Bipolar & Relationships: My Partner in Recovery
When you and your partner share love, respect, gratitude, friendship, honesty, laughter, and faith, you can face anything—even the challenges of bipolar.
By Melody Moezzi
I met my husband in 1997. He was 19, I was 18, and the Internet was barely a thing. Neither of us had a cell phone or an online dating profile. There was no swiping right or left. There was only invested, real-life, emoji-less conversation. We spent three years talking—in person, by phone, via letters with stamps—before we ever began dating, and by the time we finally did become a couple, we were both already in love.
I was never one of those girls who fantasized about her wedding day. Rather, I fantasized about traveling the world, writing books, and prosecuting war criminals. In short, marriage was never a goal of mine. Nonetheless, I’d stumbled upon a man whom I loved more than anyone I’d ever met, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. So I went for it, and in 2002 we got married.
At the time, neither Matthew nor I had any idea that I had bipolar disorder. It wasn’t until six years into our marriage, after an acute manic episode and a psychotic break, that I was finally diagnosed with bipolar I.
Looking back, it’s clear to both of us that I had been struggling with this illness for more than a decade. But apart from some mildly debilitating bouts of depression, I had also managed to remain relatively high-functioning during those same years: to graduate law school, pass the bar exam, earn a master’s in public health, publish my first book, make friends, hold down jobs, and maintain strong and healthy relationships that whole time.
But mania and psychosis hit me hard. I’d never before experienced delusions, but while manic, my mind tricked me into believing that I could fly, that I’d won the lottery, and that I was a prophet. For the first time in my life, I had truly—and, some feared, irretrievably—lost my mind.
But Matthew had faith that I could come back from this. A researcher and statistician by trade, he is the most intelligent, rational, and curious person I know. So, true to form, he studied up, refusing to reduce me to a pile of symptoms. The more he learned about bipolar disorder, the more he was able to separate me from a diagnosis that, while valid, did not and could not define me. Matthew’s unshakable faith in my ability to battle adversity helped me travel the road to recovery.
[My husband’s] unshakable faith in my ability to battle adversity helped me travel the road to recovery.
He dragged me to my first Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) group, for example, shortly after I was released from the hospital. When I asked why he wanted to go so badly, he replied, “The data are fantastic!” He showed me journal articles, full of charts and graphs, and I agreed to go—not because of the data, but because of him.
Matthew had stood beside me through this horrible ordeal, and I figured that going to a few support groups was the least I could do for him. But those meetings did more for me than I had ever imagined they could. In fact, they helped save my life, proving to me not only that I wasn’t alone, but that I was in good company, brimming with invaluable hard-won wisdom. Thanks to Matthew’s tireless encouragement, I landed in a place where I could learn from others’ mistakes and successes in order to avoid and create my own. Suddenly, recovery felt possible.
Matthew and I have now known each other for more than half our lives, recently celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. While every marriage is different, I have learned a few things over the years about what makes a marriage work, especially in the face of chronic illness.
For us, it’s about love, respect, gratitude, friendship, honesty, laughter, and faith. Because we believe in each other—especially when one of us isn’t able to believe in her- or himself—we’ve managed to face life’s adventures and challenges, including bipolar disorder, as a unified front. At times, his belief in me has been the one thing to get me believing in myself again—and the same has been true for him. Whether it’s a spouse, a sibling, a friend, or a parent, having someone who believes in you can make all the difference when it comes to recovery. It has for me.
Printed as “Flight of Ideas: My Partner in Recovery”, Winter 2017