From Facebook’s On This Day Feature:
January 13, 2012
Near the end of our lunch time phone call.
Me: Are you mad?
My husband: No, it’s just, sometimes I feel like you don’t listen to me.
Me: Well…sometimes I don’t.
My husband and I met in grad school in the fall of 1999. We began dating that November, and one of the first things I told him is that I’m bipolar. I was stable when I started school, but once winter hit, I became depressed, which was no surprise, as that’s a tough season for me. (It also could have been “grad school depression”.) I wasn’t expecting the episode. My husband (then-boyfriend) was supportive.
We moved to Chicago in 2001, after he graduated. I had a year left to complete my thesis (I had finished my coursework), which I could do from home. Our first few years were rocky because we didn’t have much money; my husband just started a job with a stressful commute to the suburbs; and I was experiencing the highs and lows of bipolar, despite being in treatment.
My antics, mainly hurling accusations, were difficult for him to deal with. When we fought, I’d entertain the idea of self-harm as a way of coping (inappropriately), and often went through with it. This was difficult for him, as well.
At one point, I was hospitalized, though I can’t remember what for. After I was discharged, I ended up in a partial hospitalization program (PHP) at a hospital near my husband’s office, rather than in the city, where we lived. This was because left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have gone. So I had to drive to the suburbs with my husband every morning to go to PHP. The fights continued.
A non-profit organization called National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI, who did not ask me to mention them) in the US offers a free workshop for family members and friends of someone who has a mental illness. It’s called NAMI Family-to-Family. Around the time I finished PHP, my husband attended the workshop, and gained a deep understanding of what I was going through.
But I continually picked fights. Everything was his fault. My moods were his fault. That I couldn’t sleep was his fault. That I could no longer work (teaching) was his fault. You name it. Unfortunately, he would engage in my accusations, and my unfounded arguments would escalate into blowups. He would shut himself in the bedroom or hang up on me when I called him at work. His reactions made me angrier.
We didn’t want to split up, so we went to couples counseling. There, we learned how to use “I” language instead of “you” language. “I” language is used when there’s a conflict, and doesn’t put the other person on the defensive. “You” language is basically pointing your finger at the other person using words. Learning this and other communication techniques didn’t happen overnight, and we were in counseling for many years. I learned (and continue to learn) how to listen. We also both matured; and in individual therapy, I learned how to accept responsibility for my actions and my moods. I’m still learning.
I’m better at identifying my moods, and not blaming them on my husband. Instead, I tell him how I feel, and that the particular mood may cause me to become argumentative. We don’t have knock-down, drag-out fights anymore, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have disagreements. We discuss them calmly, and rarely do they escalate. No shouting. No doors slamming. No blowups.
I was afraid that when I told my husband that I’m bipolar, that he would dump me. Instead, he stuck by me for 18 years and counting, through all the ups and downs, highs and lows. Ours is the first stable relationship I’ve ever had. It isn’t perfect — do those even exist? — but couples counseling saved us. He is my rock. (To my husband: I love you.)
Have you been in a romantic relationship with someone who’s mentally ill? What was it like? If you have a mental illness, what have your relationships been like, or do you avoid them altogether?