My Wife Is Bipolar . . . and Sometimes It Sucks
Disclaimer: The following is in regards to a spouse who has neither cheated on me, nor physically abused myself or our children. If that were the true condition of our marriage, the response would be more active for the safety of the children.
My wife has bipolar depression—but not in some comical way that people like to joke around about. In some sense, the term "bipolar" has become such a throwaway term that people don't even take it seriously. "Oh, I'm so bipolar," I've heard people say, looking back at some spectacularly spoiled outburst earlier that morning.
Well, bipolar does not equate to having a rough start to your Tuesday morning. Being bipolar isn't reflected in your ten minutes of road rage before getting to work. Bipolar depression goes far beyond an hour-by-hour mood swing, and it does not result from whatever good or bad news you receive.
I've heard countless people express that they are bipolar, as if it is some badge of honor (similar to people saying 'I'm so crazy!' or 'I've got A.D.D., seriously!') As if having a mental disorder is cool. These people have no clue and, quite frankly, if they knew the mental and emotional anguish and discomfort associated with the disorder, they wouldn't joke around about it.
Let me be the first to tell you that I didn't know anything about bipolar depression prior to meeting my wife. Since then, it has become painfully obvious what true bipolar depression looks like.
To be clear, I am not sharing my story as a means of defaming my wife, nor do I wish to throw a pity party for myself. Rather, my intention is to support other married men (and women, though my perspective may be skewed) who might be in a similar situation. I am writing this for those of you who have just begun a relationship with a person suffering from bipolar disorder and you don't quite know what to make of it. We're in this together and nobody will understand the sensitivity of the subject better than me.
I first met my wife and—as with every other aspect of the "puppy love" stage—everything was great. We laughed. We loved. There was no reason for concern.
After about three months of dating, however, small cracks in the armor began to appear and there would be moments in time where my future bride was not herself. I attributed this to 'that time of the month' and, as crass as it might sound, took it as nothing more than menstrual moodiness. But there was something more there - something that I couldn't quite figure out. You see, these 'mood swings' would extend far beyond one week. Beyond two weeks. Even, sometimes, three weeks. There were no apparent triggers. It was not necessarily caused by my words or actions, nor by the events of her day.
Indeed, there were some days where it just seemed like a demon had possessed her and that there was not an ounce of compassion within her. Some of the most visceral and ruthless things I've ever heard a person say towards me came out of her mouth and quite frankly, I was shocked. There are few things that a man will stand up for and one of them happens to be his pride. If a person so chooses to attack that, they are welcoming an argument at best, a fight at worst. Now, having just started to date, I didn't understand what was wrong. I didn't know what it meant to be bipolar. So I took immediate offense to these insanely mean statements and shouted right back at her. We got into meltdowns that surely had the entire apartment complex on edge. It was embarrassing and much worse than that, utterly infuriating.
My wife eventually went to a doctor as she understood that something was wrong. She could tell that she was simply angry and irritated with everyone and that there was nothing in her able to stop it. She was diagnosed with bipolar depression and after doing a little research afterward, I was convinced that she was right.
Bipolar disorder consists of two emotional phases (and I'm not a doctor so I'm going to word this in a way that makes sense to me) - an emotionally high, manic period and an emotionally low, depressed period. Neither period is a few hours or even a few days, necessarily. These periods can last for weeks at a time, sometimes even months.
. . . and with time, the situation does not drastically improve as one might hope.
The Depression of Bipolar Disorder
For those of you who are just now beginning a relationship with a bipolar person let me first warn you: it's not going to get any easier on you. More specifically, your partner is not going to make it any easier on you. They are who they are, quite simply, and when the illness hits, they have little to no control over it. Their responses are the same and their aggression is consistent.
The fact of the matter is that it is up to us to control the situation because that person sitting across from us cannot. I know, that sounds like a cop-out. It sounds like we're letting that other person off the hook despite the awful things they might be saying. Worst yet, if you've reached this article because you just got into it with your significant other, you're probably well aware that you did very little wrong and yet still felt their totally unjustifiable wrath. How can you absorb the blame when you are blameless?
Think of it this way - you know the person when they are naturally themselves or when they are in their manic period. You know how they feel and how they treat you. So when they enter into the depression and lash out at you, spouting nasty falsehoods and other critically harsh insults, do you feel like that is really 'them?' I know that when my wife unloads on me in her depressed state that it is 1) mostly unwarranted, 2) often illogical and/or inconsistent, and 3) unlike what she says 75% of the time. It is a cliche to say it but she literally becomes a different person who just so happens to know the intimacies of our marriage. Simply put, you cannot let that person define who your wife is as a whole because it is not true.
When in her depressed state, my wife has told me she hated me. She has told me that I am literally good-for-nothing and that if she could financially get by, she would leave me. She has told me she wished she never had my children. She has told me that she is unsatisfied and that if I were more of a man I would know how to care for her (in every way you can imagine.) She swears at me, calls me names, criticizes me, and brings up every fault of mine.
And yet, through it all, she is responsive in a way that makes it seem like that is how she truly feels - as if this is all hatred boiling under the surface that finally comes pouring out because of something I have done or said. But that just isn't true.
Aside from the anguish of having to deal with the disorder, the worst part might just be that it is so explosive and so out-of-nowhere that you often are not prepared for it. That or you treat it as a typical marriage spat and stand your ground which, if it is truly a depressed episode, only further accelerates the nosedive. In either case, once the mood and the tension escalates, you honestly only have one choice and that is to take on the burden of the hatred. To take on the weight of the mean-spirited words and the insults.
The irony is that as your wife belittles you and questions your manhood and your authority, you are consuming it and you are, in fact, proving yourself to be exceptional in regards to both.
The Only Solution: You
Perhaps that is the hardest part of being married to a person with bipolar depression. It is like being in a political campaign wherein your opponent can say and do anything they want but you are held to some higher standard. You have to stay silent. You cannot, and I will repeat it, CANNOT listen to what they are saying and accept it as truth—because it often is not.
You can only do the one thing that you set out to do in the beginning and that is to love them. Bear the cross of their sins and instead offer them only love and sympathy. Now, I will give you a warning - this won't make the situation better, but it won't make it worse. Often, my wife does not want to be touched or finds my affectionate advances to be sinister or part of some plan to get her to either shut up or give me something in return. When in their depressed state, bipolar sufferers are already in a very dark place and so they naturally seem to find the worst in every person and every intention. Again, all you can do is accept this and brush it off (internally, that is—never ignore them outwardly as it will, again, only fan the flames.)
I know, trust me, I know. It is not fair and it is not right. I understand that. But you and I made commitments to these people to love them unconditionally and, quite honestly, we saw the warning signs before marriage. If you believe in heaven then you should know that to have tolerance and patience with a bipolar spouse has to earn you favor with Lord. How can it not. We are essentially taking on the pain and anguish that the depressed individual should feel for their words and letting them off, scot-free. It is hard to see it this way, especially in the midst of a depressed period. Just remember who they are and who they TRULY are and perhaps it will help you to get through it. Remember, they do not want to feel this way either.
(And as you can tell, I'm writing this from a very positive place. My wife is currently not in the midst of one of these episodes. However, I am well aware that it will happen again—and when it does, I must be prepared as always to love, sympathize, and be humble in the face of something that neither one of us can stop.)