He’s here today. My husband…is home today and tomorrow and the next day. He works Sunday and then again maybe next Tuesday, but he’s going to be seeing a lot more of home, and the tempting couch, for the next month as the factory has hit its annual slow spell. I’m a little scared.
As I see it, there are four major factors that go into my husband’s mood stability:
As Paul Jones of BipolarBoy.com puts it, everybody has their own flavor of bipolar. No two people with bipolar have the same symptom patterns to the same triggers that resolve with the same meds or lifestyle changes. My husband’s Rapid-Cycling Bipolar Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder interact in such a way that he cannot function without almost constant activity during the day, and of course, it would be better if the activity was something that didn’t need all of the strength of his stimulant medication to hold his attention.
Ah, it feels good to breathe. My husband is in that wonderful space between mania and depression: euthymia, otherwise known as “normal mood.” It’s the break I’ve needed the past six months, and the break I need to recharge before his moods begin to cycle again.
I’m smarter than I was a year ago when his depression finally lifted in the fall. At that point, my first break from his roller coaster moods in years, I naively thought we had stumbled onto the magic mix of pills that would last forever – that was, until spring mania kicked in.
That was a hard knock to the head, but a wake-up call long overdue. It forced me to pick apart my attitude toward this whole bipolar thing, to realize that my husband and I are on the same side, us against bipolar, not me against bipolar and him.
“What happened?! Why is there only $50 in the checking account?” I asked my husband. We had just gone out to eat at a local restaurant, and although I keep close tabs on the family finances, I hadn’t objected to my husband carrying the checkbook around in his pocket and paying for the fuel and the items at the store, and later the meal. But I was certainly objecting now!
He looked at me. In true form, his selective mutism took full hold. He was being criticized and this is how he protects himself, or tries to. It only infuriates me. I’m a writer, a professional communicator, and I don’t appreciate being shut out of the conversation, especially when it involves our finances. My mind flashed back to six months ago when I learned that my husband had drained the checking account with purchases of junk food. Anger – and let’s be honest, really fear – gripped me.
Marriage is hard. Obviously. Something easy wouldn’t result in more than half of all marriages ending in divorce. But it’s extra hard when severe mental illness is involved. Some statistics claim that 90% of marriages where there’s one partner suffering from chronic mental illness will dissolve. I can believe it.
In an average marriage, you have two people coming from different backgrounds with different perspectives on the world trying to work together on a common goal – partnership in life. Each has their own beliefs and opinions on everything from what goes on in the bedroom to what goes on in the kitchen. Add in a few kids, and its relationship soup.
This is “normal” stress on a marriage. Try throwing in a chronic mental illness. This is different than a physical illness that does not involve psychological functioning of the brain. While someone with lung cancer or lupus could develop a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, the cancer or lupus itself does not change the way the person thinks. But a mental illness – a disorder that may not kill the body in and of itself, but that can kill the person you know and love by altering the way that he sees the world and relates to you – that’s a totally different beast to deal with. But not impossible.
Marriage can be challenging, even under the best of circumstances. The fantasy of marriage is that, once you’ve found your soulmate (or at least a good stand-in), everything else is downhill.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
All good, healthy marriages require work and tending. Failure to pay attention to your marriage and the needs of your partner will typically result in marital discord.
All of this is magnified when one or more of the people in a marriage is dealing with serious mental health issues, such as depression or bipolar disorder. Mental illness amplifies existing problems, and creates new ones while both people in the marriage cope with trying to also cope with the illness together.
That’s why I’m pleased to bring you our newest blog, A Moody Marriage by Rita Brhel. Rita is a writer and editor, and works for Attachment Parenting International. She married her college sweetheart in 2002 who, at the time, had undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder and later developed Rapid-Cycling Bipolar Disorder.
Please give Rita a warm Psych Central welcome! I look forward to reading her insights and perspective on living with someone with mental illness, and learning to grow despite having to cope with the disorder in her partner.