A couple weeks ago I wrote about marriage and mental illness from my point of view. I also sat down with Joe and asked him some questions about my bipolar disorder and anxiety from his point of view. During my worst times, I feel unlovable, but I am forever grateful that he continues to love me and that I have him by my side. This is what he had to say.
When I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I told you to just leave even though we were engaged already. I didn't want you to go through my ups and downs and all the turmoil. Why did you stay?
Joe: I took our engagement serious. I was raised Catholic and though I'm by no means a religious person, the sanctity of marriage is one of those things that stuck with me. Before I proposed I was very much aware of the gravity of the vows I was about to take. And though I didn't sign on the dotted line yet, I felt it would be hypocritical to walk away when just a few months prior I knew i was ready to commit to you in sickness and in health. Besides, it's not my nature to run away from things. I'm stubborn and don't give up (sometimes to a fault), but I refused to believe that my life was better without you.
What went through your mind when I began experiencing extreme mood shifts after we got engaged?
Joe: F*ck! haha. At first I felt deceived; like you were hiding it until we got engaged. In the beginning I didn't realize how serious it was. Then as time went by, I became legitimately concerned about you and your health. I also wondered if I was doing something to cause it.
What have been the most difficult things to deal with?
Joe: The anxiety is very frustrating -- It takes a lot of patience. I couldn't rationalize with you and nothing I said or did changed anything during the worst times. It became really annoying when you worried you might be having a stroke or were worried you were dying of something for the hundredth time! Sunday nights at bedtime were always the times you picked to start talking, worrying or crying about something. We ended up talking in circles and going to bed late. I woke up exhausted and mad the next day.
It was also frustrating because when you got very depressed and anxious, you pulled away physically. I wanted to be closer to you and I took it very personally. I didn't know what I did wrong. The angry outbursts were also hurtful. The anger often led to arguments over stupid things and we both said nasty things that we didn't mean. I just wanted to fix everything and I couldn't.
What kept you going through the rough times?
Joe: Other than Scotch? Before the diagnosis I always reminded myself of all the reasons I loved you. After the diagnosis I saw it more as a medical condition and tried not to take it so personally.
What have you learned about marriage?
Joe: It's truly a partnership. Both people have to put in effort in order for the marriage to be successful. And even in tough times, you can't lose your sense of humor. It's a marathon, not a sprint. I've also learned that many people, men especially, have a reflex response to try to "fix" things and that in a marriage its often more constructive to listen to your partner and communicate than to sit there and focus on how you can fix their problems.
What advice would you give to other couples?
Joe: Empathize with your spouse; try to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they're going through. Also remember that you aren't perfect either. Everyone has something to deal with. Never stop communicating. I'm still trying to get better at this, but when I finally opened up and talked about what was bothering me, things significantly improved. Most importantly, enjoy the good times and don't get discouraged if you hit a rough patch. It's bound to happen, but you will get through it.