Wednesday, November 6, 2013

5 things I learned from my bipolar (II) spouse

Well, it's been at least 8 years now since bipolar has reared its ugly head in my marriage. And I'd like to think that I know some things that I didn't know before....but at the same time, I am constantly surprised by what I don't know or haven't considered yet. So I decided to make a list of some of the things I have learned in these past few years.

(1) Good things aren't always "good" (and bad things aren't necessarily "bad", either) for the bipolar person. Some examples: We had been looking forward so much to DH receiving disability, it seemed like it would never actually happen. When DH received his back pay for his disability (with me as rep/payee, of course), as soon as the money hit MY bank account, DH was in a full-fledged manic episode. Since he has bipolar II, this was unusual. It became one nonstop argument. He wanted this, he wanted that, he wanted me to have a new car, he wanted a big screen TV, he wanted to remodel the bedroom, he wanted to go on a trip, he wanted to do so much! And all I wanted to do was pay bills so that maybe we could have some of those things someday. And the other way....when DH got his DWI, I expected a lot of remorse and some "Well, I'll never do that again!". But I didn't expect that he would embrace treatment like he has, he is going to treatment and taking it seriously. And it's getting him out into the community, out of the house, and talking with people. So treatment has turned into a positive for DH.

(2) Stay tuned, it'll change when you're not expecting it. This one's still tough for me. I've been raised all my life to believe that people are, for the most part, predictable. You know what makes them happy, you know what makes them upset, and you try to use that information to predict your path. With Bipolar II, it's not like that at all. What is pleasant one day can be annoying the next and can be a lifechanger the next. And it's incredibly hard to cope with. I try to remind myself when DH gets upset over something trivial, or something like that, that "it won't stay this way". That has probably saved our marriage more than once. If he was consistently as disagreeable as that part of him that I refer to as "That Guy" is, I could never have lasted. But things change quickly with this disease. Unfortunately, that also means that the great times don't last either. DH might go for two whole weeks where he cleans the house, cleans the litter boxes, takes out the trash and then afterwards tells me how much he appreciates me. Then just as suddenly as it started, it's gone. And he's back to not doing much of anything. So around we go again. But you'll never get the "same old stuff" with a bipolar II spouse, for sure!

(3) Hate the disease, don't hate the person! My husband is a person. He has dreams and hopes and feelings just like everyone else. Probably about 80% of the time, I don't think about him as a person with a mental illness--he's just my husband. A husband who faces daunting obstacles every day, but still--he's not just "a person with mental illness" or "a bipolar". Most of the time he doesn't have a lot of insight into his illness, he believes that he is just like everyone else, only he has to take a bunch of pills. And many of the things that he says and does are not within his control. It's difficult for me to understand sometimes. And I do find myself slipping on this one, especially during extended times where "That Guy" is around--"That Guy" is unreasonable and temperamental. It's hard sometimes, when the unreasonable stuff is emanating from my husband to not just throw up my hands and say "All right, I give up!" But then I remember my caveat from above (it'll change) and decide to stick it out. My husband is a softhearted, gentle person, who tries really hard to do the best he can. I recognize that, and as long as he's still trying, I will, too.

(4) Regular people are the hardest part of the disease. It's still difficult for me to know when to let people in to the "big mental illness secret". I know my neighbors wonder why, if he's home all day, the grass doesn't get cut, or the driveway doesn't get plowed. Why things don't get fixed, and why DH doesn't do what he says he will. And probably by this time, some of them have figured out that something's wrong, but everyone is too polite to ask. I'm sure there's gossip, though. And sometimes when I just want to tell everyone "I am not this unmowed grass, house-falling-down promises-not-kept person!" I think about telling people that DH has a mental illness so that they would understand how hard I've been trying to keep it all together. But mostly, I haven't told anyone yet. I feel like if DH wants people to know, he'll tell them (although he probably is oblivious to "what the neighbors might think"...) I did tell my brother. You know what he said? "I'll take him out to lunch, see if I can talk some sense into him!" There was just no telling him that it wasn't something that could be talked through....I really got angry, but after trying to tell him about mental illness and not being understood, I gave up. And have I mentioned that I can't tell you how many hundreds of times I've heard "I just don't understand why you don't leave"? Aside from the fact that I married him "in sickness and in health", now that things are somewhat stable with him, he isn't hard to get along with. And if our positions were reversed, I sure wouldn't want to be left. For now, I'm staying put.

(5) I am much stronger and more capable than I ever thought I could be. I cannot believe the things I have figured out, the work I've done, the fires (figurative) I've put out, and the way I have taken control of many aspects of the marriage. I never envisioned myself doing this, in fact, our plan was "buy a fixer-upper house, DH would fix it up on weekends. DH would work and we would adopt lots of kids, and I would stay home with all of them." But life happens. Instead, I worked 2 jobs for 8 years(!) so that we wouldn't lose the house. I've become and advocate for DH and gone to countless appointments and meetings where his providers depend on me to get things as right as possible. I set up the pills, take care of the animals, attend meetings/put out fires for DD, who has recently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder....and keep an eye on my mom (I still drop by to see her every day, although she doesn't know me most of the time, and she sleeps about 23 hrs a day). If you would have told me I would do all this, I would've laughed in your face. I could never do all that. Hehe.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Social Security Disability Update

We got the call over Labor Day weekend. DH's disability claim has been approved. He's also going to be eligible for Medicare in March, which is almost more exciting than the Disability itself, because this year, we (I) had already spent over $3000.00 in out of pocket expenses just for DH alone--prescriptions, ER visits, Dr. visits, etc. The Medicare coupled with my health insurance from work, will mean he is double covered and presumably, our bills will go down significantly. I may even be able to give myself a raise, because right now I contribute the maximum amount to my Flex plan, which amounts to about 95.00 each paycheck before taxes. Now granted that I do go to the doctor once in a while, so the amount wouldn't go down to zero, but the decrease could potentially be significant. Open enrollment at work is next month, so I'll have to ask someone how that all works.
Probably the biggest thing that this means right now, though, is that I am going to quit my 2nd job. After nearly exactly 8 years of working 2 jobs, DH's disability, after taxes, will be about the same amount as I bring home from the 2nd job. Originally, I wasn't going to quit right away. That extra money would make things that much easier, of course. But every time I went to work, all I kept thinking about was how I could choose to quit, how I could find a job that I really like, if I even want a second job, it's a choice now. Even before the disability was approved, I worried a lot about my mom being so sick and what if I got "the call" when I was working and couldn't leave? (Because at a group home you can't leave the clients unattended, not for any reason). And every time I showed up for work, I felt more strongly that it was time. So I put in my 2 weeks notice, this will be my last weekend of working 2 jobs.
I'm really excited about having 2 days off every week! Maybe I'll get a different part time job once my mom passes, but right now, spending more time with her will be nice, too.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bipolar Hedonist

DH's therapist hit it right on the head. "You are one of the biggest hedonists I have ever met."
Wow. I never really knew there was a word for it. But, if you're not sure what it means, a hedonist is "a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification." That's DH. Since about 2005 it's been "all about DH, all the time". And if, in the process of making himself feel good, he can make me happy too, then so be it. But most of the time, it's just all about him. And food to make him feel good. And cigarettes (I don't remember if I told you that I require that he roll his own cigarettes now but I still buy the tobacco). And candy. And pop. And money. And anything else, apparently, that he can do to make himself feel good.
I could tell that it bothered DH to hear this about himself. I could also tell that he was expecting me to say something like "well, that's not really true..." But what I said was "Wow! He's got it! And he figured that out in 4 weeks? It took me a lot longer than that!" Hehe. I shouldn't laugh, but really....that therapist must be a sharpie!
I've been trying (in a gentle way) to ask myself what that says about me. Maybe I have a martyr complex. Maybe I'm just so laid back I don't care. Or maybe I just choose to believe that he can't help it and it's his mental illness.
See, that's the problem I have all the time--which of his behaviors are choices he makes, and which ones are due to his mental illness and can't be helped? I really struggle with this, nearly every day. I wish I could talk to that therapist of his. But I'm sure that'd be a conflict of interest.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


So... DH started treatment. I had to leave the phone calls (to get the treatment program set up) to him, as I don't have much time during the workday. I specifically wanted him to find a treatment program for people with a "dual diagnosis", as I strongly believe that DH's mental health issues need to be addressed in conjunction with the chemical issues. I don't believe that there is an addiction problem as such (although maybe the Percocet would qualify), it's more of a self-medicating thing and not knowing when to stop. And that is directly connected to the mental illness.
I stressed over and over again the importance of the dual diagnosis treatment. And after DH got his treatment set up, it turns out that he "forgot" about the dual diagnosis thing. Now, in our small town, there aren't a whole ton of options as far as treatment programs go, but sheesh, if he's going to go to treatment, it should be one that's effective, even if he has to drive an hour or two to get there--after all, he's not working, so why not?
Can you tell I might still be a little bothered by that? :-)
Well, anyhow....I mentioned that I wished DH would have gotten involved in a dual diagnosis program to the probation officer, and he didn't think there was a problem with the treatment program that DH signed up for. So I guess I'll just go along with that despite my misgivings...after all, I control the money and the Percocet (when DH gets some)...
Oh--did I mention that DH also (at the direction of the probation officer) started seeing a therapist (more on that later)? Anyhow, between the therapy and the treatment program 3 nights a week, and the 2 AA meetings that DH is required to attend as part of his treatment, he's been a lot busier than usual. But that also means that a lot of things are getting discussed that DH doesn't usually talk about. I'm not sure if that's good or bad yet.

Monday, October 21, 2013

DH--bipolar DWI

Well, it shocked the heck out of me, but really, it didn't.
DH's friend Jim came on Memorial Weekend for a visit. He and DH went out to "shoot pool" and "have a beer or two". Now just to clarify, DH does not drink often. Maybe once or twice a year. But when he does, the concept of "Social Drinking" kind of goes out the window. It's "all or nothing" for him.
When he does want to drink, I'm always concerned, because the Lithium and Depakote can intensify the effects of the alcohol. He half-jokingly asked me how many beers he could have, and I said "two or three, no more!" and he said "Oh! I was thinking I could only have one or two!" So since he was aware of the fact that I thought he should limit his intake, and because Jim (who tends to be very responsible) was going along and also driving, I didn't worry much. I went off to work my overnight shift at the 2nd job.
When I got home in the morning, DH's car was gone and so was Jim's. I knew that Jim was going to leave for his home early in the morning, so the fact that his car was not there did not surprise me. In fact, I wasn't even very concerned that DH's car was not there, I just figured the two of them went out to breakfast before Jim left (Jim always takes DH out to eat when he visits). So imagine my surprise when I went into the house and there was DH! "I got arrested," he said.
It turns out that DH and Jim had only had one beer at the bar. On the way back from the bar, Jim, trying to be generous, as money is still tight and I never give much to DH, gave DH a $20 bill so that DH could have some spending money. Jim went to bed, DH got in his car and went back to the bar.
According to DH, while he was at the bar the 2nd time, the man sitting next to him kept buying him drinks. DH knew he was pretty drunk when the man offered to share a joint with him. Now, in the history of our marriage, I honestly do not believe that DH has smoked pot. But of course he did on this fateful night. He then got in his car to go home, it was 8 miles on a rural road.
DH doesn't remember much of what happened after that. Apparently he couldn't find the right road to go home. He ended up 43 miles away from home, having hit a guardrail (on the drivers side, yet--if that tells you anything) and being pulled over by a police officer who had to swerve to avoid being hit by DH in the oncoming lane.
The police report states that DH said to the officer "I'm bombed and need to go to jail!".
So he did. Jim bailed him out before I got home, then Jim left, to avoid the fireworks.
So. On our tight budget, it cost 300.00 to get his car out of the impound. $800 in fines and court costs, and $720.00 to get his license back after 90 days of suspension. In all fairness, DH did do community service to pay the court fines. I told our insurance agent that DH got a DWI, the agent said "I never heard that." and told me that the auto insurance company might not find out. I very much hope not.
Anyhow, as part of his sentence for the DWI, DH had to do an "alcohol assessment", where they basically try to determine whether there is a problem or not. Based on what DH told the probation officer, the probation officer determined that DH needed some kind of treatment. Both for the drinking to excess and the Percocet. And I'm glad for that. DH....well, he just keeps saying how sorry he is that he was honest with the probation officer.
As it becomes clear that this bipolar thing is permanent, I am finding myself better able to recognize that DH's thinking doesn't make sense and I'm not likely to convince him otherwise.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


I almost forgot to update you on DH's outpatient surgery that he had last November. The surgery itself went well, but DH developed a MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) infection in his elbow and could not get rid of it for anything. This was part of this years medical bills, too, because he had to have wound care nearly every day for three months. He also had a "wound vac", which is a vaccum that is attached to the wound that sucks all the yuck out of the wound so it can heal--now that is gross!
DH wasn't really that concerned about the MRSA, but it kept us from seeing family at Christmas, because my uncle, who has multiple myeloma, was undergoing chemo so that he could have a stem cell transplant, and I didn't want to take a chance on that uncontrolled MRSA finding him.....DH has had a lot of treatments and checkups on his elbow, and current status is that the wound is closed, but it is not healed. Therefore, his doctor is confident that the MRSA is still alive and well, living inside DH's elbow. DH also had a test at the hospital recently that determined that he is still an active MRSA carrier.
So I wanted to give you this cheery little update as I am thinking that we will be dealing with the MRSA for another extended period of time, as soon as someone checks inside the elbow to see what's really going on. Right now, DH complains of pain, and the surgeon has given him cortisone shots to eliminate the pain, but the shots don't last very long. The surgeon has mentioned re-doing the surgery, at which point, I'm sure they will find more MRSA. But DH keeps "forgetting" to make the appointments that are specifically for the elbow/MRSA, although numerous doctors have seen him in the past several months and have not been concerned beyond the "take precautions not to spread it" stuff. Nobody seems to think his health is in danger. It's hard to know how worried to be on this one, but I'm sure this isn't the last you'll hear/read of it.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What happened next: dog losses

It was the first week in December when our dog Megan started having problems. She couldn't walk, and her breathing was labored. She was at least 14 years old, a lab/pit bull mix who was an absolute snuggler. We rushed her to the vet.
X-rays were inconclusive, there may or may not have been a mass. The vet gave her a shot of steroids, a pain killer, and some sub-q fluids. We brought Megan home, expecting to put her to sleep in the next few hours.
But she rallied. That was all it took. Three days later she escaped and was running through the cornfields that adjoin our property, just like nothing had ever happened. We kind of knew she was on borrowed time, we were just hoping there was a lot of time left.
The week before Christmas, it happened again. The vet repeated the treatment, hoping for another miracle, but it wasn't to be. She got worse and worse until we couldn't watch any more, and had her put to sleep. It was heartbreaking. But because we'd had that other miracle, we'd had some time to baby her and give her extra love, so we didn't have as much of that "didn't even get a chance to say goodbye" feeling. It was still tough. We both still miss her a lot.
It was in February that virtually the same thing happened to our other dog, Buddy. He collapsed, we brought him to the vet. He seemed to be comfortable, so the vet urged me to go to work while they ran tests. Later that morning, the vet called to report that Buddy's liver and kidneys were both failing and there was nothing they could do. I made an appointment to have him put to sleep that afternoon, as soon as I could get there. While I was on the way, the vet called again to say that Buddy had passed. Another heartbreak.
We are now down to three dogs: Frosty (German Shepherd/pit bull, age 10), Molly (German Shepherd/collie, age 7) and Buffy (no, we didn't name her!) (purebred collie, age 5). It's bittersweet, of course, but it is nice to be able to fit me, DH and all the dogs in one vehicle :-)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

One of Many Bipolar Updates-- Attitude Adjustment

Hi Everyone, I wanted to send out a special thanks to anyone who might still be reading this blog--I'm still here and still thinking about everything I always want to say to all of you. The thing is, that my full-time job became a 5-day-a-week job, and then working the weekend job too, there wasn't time to update, and when there was, I just felt like pretending everything would go away.

I see that the last time I updated the blog was nearly a year ago. Since then, things have changed, of course, and yet, things have really stayed the same more than anything.

Probably the thing I wanted to share the most with you is that I had an attitude adjustment relating to DH's bipolar. I'm not sure if it was the new hormones I had started on, or just my brain clicking into gear, but almost overnight I realized that I had to do some things differently. I thought a great deal about this blog and acknowledged to myself that I have been doing a lot of whining and complaining, and while it might show some people that they aren't alone, if their loved one(s) act like DH, it doesn't really help anyone, and it doesn't improve my situation either. Once I made that realization, I decided to write down some goals Some of my goals were:
1) stop using credit cards under any circumstances (so far I have succeeded for this year!)
2) Create better boundaries with DH and recognize when I need to hold him accountable (this one is still a work in progress, as the mental illness makes boundaries wishy-washy, but I am much better at it than when I first decided on this goal!)
3) attain enough financial stability to the point where I can get by on one job instead of two (this goal was reached, but not in the way I anticipated)
So far, I'm feeling proud about these things.
DH continues to struggle. I am trying to not get sucked in so much. Easier said than done, for sure!
My mom is in end-stage dementia. She is in hospice care (this is the 2nd time now) and weighs 89 lbs. Once in a great while she still calls me Donna Mae, but mostly she sleeps about 23 hours a day. We have very little interaction and it makes me so sad. I am torn between "I wish this was over" and "please don't go, I need you!" We still have a bunch of cats. DD is in adult foster care and still having problems that try me greatly (I am her legal guardian).

I have recognized that I need this blog, and I miss it. I will be updating again this coming weekend.