Bipolar Disorder and the Marriage-Go-Round
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.”