got this.
But personally, the main challenge for me has been to deal with unpredictability. I’ve had to tell myself that the sudden changes in behavior that will make each day, week and month different is something I have to accept every day, to make things smooth.
My husband’s behavior is characterized by unusual shifts in mood, energy and activity levels and, like it is with bipolar disorder, they range from periods of extremely energized behavior known as mania, to very sad or the feeling of hopelessness, known as depressive episodes.
Before we sought professional help, I had noticed that there were a few weeks when my husband was feeling high on energy, excited to take on new things or activities where he thought he could do many of them at once and also had troubles sleeping. In the weeks that followed, he’d feel sad or worried for no reason and feel tired very easily. Luckily, there was no abuse or increased sexual activity [as is sometimes associated with manic episodes] although if we had waited any longer, I guess it wouldn’t have taken that long for things to go down that path.
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But these are symptoms he didn’t notice himself. A few of our friends and I spoke about our observations at a party and immediately sought help, and that’s when the doctor confirmed that he had bipolar disorder.
Since then, no two days have been similar. The diagnosis has made it easier, because I know the reason, but it doesn’t change anything; it is a roller coaster where some months are perfectly fine, and then, all of a sudden, something will happen.
However, all this while, all I have had to tell myself is that when things are tough, take a deep breath, step back and say that it’s not his fault; it’s a disease.
Initially, everything was centered around him and caring just for him, but I realized that I need to have my support system in place, too. So, I’ve been in touch families who are caregivers to people who have bipolar disorder that help me feel that I’m not alone on my bad days.
I’ve also made conscious efforts to get away, which means that I found myself a job, traveled whenever I needed to either for work or with friends for leisure, and that’s when I often end up calling his parents home or mine, and I’m glad that they understand the need to fill in for me.
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While I understand the need to enforce medicines on time, it’s a struggle to make others understand their importance and how not to negotiate with it. There have been days when I’ve had to threaten him to take medicines, else I’d go and spend the night at my friend’s or not be there for him. It scares him, and does trouble him, but he ends up taking them.
But despite everything, what really keeps me going is the fact that I constantly keep reminding myself of the man I fell in love with. Of course, on some days, I’ve wanted to take the easy way out, to tell his parents to take care of him while I take my kids to a safer, healthier atmosphere to grow up in, but that would be very wrong on my part. What if he did the same with me? What kind of a precedent am I setting up for my own kids — do I want to teach them to run away from situations? I want to teach them to be empathetic, show compassion and to be around when a sick person needs them. They understand their father is ill; they do get disappointed in him for not being able to express love or be there the way other dads are, but they’ve come to realize it’s not his fault. Together, we shall and want to overcome every situation. And if I had to give one advice to anyone who is a caregiver to someone who is suffering from bipolar disorder, it would be to keep communicating even on days that are difficult. Because doing it during and between mood swings will help you keep a tab on stressors and keep the situation under control.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. As told to Anubhuti Matta.
Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she's busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.