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For Better or Worse: Managing Marriage and Bipolar Disorder

wedding dress

On June 24th my husband, Joe, and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. To those who have been married for decades, five years seems like a drop in the bucket, but to me it’s a sign of strength and success. Many people say that marriage isn’t work if you are with the right person. I totally disagree. No matter how much you love a person, there is always a certain amount of “work” or effort needed to maintain the happiness of the marriage. This is particularly true when reality interferes with that picture you have in your head of what life will be like. In the early stages of a relationship it’s easy to think “oh that will never happen to us,” but don’t be so sure. Life has a way of testing you and the strength of your marriage, as we quickly found out.

When Joe and I began dating, things moved quickly. It didn’t take us long to realize that we wanted to spend our lives together. We spent every free minute with each other, shared countless laughs and were totally in love. We moved in together after about 8 months and were engaged a little more than a year after we started dating. Unfortunately, we didn’t wait until after the wedding to test out the vows “for better or worse” and “in sickness and in health.”

Shortly after our engagement, my illness, which was being treated as unipolar depression, began to turn our lives upside down. Instead of laughing, I was usually crying, yelling or slamming doors. This went on for quite a while until I finally sought an accurate diagnosis from a psychiatrist. After I found out I actually had bipolar II, I told Joe to just leave. Not because I didn’t love him. In fact, it was just the opposite. I loved him too much to feel like I was hurting him. I knew life with bipolar disorder, even when treated, meant a life that would be filled with ups and downs that are out of my control and I didn’t want to subject him to that. I didn’t want him to be the recipient of my angry outbursts and I didn’t want to be a burden. At that point, I didn’t feel like I deserved to be loved because I acted in ways that were completely out of character; I spewed venom and unintentionally hurt people I loved.

Somehow he still managed to look past my illness and still see the person he fell in love with — even though I couldn’t find her, no matter how hard I looked.

The last five years have sure been a test. We have dealt with my illness, Joe getting diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and having a child — all without any family close by. When life gets overwhelming, we don’t have the luxury of dropping our son off to grandparents to catch our breath. We don’t have anyone around the corner to help out. We only have each other, so it's even more important to work together.

Statistics show the divorce rate for marriages, in which one partner has bipolar disorder, is two to three times higher than the national average. On and off through the years, I was really convinced that my illness would destroy our bond and we would be one of those statistics. During periods of hopelessness and despair, I pulled away. I put all of my strength into taking care of our son and at the end of the day there wasn't one ounce of energy left for anyone else. There was no more spark or excitement in our lives. Anger and resentment began to build and I felt like that burden I never wanted to be. I wanted nothing more than for us to just be happy, but I was drowning. I could barely save myself -- how do I save a marriage too?

The guilt I felt for being a "bad" partner was intense. I knew Joe deserved so much more; we both did. That was another contributing factor that pushed me into getting the help I desperately needed once again. It occurred to me that during the majority of our marriage my main concern was making sure someone else was taken care of and doing well. I put myself last because that is my nature. If I tell myself I'm fine, I'm fine. Obviously saying I'm fine doesn't keep bipolar disorder under control. I finally realized I have to put effort back into taking care of myself too. I can’t be a good partner, a good mother or good at much of anything if I don’t. I have to say that this year is the closest we have been to feeling like we did early on in our relationship and the only major change is I am doing better. My mental health is stable, I feel happy and alive and I have the energy to put effort into our marriage again. Life doesn't seem like a chore anymore.

Bipolar disorder has taken enough away from me over the years; I’m not letting it steal my marriage too! I will always fight for us.

I interviewed Joe to see what he had to say about living with me through the ups and downs to get his perspective. Hear what he had to say.

To anyone living with a spouse who is struggling, just remember that the person you love is still in there somewhere. Sometimes it just takes a lot of hard work to get back to that point. Don’t give up.


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