So You Want To Marry Someone With Bipolar? Good Luck
I am bipolar and my wife is not. This is more narrative than advice but it might give you an idea of what it takes.
She is the only person in my life who lives it with me. She’s the only person who sees the meltdowns, the sulking, the searing depression. She knows of the months of my nothingness. She knows the inside of our local VA psych ward. She’s heard my screams of insanity. She knows I’m hard to live with.
But she has learned my dance. She lifts and sways and tilts with me every single day. At times she applies pressure to me or resists my sway, but only to correct me or instruct me. She keeps me eating, sleeping and going to therapy. She documents changes in medication.
After my breakthrough manic episode, I had been told I was bipolar and simply couldn’t accept it. I lived the next three years in a cage within my own mind. A cage of shame. I was totally and completely by myself. I drank and ate and slept under the bell jar. Even when depression lifted I couldn’t go more than a moment in conversation without thinking about how insane I am and whether or not I was blending in with the other humans.
I’m not sure exactly how I went from that place to the dance of love but I’m not alone anymore. She’s the only one who is with me in the trenches. She can’t climb into my mind and change my thoughts, but she can keep me fighting a battle of moderation and peacefulness. She buys me books on bipolar disorder and listens to a podcast about mental illness every day. After hospitalizations she checks beneath my tongue to make sure I really took my pills. She knows more of my story than anyone else.
After my latest mania I told her I am sorta two different people when I’m low and when I’m high. One is humble and kind and anxious. The other is sort of a cowboy. Both are fully me but both are very different. The first is depressed and thoughtful. The other is hypomanic and remembers real well he was a Navy SEAL. One reads quietly in his room for hours. The other is likely to be out losing money at the blackjack tables. I told her I don’t always know who is going to wake up that morning. A “middle me”, a bookworm, or a gambler. Can you imagine living with someone like this? I can’t. My wife does it because she’s a badass.
I also have to be honest with myself that if we have kids I might encounter times where I am hospitalized or cooped up in my room from depression. Luckily I chose someone who I am confident can handle any task or issue thrown her way. Bipolar people have a hard time taking care of themselves sometimes. It isn’t reasonable to rely on them as a caretaker for others every moment of every day. If you want the real take, I truly struggle at feeding myself, going to bed, keeping clean clothes and organizing my space.
When I met my wife I had just landed a job as a kayak instructor and was being paid in tips essentially. I lived on a sailboat with debt, a sizable amount of debt. My car constantly broke down and I paid for our first date on a credit card I didn’t have money to pay off. I’ve come so far because of her. I’ve figured out how to structure my life in a way that tasks seem doable. She is my compass and my stars. And on top of that she works with kids who have special needs every single day. On my own, even with savings, I would be on the streets within a couple years. She has enabled me to keep a job, to explore passion projects, to pay the mortgage every month, to keep dry cleaned shirts and fresh socks, and most importantly to allow myself to like who I am right now.
Our relationship is uneven. Her hands are constantly busy while mine sit idly twirling a spliff. Brass tax: it isn’t a fair setup. She does more for me than I do for her. If you are mentally ill, find someone with that capacity. Someone who will fight harder for you than you can for yourself at times. Someone who takes notes while the doctors talk. A person who brings you to tears when they visit you in the psych ward. I’ll never forget what it was like when my wife visited me in the psychiatric ward. In that moment I knew I would get through it. We were ride together, die together type of people. Her fierce loyalty held me together in times of tragic pain. We might have felt underwater at times, but the one thing we knew is that we weren’t letting go of each other.
Being the crazy one it’s easy become that attached. Finding someone who will stay that attached to you is an entirely different story. Being married to me is like becoming a Navy SEAL relationally. My training was just like it in fact. Often cold, sleepless nights, unending exertion, little appreciation. And that’s just the training to marry me. Once you get the job it’s constant stress and worry and heartbreak. I disappoint, I just do.
My wife however is unphased. She rolls with the storm like a weathered ship’s captain, unafraid of the breaking waves. She wakes before me and goes to bed after me. She makes print out charts and tapes them to my mirror so I can track my mood and sleep. She does it without pay and without complaint. She let’s me leave social events early and always make sure I’m not overwhelmed in any setting. Emotionally, she’s built like a tank.
She’s the only one who gets through to me when I’m manic. She can speak to me without speaking in that setting. She brings me art supplies and encourages my creative efforts, knowing that it centers me. She discusses openly just how bipolar I am and how equally proud she is of me. She has made her family more comfortable with my disorder than my own family is. She encourages me to indulge when it seems appropriate and opposes me when I am over the line.
When I was being cuffed, kicking and screaming in the streets, it was her name on my lips. I knew if she was there then I would be ok. It takes a lot for me to be ok. Can you tell I rely on her yet? As I write this she’s gone for the night and I mostly wander around the dark condo, fumbling around aimlessly until she returns. It’s the best moment in my day when I hear her keys unlock the front door. She is my muse and my goddess. I no longer fully exist without her.
She holds me when I have night terrors. She holds me when I’m depressed. She holds me when I’m psychotic and so terribly confused. She holds me on the good days too, because even those can be hard for me. Up to half of those living with bipolar disorder attempt suicide. Just existing in this state is arduous.
So you want to marry someone with bipolar? It can be magical, but it will be tough as shit. You better be someone who will break down the gates of hell for those you love before even considering marrying a person like me. Statistically most marriages in this country already end in divorce. The odds don’t get better when you throw manic depressives into the mix. It’s possible, but you better be someone who is exceptional.