Bipolar Disorder and the Marriage-Go-Round

Last Updated: 19 Aug 2019

Marriage without mental illness, so I’m told, is challenging enough. Add bipolar disorder, and you are in for some extra work.


“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

What can I say? I am embarrassed by my story, I do not want to write about it, let alone speak it out loud to anyone. I am afraid it will split me open. But each time I tell the story I feel a little lighter. Like I’ve released one more tiny piece of the big huge honkin’ chip on my shoulder.

So where to begin…? For the sake of brevity and in order not to attempt a sequel to War & Peace, I will lay down the bare bones here:

I met my husband nine years ago when I moved to New York state. It was friendship at first sight. We immediately connected in many ways on several important issues to us such as music, movies, philosophy, religion, politics, sarcasm, favorite foods, etc. But our mutual interests didn’t progress into a mutual love at the same pace. One outpaced the other and soon we were unbalanced. We broke up. Life went on. Then we got back together. (Mind you I was not diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the time). Then we got engaged. Life was wonderful! We got married in June 2010. I was 25 years old and it was the happiest day of my life. A few weeks later I got the urge to have my maiden name tattooed on my bicep… Then about a month later I decided we were not right for each other and  that we should get divorced. My husband, being one of the most agreeable people on the planet and least-likely to engage in conflict, grudgingly acquiesced. By August we were separated and by May 2011 I had moved back to my hometown in Chicago.

In June of 2011 I found myself in the hospital with a severe depressive episode. By autumn however, I was feeling good again and had moved in with an old boyfriend. Of course I was also hypersexual and I thought we were in love. The hypersexuality, I later found out, was really a deeper cry for safety and calm. Researchers have found that the brains of people with bipolar disorder lack the homeostatic regulation necessary between the amygdala and other parts of the brain. Furthermore, chemicals released during arousal generate a sense of safety in the brain. Of course it doesn’t last long, so it creates an addictive pattern of behavior … hence—hypersexuality

I not only want those with bipolar to know that they’re not alone in their experiences, but I also want their spouses and ex-spouses to know that they’re not alone in their experiences.

By December my divorce papers were being finalized and I once again fell into a deep depression. Only this depression was worse than any I had every felt in my life. It was hell on earth. Imagine the coldest, darkest, loneliest place you can think of. Now multiply that by a billion. Now double it. Now imagine it’s under water and you can’t breathe and you can’t think and you can’t move and you want to die but you can’t because although you’re under water somehow God has still seen fit to let you continue to breathe. And that is how I felt from December 2011-September 2012.

In June of 2012 I had moved back to New York state to stay with my parents. I had no money, no job, no car, no energy, no desire, no force to move me off the couch (where I was sitting reading War & Peace), let alone have enough energy to get a job and get my life back in order (for the umpteenth time). So my parents lovingly let me stay with them and nursed me back to health through a steady diet of love, organic beef and kale, and just the right amount of attention and space.

And then finally, after a long, long wait, I got in to see a psychiatrist. I had never seen this psychiatrist before so of course she didn’t know my history. But I mean, we did a psychiatric history right in her office. And she prescribed me an antidepressant to bring me out of the deepest level of hell that I had been residing in for so many months.

Was she supposed to know that I actually had bipolar disorder? I mean, no one else knew. I didn’t know. But she’s a doctor right? Well, placing blame or even looking back with questions such as these now really serves no purpose. For the purpose in this story, all you need to know is that the antidepressant sent me into a wild and raging Las Vegas-style mania that ended in psychosis and finally got me diagnosed with bipolar disorder in January 2013.

But Oh, how I’ve digressed.

So the whole point of my annotated autobiography, a.k.a. War & Peace II, is to share with you my story about my ride on the Marriage-Go-Round.

In January 2013 when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,  I once again had nothing material in my life. I entered into another deep depression. By May 2013 I began hanging out with my (then-ex) husband and by December 2013 he had moved in with me at my new apartment. In February 2014 he proposed once more, and on December 24, 2014, we were married once again. Now, here we are, just over a year later from our second marriage to each other and having celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

But the only reason I opened up to the entire world about all of this and told you my very embarrassing story is because I’ve read and heard so many stories similar to my own since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Marriage without mental illness, so I’m told, is challenging enough. Add in bipolar disorder or some other mental health diagnosis and you are in for some extra work.

Some of you may be wondering how in the world anyone else could have a story even remotely similar to what I just described but I’m telling you, it’s true. People with bipolar disorder have strikingly similar experiences in terms of symptoms, even though we may come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, religions, and even generations.

After hearing the painful and heartbreaking stories of so many others looking for answers or even just solace from the bipolar marriage-go-round, I felt compelled to share my story here and let others know that they are not alone. Marriage without mental illness, so I’m told, is challenging enough. Add in bipolar disorder or some other mental health diagnosis and you are in for some extra work.

I would say the challenges with bipolar disorder are especially unique. This is because it is more likely for a spouse to be understanding of a depressive episode than a manic episode and this double standard can cause resentment and extra tension. Somehow it is thought that we are suffering needlessly only in depression, but we are wildly enjoying the manias. This is simply not true. Internal rhythms that cause me to wake up at 3am to rearrange the furniture, dye my hair, and write an essay all before I get ready for work can become exhausting after awhile. Not to mention I’m so irritable by the time that you wake up, dear husband, that I greet you with a string of swear words and start our morning off in the land of misery. It’s not real pleasant.

I not only want those with bipolar to know that they’re not alone in their experiences, but I also want their spouses and ex-spouses to know that they’re not alone in their experiences, and that healing and forgiveness are possible.

Things may not always work out exactly as you had planned or even hoped for, but at the end of the day sometimes all you can do is say, “It’s ok, I know you are trying, and I love you.” Whether you need to say this to your spouse or to yourself, just say it.

As one writer put it, “Think of what you know about being alive, about pain, about joy. You are irreplaceable. You are an expert at humanity. And don’t you forget it.”

About the author
April lived undiagnosed with bipolar disorder for ten years until 2013. As a teenager she was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia, and bulimia. Finally, after a long mania ending in psychosis, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with Bipolar I. This eventually led her to learn as much as she could about her diagnosis. She became an advocate for bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. April is also a resource person for the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Non-profit Management from DePaul University in Chicago, IL and works as an editor and proofreader. April lives in upstate New York with her husband, beautiful baby girl, and rambunctious bichon schnauzer.
  1. I’m going through the same thing right now. when I started dating my now husband almost 3 years ago, he revealed to me that he had tried to commit suicide some time before we met. After that, he was admitted to a mental health institution and was diagnosed with bipolar (firstly, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia which now I know means that his symptoms must have been pretty severe including psychosis, delusions, etc.). At that time, all I knew about bipolar was that it affected person’s mood. he kept talking about being depressed and tried to brush off bipolar as something minor, making it look like depression was to blame for his problems (I didn’t know that depression is just one part of bipolar). He said he had just finished therapy and was going off meds and was much better and I believed him and didn’t investigate further. I just told him to always let me know if he starts feeling bad/depressed again and I will always support him. Little did i know, it never works that way as when they feel bad, well, it’s already too late… So since we started being together he only mentioned bipolar 3 times; the one above, another time he mentioned it in a conversation some time ago and the third time when he told me his mom also had it but refused any treatment (he told me that when he was mad at her for her horrible and abusive behaviour).
    For the last 2,5 years everything seemed fine, now I know more about it I realise that he was displaying little relapses here and there but at the time I thought he was just acting strange and I didn’t really know what to do as I had no idea it was due to bipolar. We were always really in love, every day he was telling me that I am the love of his life, how lucky he is to have me, he was always affectionate and loving – just a wonderful person till the very last days we were together. Then 1,5 months ago the carnage happened. He started acting very strange, became incredibly irritated and restless, stopped eating & sleeping. I started becoming really worried but thought it was due to his university exams and stress. He was spending all hours of the day (and mostly night) writing his assignments which was really unusual as he would always insist on going to bed early as he said it was good for him (now I know it’s recommended in bipolar treatment). He became incredibly isolated and basically stopped leaving his study (it was odd for him even though it was exam period). He told me a couple of times when I came from work that he thought I was home early coz he could hear my voice in the living room and he said he could constantly hear it when I wasn’t there and I honestly was shocked and didn’t know what to say. Then after about a week of this very intense and unusual behaviour I come home and he is all packed. He just said he didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore and simply left and i haven’t seen him since. He didn’t want to speak to me or even reconsider giving us another chance. I was shattered. I had to leave the country (we were living in Australia and I am European) as my visa only allowed me to stay there because of him (he’s Australian). I had to quit my job and return to Europe within a week as due to my nervous breakdown I couldn’t stay there any longer and I needed the support of my family. Now, I am looking for a job (in the middle of summer, not much going on), I am completely broke as I was supporting him and his studies over the last year as he started studying again (he quit uni twice before, once just before he was diagnosed). So I worked all the time to help him out this time coz it was really important for him to finish and I didn’t know his previous trouble completing a degree and constant problems with employment (being underemployed or unemployed, having trouble doing even his usual 2 shifts a week in a casual job) could have been a result of bipolar.
    The last 1,5 months were a living hell. My husband is being very unresponsive (even about logistics), he is incredibly hostile and aggressive to me (he’s never even shouted at me once over the last 3 years), there is no reasoning with him, he keeps blaming me for everything, he keeps denying facts (such as telling me I could have stayed in Australia and work when he knows that my visa doesn’t allow that if we’re not together), it’s like he is not there anymore, his personality completely changed, and most importantly – he becomes furious as soon as I mention bipolar. I tried getting help from his dad in convincing him to go back to treatment but it backfired terribly – he became furious and blocked my number, banned me from talking to his family, told me I was being delusional and denied being bipolar altogether!!!!! I was shocked, I literally started questioning my own sanity as he can be very convincing. After he denied it, I lost all hope as I realised how far gone he is. He hasn’t been getting any treatment for a couple of years so I can only presume his state won’t improve anytime soon. He completely cut me off, it’s almost impossible to even get a response to an email with a simple thing.
    I am completely broken, there is nothing I can do, I don’t even know what is happening with him right now, he lives on his own and his family is not even in the same state/country and the worst thing is that the last 3 years have been one, big lie as he never told me he needed my support, never told me how serious bipolar is and was pretending like he was ok when now I read extensively about it, I know how many symptoms he has had over the last 3 years. I honestly don’t know how to carry on. Has anyone ever been in a similar situation?

  2. My wife Terri has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder her current cocktail of drugs doesn’t seem to be working. I can’t seem to get things right. Facebook was an issue for her. So I deleted Facebook. She’s on hers constantly. She lacks trust for lack of better terms.. She goes thru my phone messages even pulled phone records to see who I have had contact with. I never go thru her phone.. the double standard of trust is frustrating. I’m trying very hard to make our marriage work.. I’m so lost

  3. My bipolar husband of 1 year just asked me for a divorce. He is coming out of an episode and possible slipping into a depressive episode. This article gave me hope that I may hear from him again as he has turned off his phone and is absent from the world. I need to find a counselor as I put everything I had into this marriage knowing the risks.

  4. I’m engaged currently and before this I wasnt diagnosed yet,now that its been 6 or so months from being diagnosed. I’ve come to a point that I shouldn’t be in any relationships ever

  5. I went through a similar behavior with my BP but went 15 years with coming to terms and through the lies and decent and being afraid to reach out for help and having a husband with anxiety and depression I felt like I was living as two different and sometimes three different people. I unexpectedly found love with someone who knows my story and accepts me and helps me. Through medication, counseling and for the first time in 19 years not having to live a lie. I put a wedge between me and my son but he’s slowly coming around but also an adult now trying to make a life of his own. This empty nest has made it tough,very touch but have a support system and though not heeled completely and never will I’ve got the love of a good man. Yes I still have inappropriate thoughts but not sexual anymore but harmful and know to tell my other half when I need him. Also my sister has learned to read my eyes and can tell when things are off.

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