5 minute read
Just when you think things are going well for you and your loved one, your partner enters a manic phase, and the rug is pulled out from underneath both of you; your worlds are upside down.
An Unpredictable World
As someone living with a significant other with bipolar, not only is it a challenge for your loved one, but also for their family, friends, and caregivers. In a recent NAMI meeting I attended, the parents of children with bipolar shared their experiences with the sudden changes in behavior that make each day, week, and month a challenge. Your world is suddenly unpredictable at best.
Even when your partner, child, or friend is well, you are constantly on guard, waiting for the other shoe to drop. You listen to each word, phrase, and watch every action looking for cues that something bad is about to happen. The fear of the next crisis is always in the back of your mind. Your life is like a “roller coaster” ride; small ups and downs are followed by sudden drops and severe climbs, only to fall again.
Never knowing what to expect, you as the caregiver are always on a heightened state of readiness. Over time this level of stress will sap your strength, both physical and emotional. The slightest move in a positive direction will provide hope and the fuel your need to handle the next negative situation. Sometimes you yourself will crash and need to take a mental health break or consult with a behavioral professional to regain your equilibrium.
Perspective and Advocacy
One of the keys to your survival as a caregiver is to see bipolar as a disease of the brain, not just a mental illness. Be angry at the disease, the illness and not the person who is afflicted. The love of your life or your child is suffering terribly and you in many ways are feeling scared, confused, and helpless.
Your perception is that you have no control over the situation; that is true. But you have power, the power to advocate for their right to receive the care they require from their medical team. Use that power and you can provide the emotional support they need to fight the fight. Remain consistent in how you relate to your significant other, which is most difficult when you find yourself under constant stress.
The treatment of bipolar is difficult by itself, but when coupled with OCD or other disorders, such as substance abuse, it becomes extremely difficult. As their advocate, there will be times when you need to challenge the medical professionals in a positive manner as to their therapeutic approach.
You have seen your loved one when they were good and when they were bad. You have their medication history, knowledge of their previous hospital stays, and access to their medical records. You know what has worked and what didn’t work regarding their treatments and medicines. Don’t be afraid to share that information with the medical professionals; it will aid them in treating your loved one.
Self-Care and Support
As the significant other, husband, wife, daughter, brother, or wife, you need to work diligently to maintain your health during this period of illness. Being a caregiver is a great responsibility and a drain on your emotions and health. Above all, you must take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else. You need to access the services of a behavioral professional to ensure you have an outlet for your frustrations and concerns. You may need medication to aid you in recovering from the strains of being a caregiver.
Joining a support group through NAMI or another community organization will provide the information, training, references, and emotional support you need to continue the journey. You need to sleep, eat right, and exercise to maintain your strength and health. Know that some of your friends will understand your plight but others will not be able to identify with your situation.
Be aware that mental health challenges are very scary to people who have not been exposed to someone who has one. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with your friends, help them understand your situation. Don’t isolate yourself from your community; this is the time when you need to socialize. You need their emotional support to make it through this period of uncertainty.
Guilt, Shame, and Hopelessness
Guilt and shame needs to be confronted and discussed with your behavioral professional. As the significant other, child or caregiver, you feel a great sense of guilt that you cannot do more for the one affected with bipolar. Helplessness turns into guilt, which is not an emotion you want to deal with alone. When this feeling sets in, it is time to get professional assistance.
There is nothing to be shamed about; remember it is a disease that can be passed on from one generation to another. Your behavior as a parent, husband, wife, or sibling is not responsible for their bipolar disease.
One other feeling you need to confront is “giving up” and the desire to leave the situation. Running from a problem is an option, but never a solution. You may have these thoughts, but you need to discuss them with a behavioral professional. I am aware of several divorces in which a partner could not cope and abandoned their significant other.
You need to marshal your resources, stay the course, and fight this disease. When the opportunity presents itself, step up and help someone who needs help. Sharing your strength with your loved one is critical, but you need to save some for yourself. One day someone will step up for you.
Embrace Your Loved One
Remember the disease is the “enemy” not your loved one. Fight the disease, but embrace your loved one, let them know you are there for them and understand they are the one suffering. This is a battle that you will eventually win. Research into bipolar is ongoing and there will always be new drugs that will help fight this disease. This is not a sprint, but a marathon.
Have faith and hope!