Love, Bipolar Disorder, and Being Worth It
My husband could say I am “worth it” despite my bipolar illness, but he does not. Instead, we both say that is a question that should never be asked.
Photo: Pexels.com/Flo Maderebner
When it is below zero and I am ice fishing on a frozen Alaskan lake, I concentrate all my energy on catching fish. Each time I fish, my husband—who knows I love fishing more than almost anything—immediately goes into support mode.
“What do you need?” he asks. And then he brings me food. He hauls wood with his snowmobile and starts a campfire. He carries more bait to me.
When I am ill, when the bipolar disorder takes over and I lose all focus and concentration, my husband again goes into support mode.
“What do you need?” he asks. “How can I help?”
He asks me the very questions I often cannot ask myself. Instead, I ask him my own questions:
“Am I worth it? Am I worth the struggle, the frustration, the pain of the bipolar episodes?”
He could say that I am worth it because of simple things, like the way I smile at him, the way I love the people in my life, the way I love to nurture him and my stepsons, the way I can spell words he has never even heard before, or how I can laugh—a pile on the floor—at my own silly clumsiness.
But he does not say I am worth it, because he says that is the answer to a question that should not be asked. Being “worth it” implies that I am somehow defective, and as he says, over and over again, I am not defective. I am a whole person, and even though I happen to be an individual diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he loves all of me.
Am I worth it? I ask myself, over and over again, especially when I am deep in a bipolar depression. Am I worthy of this man who cares for me equally when I am happily fishing or when I am sick? Am I worthy of his patience and understanding, his love and sympathy?
Like so many people struggling through bipolar depression, I often scrutinize my very value as a human being, and particularly as a spouse and a partner. The question of whether I am worthy of life and love—a hallmark of my depressive episodes—becomes my only reality. When my brain malfunctions, I become convinced that something is deeply and indelibly wrong with me. The belief that I am defective is often unshakeable, along with the thoughts that the pain will go on forever and that I am the proverbial bipolar “burden”.
My husband could say that I am worthy because I am constantly committed to the improvement of my mental health. He could say it because I try my hardest to be well, and because when I am not fishing and when he needs me, I too go into support mode. I help him, and I care for him and my family. When I am well, I do not think I am defective. Instead, I do what I need to do to prevent the recurrence of the cycles—I take my medications, I set a routine for myself, I go to sleep every night, and I do the very best I can.
“You are a very lucky woman to have such a wonderful husband,” said my former psychiatrist.
I know that I am extremely fortunate. But as I walked out of that doctor’s office, and as his words made me feel defective again, I had to remind myself that I am not the only lucky one. My husband is also lucky to have me, because I am not just “worthy” of him—I am a whole person with my own qualities and strengths that go far beyond just being a woman with bipolar disorder.
And so I try. I give it my all so that he knows that we both know that I take responsibility for my own condition. It is often difficult, and I often fail, but although the chemical functioning of my brain may occasionally be defective, I am not. Unbroken by living with bipolar disorder, I love and I nurture my husband and my family. I give them absolutely everything I have—except for maybe when I am fishing.
Well or unwell, when I smile and laugh with a fishing rod in my hands or when I am trapped in my brain’s own civil war, I can now answer a question so obvious that it should not even be asked: Yes, I am always worthy of both life and love.