When I first met Erin, we were in our late teens and signing up for college. I’ll do us all a favor by skipping all the mushy details, but needless to say, we fell in love. As we continued to grow together as young adults, learning the ways of life on our own, we also got to find out something else: how to grow together as a couple with bipolar disorder in the relationship.
“So when people ask me what itís like having a ďwife with bipolarĒ I tell them itís not that much different than having a wife.
When I first learned Erin had bipolar, I didn’t really think it was that bad. She had done a good job of not exposing me to the worst parts and she was still young. By my estimation, it took more than a year to fully manifest. So in the beginning there wasn’t anything that would be considered scary by most people. Sometimes she’d need a bit of time to collect herself when something was wrong or she’d need an extra-long hug session when she was feeling low.
Once bipolar had taken hold though, it started to really tear at Erin emotionally. It took a little bit of trial and error during an episode to really know what to do. Super-logical-me would say things like “It’s okay” “Don’t worry, it’ll get better,” “Calm down,” etc. What you learn is that telling someone in a bipolar episode that everything is “ok” is like telling a thief that stealing is wrong. It’s not that you’re wrong, you just really aren’t helping to alleviate the problem.
There were two things that really affected Erin: the auditory hallucinations and extreme mood swings she would experience and the triggers that existed in her life that would set her off. What I ended up learning was that the medical piece needed to be dealt with by a doctor. Luckily, we found a really good one. She really worked with Erin to dial in the dosages to help Erin stabilize her mind. I cannot emphasize how much of a difference the medication made. We may have gotten lucky with how well Erin responded, but this step was absolutely crucial to Erin taking control. Medication alone, however, does not solve bipolar.
Erin’s triggers taught me something about bipolar I hadn’t ever put into words before: People with bipolar aren’t crazy. What I mean is that Erin’s triggers were legitimate feelings wrapped up in a ball of frustration over how to express herself. Even if I didn’t agree with her on a certain issue, I was still able to help during an episode because I could validate her feelings. Asking someone with a healthy understanding of bipolar disorder in an episode something like “what’s triggering you,” or “what were you thinking about before you started feeling bad” allows you to hear what was really on their mind. Often times you can identify the real problem and offer yourself up to help take care of that problem.† Then once the episode is over, you can revisit the topic and offer to talk through it.
So when people ask me what it’s like having a “wife with bipolar” I tell them it’s not that much different than having a wife. For me, once we got the medical side of her bipolar under control, handling the triggers and emotional side was an exercise in humanity. You have to be respectful, honest, open to new points of view, patient, caring, etc. And that’s what I’ll be, ‘till death do us part.
On a final note, Erin makes it easy on me. Bipolar isn’t easy, but when you see someone giving 100 percent of themselves to overcome a challenge, you can’t help but root for them. All I really have to do is be there and step in when she needs a little nudge in the right direction. Erin is a trooper and has never come close to giving up, and that’s all anyone could ever ask of a person living with bipolar.
Ultimately, responsibility for kicking this thing’s butt falls to Erin. But I’ll be here, not thinking for one second that she’s crazy, and each day learning more about this beautiful girl I was lucky enough to marry.
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