Mental Illness

When a Spouse and Parent is Mentally Ill

449I’ve never thought of it until now, but I actually don’t know anyone personally that has bipolar except my husband. You hear people make jokes about it that someone must be bipolar if they act out in a hyper or moody way.  But I don’t know anyone that is as close to the disease as I am.  After Carmelo and I started to get to know each other, when it was clear we had a mutual attraction we both laid our cards out on the table.  A fair warning kind of thing, if we’re really going pursue a relationship lets put it all out there before we get too attached.  He told me about the bipolar, I told him about myself and my issues and we decided we where willing to take a chance on each other. But you can read all the medical textbooks out there and talk to people who know someone with bipolar. But there are just certain things no book is going to tell you.  You can’t truly understand Bipolar until you live through a mental break and even then there are things that are difficult to understand.

Bipolar has many faces and many people fail to recognize it or treat it putting their family and friends through hell until some type of intervention is instated whether willingly or unwillingly.  Those are most of the stories you typically hear about, that is not our experience with Bipolar my husband accepts his diagnosis and does well to maintain his heath.  But sometimes a set back occurs and medication has to be re-regulated or the medication formula has to be changed, one slight change to the formula can send the Bipolar person completely off kilter.  The process to get back on track can be long and drawn out as the person goes through many mental processes to get well again.

Every case of mental illness is different and every mental break has its different components.  Some people’s bipolar manifests more towards major depression some lean more towards mania and psychosis.  Some swing equally both ways.  The only common factor is that it is difficult for everyone involved. It sucks actually, not everyone is equipped to handle it.  It takes a certain type of person to deal with a mentally ill spouse, unlike a mentally ill child where you have no choice.  When your spouse is ill, the dynamic changes, and it can be difficult to bounce back.  Not everyone bounces back, all too common someone walks away. Statistics say 90% of marriages involving one bipolar spouse ends in divorce.  It’s an old statistic and whose to say how accurate it is.  But it’s A sobering statistic just the same. Marriage is difficult enough but throw in a mental illness and the world typically tells you your doomed to fail.  But statistics don’t give the details, does that include people who are medicated and med compliant or is that Bipolar people who refuse to confront their disease, whose family is left to suffer the effects of an untreated disease?  How many articles have you read about people in happy, successful relationships with someone with a mental illness.  Or children that come out of a household with mental illness to be healthy ~`unscathed people themselves.  I hear a lot of the horror stories, I’ve lived the horror of it.  But the mental illness is only a part of our story it’s not our whole story.

When it’s bad it’s bad no if’s and or buts about it.  When you are in a crisis it feels this moment is the epicenter of your entire world.  There’ s no seeing around it, your whole world revolves around this mental break and the future seems bleak for the moment.   But these are the defining moments the ones that show who you really are.  These moments although terrible have tested the realms of how I have raised my children.  Of course I would never put my children to the test of this magnitude intentionally but the reality of it is this is our world, we live with mental illness we can deny it, or run from it, or act like it doesn’t exist, but it will still be there.  Instead we can face it, talk about it, learn about it and be compassionate and empathetic.  For a moment we’re living with a stranger of sorts but that doesn’t erase our history or the love that exists between us. I am proud of my children for not losing sight of that.

When a member of the family is sick even the one that appears the strongest the family rallies around that one to build them up, to give them the strength they don’t possess on their own. We all get weak at one time or another and need the strength of our family to build us up.  Our children although young have looked on at their father and stepfather with love and empathy, not judgement.  They’ve asked questions and I answer them with honesty.  “I don’t know how long it’s going to be until we get back the man we know and love.  But until then just let daddy know that you love him, that’s what he needs right now”.  Sacrifices have had to be made, we had made some major financial cuts before this crisis now with pretty much no income, we’ve had to give up some of the little luxuries like cable and the occasional drive thru, we’ve had to turn down social invites because we simply do not have the money.  Although there are disappointments in these things they get the bigger picture that life is more than material things it’s about being there for the ones that need you when they need you.  In the end the sacrifice is worth it for the sake of your loved ones health.We have bonded together as a family through every crisis we’ve encountered, we’re shaken but we’re still standing.  “This too shall pass”  it’s just a matter of time.  It’s a process all the professionals say, but I hate the process.

Mental illness tests the boundaries of friendships as well, when it comes down to it much like in marriage it takes a special kind of friend to stay beside you in those dark moments.  Some chose to bail but our true friends have sat with us in the darkest hours and are still here.  Sometimes it’s just sending a text message letting you know they’re thinking of you, or you’re in their prayers.   I’ve come to appreciate in a much deeper sense how much a message or a card can mean for someone going through a personal crisis.  Because for me sometimes those well wishes are what get me through my days, from one moment to the next.  It’s knowing even if no one truly understands, even when they don’t know what to say, there’s comfort in the silence of a true friend that is there for you unconditionally. That’s where empathy is really showed. How far are you willing to put your foot in someone else’s shoes?  To really try to understand what they’re going through?  To educate yourself , it’s not a choice, it’s a disease, there’s no shame in it, yes the behavior can have it’s impact on the ones around them. There are moments of embarrassment, it’s not like there’s a medical bracelet for this kind of thing.  Although there should be it should say.

Please excuse my behavior I am mentally unstable right now, you would love me if you really knew me.

Once the mental crisis is over and they start to stabilize again they don’t remember the ugly stuff, how bad it got, how delusional or grandiose or mean they where.  I kind of see it as a fragile brain protecting itself because if they knew half of what they put their loved ones through the brain couldn’t withstand it.  It would break them.  Bipolar has a lot to do with perception of realities, especially in a manic state.  Imagine if your brain told you one thing and you feel like you know yourself, you feel good, everything’s fine but everyone is telling you otherwise. How confusing, how frustrating that would be.  In those moments that’s when greater empathy is needed, whether your loved one recognizes it or appreciates it they need you now more than ever.  I am settled in my heart that every decision I’ve had to make has been in my husbands best interest.  This is difficult because the sick person doesn’t always see it this way their reality is different from yours.

It takes a thick skin, but my skin feels thin and worn, there are times when it feels unbearable way too much to bear. There are moments when I want to run, when my strength feels like its giving out.  I’ve just been through this with my mentally ill daughter, I’ve barely survived that crisis.  But mental illness requires more love, more understanding, more forgiveness.  Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing more to give, but I always find the strength I need.  I find strength in knowing once the dust settles and the crisis clears our bond will be stronger for all of this.  The depth of our commitment will be evident.  My husband didn’t ask for this anymore than my child did.  Loving kindness doesn’t argue with their reality.  Loving kindness bites it’s tongue and rides the storm, because the storm has to recede eventually. The storm can’t rage on forever, we just have to ride it out.  I came across a quote just recently that struck me so profoundly.

Never give up on someone with a mental illness.  When I is replaced by we, illness becomes wellness. -Shannon L. Alder

This quote spoke to my heart because as difficult as it is having a mentally ill spouse my husband needs be.  He is much more than the disease that is ravaging his brain.  Illness is illness whether its emotional or physical, whether you can see it or if it resides in the brain its sickness.  How could I turn my back on someone who is ill?  I’m confident he would support me in the same way I have done for him.  I know when my husbands mind returns and he comes back to me, I know he will thank me for staying by his side.  He will never fully know all he is thanking me for. But I will, and I’m okay with that.


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