Bipolar disorder doesn't just affect the people who have it; it also affects their friends, family, acquaintances, and loved ones. Living with a spouse or significant other with bipolar disorder can be frustrating, irritating, confusing, baffling, frightening at times, and on occasion just plain overwhelming. One thing about it is that it isn't boring. I never really know what to expect from David, even now that he's taking his medicine and is reasonably stable.
When we were married 22 years ago, we had both been divorced and brought 6 young children, ranging in age from 4 to 10, with us into the marriage. It has not been easy, partly because we were dealing with broken and blended family issues, and partly because our children (now numbering 9) are energetic, strong-willed, high-spirited individuals. We now realize that some of our problems were caused by David's disorder, which was only diagnosed last year as bipolar 1, schizoaffective disorder, and anxiety. Fortunately we all survived the experience, and our children are law-abiding, productive members of society.
For most of the time we have been married, David has dealt with mood swings and difficulties in keeping a job. Until last year, he was functioning all right and learning to keep his moods under control. Then he lost another job, and his illness took a turn for the worse. After several weeks of not being able to concentrate, struggling with hallucinations, and taking long walks when he was almost catatonic, he agreed to see a doctor. It was a relief to have a name for what was happening to him, and at the same time frightening because we knew so little about the disorder. This is what I wrote at the time: "We had a long, very interesting and helpful talk about what is happening to him, and I'm still digesting this piece of news. Fortunately, most of the time he's rational and able to tell me what is going on in his mind. I don't know much about this disease, and I have a million more questions than answers. I just feel my husband has been handed a life sentence for an incurable, but hopefully treatable disease. This feels overwhelming. One of my questions is what do I tell the kids? Another is how in the world am I going to find the time to deal with taking care of him and everything else?"
Some of the answers have come easier than others, and I have learned how to cope better, but we are still learning and growing with this challenge.
David and I saw a clip about mental health issues few nights ago on TV. We were delighted to see it because we feel that the more the public knows about mental illness, the easier it is to get understanding and better treatment. And every time I hear a public service announcement or read an article encouraging those with the disorder to get help or asking others to learn more about mental illness, I smile to myself and hope it is reaching someone who needs the message.