|Our Family. 2008|
So you’re happily married with children and then your spouse becomes moody. Perhaps one minute they are angry, then sad, and finally super happy. This is a sign of mental illness. I’ve been there.
My name is Robin, and my husband Lance is a Bipolar (type 2) patient. When we married in November of 1998 we had no idea that in a few short years my husband would be in more physical and mental pain than we could imagine. Each bipolar patient is different, so the advice I give here is only an example of how you can support your loved one through their mental illness. I hope that by writing this article, I can at least guide one person through the life of supporting a bipolar patient.
Lance also suffers from chronic pain. Through his teens and early twenties he suffered injuries. Arthritis in his spine, bursitis in his shoulders, and a crushed knee from football has caused his entire body pain; he’s also only 40 years old. With the birth of our daughter, everything changed. He became moody and withdrawn. When I asked what was wrong, though he tried to assure me all was fine, I could tell it was not. The moment came when my husband pushed our daughter away from him when she tried to hug her daddy. That is when he admitted something was not right.
Like most men, Lance had no desire to see a doctor. After that day with our daughter though, I convinced him to see our general practitioner. This is important because so many women are dealing with spouses who go undiagnosed. Convince your spouses to see a medical professional if you suspect a mental illness. Lance was diagnosed with depression and a multitude of other things over a two year period. Medication for depression was given and at first it seemed to help. Our general practitioner was convinced that he could treat Lance’s mental illness, so he was not referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist. For two years Lance would take the medication, after a few weeks, his mood would crash and Lance would be to the point of almost suicide. Though he never went into the hospital, there were more times than I know my husband is willing to talk about that he was on the verge of suicide.
At one point, Lance had to remove all of his weapons from our home. He would not tell me why he decided to do this until years later, but that day he sat in a room with a gun in his mouth. He said the only thought that made him stop is the thought that I’d walk in and see his bloody corpse. I thank the gods that he had the strength to live.
After two years and several more drugs, doctors’ appointments, and wasted time, Lance was diagnosed by a nurse practitioner as being Bipolar. He finally received his referral to a psychologist. It makes me angry to think he wasted two years with a general doctor because of one doctor’s ego. This is my second lesson for those who are supporting a bipolar patient. Make sure they have a good doctor. If I had insisted Lance get a second opinion from a different clinic then perhaps that episode with the gun would never have happened.
After diagnosis, it’s important to learn all about Bipolar disorder. In many ways you will be your spouse’s rock. It’s important to learn how to recognize which phase (depression or manic) they are in and be able to be there for them. I have little experience with type one Bipolar disorder. My experience is with rapid cycling or Bipolar disorder type two. Additionally, it’s important to research any medication your spouse’s doctor prescribes. Two side effects I’ve found to be worrisome is dizziness and forgetfulness. They don’t sound like side effects to worry about, but it’s another thing entirely when your husband is driving a country road, forgets what he’s doing and almost wreaks your brand new SUV. Yes, it happened to us - the almost wreak, not a collision. There were various times when Lance over-dosed himself as well. Now taking one extra pill is probably not going to send anyone to the emergency room, but it will mess with the mood cycles. Too much or too little medication will start a rapid cycle.
I’ve found that little things are the best way to cope with depression or manic episodes. For depression, I really believe laughter is the best medicine. Since most patients are lethargic or just what to hide in their homes, I find that snuggling up with a good comedy helps here. It may not bring your spouse out of their mood swing, but it does help to reassure them that you are there and you love them. If you must be away from them for a day, send an email or call once. I find that especially for depression, saying I love you is the best medicine I can provide because at this time, thoughts are going through their head that their unloved, a burden to the family, and worthless. Our love helps to reassure them that these thoughts are only because of a chemical imbalance in the brain and not their true feelings.
Manic swings in my opinion are the worst. I am a down to earth kind of girl myself. So when my husband goes into a manic episode I inwardly groan. Bubbly, giggly, over the top enthusiasm is exhausting. But this is a perfect time to get out of the house and have some fun. Try to rein in your spouses impulses. No driving wild and wreak less, no speeding down the interstate. Often in manic episodes, patients can become care free. Remind them that what they are feeling isn’t normal, and they must try to control their impulses. Take a nature hike or do something energetic and fun. Its more bonding for you and it helps him to control his mood.
Lastly, don’t forget about you. At times it can seem that you live to help your spouse get through the day. I swear its not that much work most of the time - especially if the medication is doing its job. Don’t forget to take a soak in the tub and indulge yourself with some alone time.
So to recap:
If you suspect your spouse has a mental illness, convince him/her to seek a mental health professional. Remember not all doctors are created equal.
Learn all you can about your spouses condition. Become familiar with the different types and phases of Bipolar disorder.
Research any medication prescribed. Know what side effects to look for and avoid. Keep track of your spouse’s daily dose.
Learn to recognize what phase your spouse is currently in. Then find what works best for your spouse to cope.
Don’t forget yourself. It’s important to keep yourself healthy.