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.