Approaching Mood Disorders As Partners In A Relationship

Decision making is not one of the strong suits of an unwell, mentally ill person. The unwell brain can potentially convince us that anything is not only a great idea; but the best idea of our lives. This is apparent by sifting through the ashes of the remains of our collective pasts. I would venture to say that one would be hard pressed to find a person with a mood disorder without some fond memories of a circumstance before they torched it. Friendships, relationships, employment opportunities, alcohol and drug abuse, broken homes; and the shitloads of other things I’m not listing.

Understanding that we do have this problem with a skewed perception of the world can go a long way towards managing it. I am Bipolar with severe Depression. I KNOW, 100% KNOW, that I am periodically going to make awful or stupid decisions because my brain is a dysfunctional piece of shit. I know that I have to be constantly on guard to ensure that I do not make unwell decisions. I also know that no one is perfect and no matter how vigilant I am, I will make mistakes. Everyone will.

We can minimize these mistakes through communication and leaning on people we can trust. If I get a “great” idea about something- I run it past one of the people I trust to see if it is actually a good idea or if I’m just insane at the moment. Even if they agree, I typically sit on it for a little while just in case.

Those of you who are married, in long-term relationships, or even have adult children; those people can help you separate fact from fiction if you have a decent relationship. It takes a little understanding on both sides though. The well member of the relationship needs to be able to handle getting a more direct line into the unwell’s mind.

Let’s say that Steve’s wife Maria is Bipolar. One day, she pipes up with “I don’t love you anymore, I met someone else, and I’m leaving.” Steve can’t afford to let his own emotions overwhelm him. Is there a basis for these feelings? Were they happy up until recently? Has Maria been exhibiting any of her symptoms of being manic?

If she has, then Steve can point that out to her. “You haven’t been sleeping, your thoughts and words have been all over the place; you seem like you’re manic right now. We were content and working things out just fine until just a couple weeks ago. Why don’t you wait before doing anything? Get in to see your doctor and see if you need your meds adjusted. If you still feel the same a couple months down the road then we’ll readdress it.”

This example is a simple break down of a complex situation. There will undoubtedly be a lot of emotions, turmoil, and probably conflict. There is a chance that Maria will insist she is perfectly fine and completely clear at the moment. On the other hand, if the two of you have communicated ahead of time about working through these periods together; then hopefully she will be able to see the logic in Steve’s words and he will know not to react too negatively when they occur.

Because they WILL occur.

If you are in a relationship and either party is Bipolar; it affects you both very deeply. Hoping that everything will be alright or failing to acknowledge that unwell periods will occur in the future is just pointless wishful thinking. Want to make things work? Then you have to communicate and strategize BEFORE it becomes an issue. Have the plan laid out ahead of time so you can fall back to it.

The flurry of emotions and erratic thoughts makes it very hard to make good decisions while you’re unwell. The idea is to have these decisions made before it becomes relevant. That way the well party can point at it and say “Look, we talked about this while you were balanced and this is what we agreed to. We need to stick to that if we want to make things work.”

One pitfall the well party will want to avoid is overusing it. Save it for the really serious stuff otherwise the mentally ill partner will start to resent it. You don’t want to conclude that every bit of conflict or anger is due to an unwell cycle. We get pissed off and irritated about stuff too without flying into La-La Land. Save it for the stuff that has the potential to severely damage the relationship.

There are times when no amount of logic, pre-planning, or effort will work. The unwell mind is just too far out there to be brought back without something serious happening. At times like this, you may not have any recourse. Sometimes all you can do is let things play out how they will if the person isn’t a direct threat to themselves or someone else.

It is our instinct to want to help the people we care about. We, as humans, want to try and get things fixed immediately if they are broken. This is normal. The problem is that mental illness is abnormal. Relationship problems with a mentally ill person cannot always be remedied in a typical way.

But there is good news in all of this. Relationships with a person with a mood disorder (including Bipolar Disorder) are doable. By educating oneself, the well person can learn to identify the symptoms of when their loved one is getting unstable. These symptoms present the same way that a stuffy nose and a cough may indicate a cold. A Bipolar person that hasn’t been sleeping and is rambling nonstop about nothing is probably getting manic. The well person can then point it out to the Bipolar, potentially catching an unwell period before it gets going full steam.

Children are another major factor. I have met so many people that want to shield their kids from a parent’s mental illness. I understand the reasoning. It’s a difficult subject. I think it is a bit absurd to think that children don’t know that something is up. They know when mom or dad “gets in a mood” they shouldn’t bother them. They may not be able to put a name to it but they know something is up. Anyone that spends an excessive amount of time around an unwell person is going to figure it out eventually.

My personal opinion is that more children should be included. Mature kids or adult children can even be a valuable ally in pointing out when things are a bit awry with Mom or Dad. I feel there is a great benefit in helping to reduce stigma and increase awareness as well. If we treat it as just another part of life that some people have to deal with, perhaps they will be more comfortable about coming forward with their own problems should they develop.

I know that for years I thought what was going on in my head was normal stuff that everyone else dealt with too. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I had very little exposure to mental illness besides through media sources. Mental illness is much quieter than we are often exposed to through the media.

I believe that by confronting it together, things will be much better for everyone involved.


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6 Responses to Approaching Mood Disorders As Partners In A Relationship

  1. Marianne says:

    Just wanted to say happy new year, D.
    Your posts are more helpful than I can tell you, thank you so much.

  2. Rick says:

    I just wanted to take a moment and wish you all the best in the new year. I hope the new year brings you continued good health and happiness.

  3. GabsJL says:

    Dennis, I wish I had read this article before…I could have saved myself some major anguish with my bipolar bf and his continuous”we don’t get along anymore…” followed by yet another breakup.

  4. Dennis says:

    Glad you enjoyed the piece, Gabs. It’s a rough road for sure.

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