I want to tell you about one of the supporters in the support group I attend: She was afraid she had “caught” her husband’s bipolar disorder because she had started feeling depressed. This really got her worried, which just made her worse, to the point that she went to see a therapist herself.
She thought she would receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, or at least Major Depressive Disorder… But what she was told instead was that she was suffering from what is called Situational Depression. This is when the situation you are in causes you to become depressed. If you get out of the situation, or adapt to the situation (or change the situation so that you can deal with it), you will no longer be depressed over it. That’s why it’s called Situational Depression, because unlike bipolar disorder, it is not a chemical disorder in the brain – there is no physical cause for it.
So after the therapist explained that you can’t catch bipolar disorder like you catch the common
cold and explained more about Situational Depression, this woman understood more about what she was going through. It helped to explain why she was feeling the way she was. But it didn’t help her figure out how she was going to be able to stop being depressed. She had to do that on her own.
First, she had to figure out exactly what was causing her depression. It was too easy to say everything (even though that was the way she felt at first). She felt like if her husband just didn’t have bipolar disorder, then she wouldn’t be depressed. But that wasn’t realistic. He had bipolar disorder, and she had to learn to cope and deal with it in order to stop being so depressed.
Then she started thinking about when her depression started, since he had bipolar disorder for awhile, and she hadn’t been depressed the whole time. She figured out that her own depression had started at her husband’s last episode. He had gotten very depressed and retreated to his bed, sleeping all the time, and stayed there for a month.
Even though she knew it was the bipolar episode, and not her husband, she still felt rejected.
In thinking back on that period of time, she realized that was what started her depression,
that feeling of being rejected by her husband. Eventually he came out of the episode, but
he still remained quiet, and didn’t talk to her much about anything. He never seemed to share his thoughts and feelings with her. It appeared that their communications had simply broken down.
So she realized that if she wanted to get out of her situational depression, she needed to take
steps to restore their communication. One day, when her husband was in a pretty good mood, she sat him down and shared her thoughts and feelings with him. She was sure to tell him how much she loved him and how much she missed the way they used to be. In return, he started sharing his thoughts and feelings with her, and the session was quite enlightening for both of them. It brought them closer together.
After this, and many other close talks, her depression started to lift, since her situation had changed. Her husband began talking to her more, as he had learned that he could trust her with his thoughts and feelings since she had been so understanding that first time.
This story is not an uncommon one. It is easy for communication to break down in a relationship
where one of the people has bipolar disorder. When they suffer from bipolar depression, they
tend to close into themselves, even cutting their supporter off completely.
It is also not unusual for the supporter to fall into their own depression.
Well, I have to go!