I got this comment on one of my posts, and I wanted to share it with you, because it is the reason I chose what I did for today’s topic:
“Dear Dave, I love my husband very much, I just want you to know that. But I just can’t stand the way he acts sometimes! During episodes is the worst, but even in between episodes, it’s like he’s this changed person – not the man I married. Bipolar Disorder seems to have taken over his whole life. Even when he’s not in an episode, he’s obsessing over when his next one will be. I’ve tried to be a good supporter and a good wife, I really have. But his moods change so much, and I never know what to expect. The unpredictability of the mood swings and episodes is really getting to me. I’ve been waiting a long time for my husband to get better, but he just doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be what you call high functioning, or even stable. Help! I just need a break from him and his bipolar disorder. Is that wrong? Dianne”
Ok, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first: You know I’m not a doctor or any other professional, so I can’t give advice on those terms – I can only offer suggestions and opinions based on my experience and the experiences that other supporters have shared with me.
First of all, bipolar disorder does change a person. It can influence both their thoughts and their behavior. And, unfortunately, it’s a fact that the disorder does bring with it mood swings and episodes. We don’t know by her email what her husband is like during episodes, but we can imagine. But many supporters do get frustrated and even angry when their loved one doesn’t seem to be getting better. At times, from the people I’ve talked to, pretty much every supporter gets to a “boiling-over” point like this woman in the email. Well, sometimes you just need a break. It’s hard to deal with bipolar disorder 24/7 and expect yourself to be the perfect super supporter all the time. The good news is that you don’t have to be. You CAN take a break. In fact, many supporters regularly take breaks from their loved one and their bipolar disorder.
And they feel no guilt, because they do it as a part of self-care. Necessary self-care.
But let’s go back to this woman’s email for a bit. She says, first of all, that she loves her husband but can’t stand the way he acts sometimes. That’s normal for a supporter of a loved one with bipolar disorder. Loving the person and hating their behavior are two different things. That’s why I preach about separating your loved one from their disorder. You can still love them, but hate the disorder (which causes the unacceptable behavior). When she says, “…it’s like he’s this changed person – not the man I married,” she is expressing something that many supporters also express when their loved one is diagnosed later in life. If you let it, bipolar disorder CAN take over your whole life (like she says in the email). However, you can also choose not to let it.
You need to do things outside of the disorder. I would tell this woman to do some of the things that they did together before the bipolar disorder “took over his life,” and try to regain the relationship the way it was (as much as possible).
Bipolar disorder is not a death sentence! It’s just a mental illness. It can be managed. And stability IS possible, if your loved one does the work to reach it. You can’t do it for them, either – they have to do it for themselves. When she says, “Even when he’s not in an episode, he’s obsessing over when his next one will be,” well, many people go through that as well, although it is only a lesson in futility. The “normal” times in between episodes should be enjoyed while you can. Yes, there will most likely be a next episode at some point, but waiting around for it to happen is a waste of precious time. Then she says that she doesn’t think her husband will ever become high functioning, or even stable. Well, he won’t, unless he does what he needs to in order to gain stability, and there is nothing in her letter that states that he is doing that. And she ends the email with, “Help, I just need a break from him and his bipolar disorder. Is that wrong?” In my opinion, NO, it is not wrong. Sometimes you do just need a break.
Well, I have to go!