“It is a strange set of circumstances,” Judy Eron writes in her memoir What Goes Up: Surviving the Manic Episode of a Loved One, “when a wife wakes up every morning wishing her husband would get severely depressed or arrested.”
Or you wish your partner would be in a car accident–one bad enough to require hospitalization.
Or that they would rob a liquor store or the bank, and be hauled off to jail.
Anything to stop the madness of a manic episode.
People who are unfamiliar with the devastation mania leaves in its wake may joke that they wish they could be “a little manic,” just so they could get things done, finish a project, complete a never-ending to-do list, stay up all night and be wide awake the next day…and the next…and the next…
But for those who have experienced mania from the other side, watching their partners self-destruct and take others down with them, there’s nothing to laugh about.
What mania is and is not
When someone has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it means that the person experiences the two physiological states of mania and depression. Mania is the “activated” stage of bipolar disorder, which means the person experiences at least one week of an “abnormally and persistently irritable, elevated, and/or expansive mood” and three or more of the following symptoms are present: decreased need for sleep, very talkative, has rapid thoughts, very distractible, overfocused on school, work, personal or sexual activities, takes risks, or has an elevated sense of self esteem (DSM-IV-TR).
Where people sometimes get confused about whether their partner is in a manic episode is when the predominant mood is irritability. Most people expect those who are manic to have an elevated mood–smiling, happy, laughing, high, the life of the party, etc. In reality, the most common symptoms of a manic episode are angry mood, rapid speech, and distractibility.
What partners can and cannot do
Partners often feel desperate when their partner is manic. Mania is frightening, and one of the leading reasons why people with bipolar disorder commit suicide. In many cases, getting your partner hospitalized will turn things around, but often, this is not realistic, especially if your partner refuses treatment and/or the medical staff cannot prove that your partner is a threat to themselves or others.
Eron offers the following advice in her chapter “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda” for partners of those with bipolar disorder:
- You should not try to deal with mania by yourself. Forge a strong alliance with a psychiatrist and build a support network.
- Know that you are dealing with someone out of control, who can no longer be trusted. Be ready to take responsibility for being the decision-maker.
- Look after yourself. Keep your life going.
- Read as much as you can about the illness.
- A manic person “will hammer on your weakest spots to bend you to his way of thinking, namely that he’s not sick.”
- “Without a doubt, you will be abused emotionally. You may decide to bail out … You are only human. Love is powerful, but in the face of mania, it is not all-powerful.”
Should you visit Judy’s website or pick up her book, you’ll see that not only was she married to a man with bipolar disorder, both she and her husband were psychologists at the time of Jim’s manic episode that ultimately cost him his life. So if this disease can stymie people who are trained in mental health, it makes sense that partners of those with bipolar disorder should not navigate the waters of this illness alone.