My Bipolar Spouse

July 2016

Grandiose is a newly vivid word in my world. In a past life, when the words ‘Bipolar disorder’ were just a whisper in a passing breeze, the word Grandiose was beautiful. Now it is a symptom, a warning and a heavy realization.

                When one spouse feels as though they are grandiose, the other spouse shrinks. We occupy the same space, but we do not share it equally. When one of us is grandiose, the other has less space, and the result is me, the hollow spouse, struggling for room to breathe. 

                When my husband set his sights on me he was relentless in his pursuit. He immediately honed in on my children, lavishing them with attention and gifts. My life as a single mom revolved around them, and he made it his mission to join in on our little family activities.

In 4 days he was convinced that we were meant to be married. He felt that God himself had ordained it to be so.  In 4 months we were married.

I saw things that scared me, I dismissed them. I saw his temper, his drinking, and his history of partying (logged nicely on Facebook for years)- I justified those too, telling myself that we all have a past. His promises were wildly enticing. His image of what the future would be like was easy to fall in love with.

As we began to plan our wedding he dove in head first into decorating the chapel, planning outfits in minute detail, and outlining the flow and structure. His every waking moment, went to frantic wedding projects. A few times the tension erupted from these obsessive projects and again I justified the outbursts.

When we met he told me he didn’t drink, he had given it up. On our honeymoon he started, and the drinking continued. It continued through our honeymoon despite my pleading, it continued past explosive fights that escalated to profanity fill shouting, past threats of divorce and separation. It continued after a wreck and subsequent DUI charge. The first year of our marriage was spent with him living inside a beer bottle, while I shouted at him from the outside. We lived our first year together at war with each other.

The second year of our marriage revolved around 2 words; Bipolar Disorder. Looking back, I see the first year through new eyes. His behavior remains unjustified, and our marriage no less charred, but now it looks symptomatic and obvious.

The second year gained a psychiatrist, a prescription for lithium, and a lot of waiting, hoping, failing, frustration and note taking. My husband is still grandiose. While he may admire a small handful of men in his life, I cannot think of a single person that he would not consider beneath him in some way. His ideas are better, his talents are better, his inventions are better, his time is more valuable, and he deserves adoration, affection and attention. I struggle for room to breathe.

I read about coping with a bipolar spouse often. Sometimes I come across others whose words perfectly echo my thoughts. Other times I cringe at the advice given. Blame is hard to avoid, in heart, mind and fight. Respect is difficult to feel after so many moments of disgust and anger boil over into resentment. Prevention is nearly impossible when the only one capable of spotting an upcoming episode is the one person the Bipolar spouse WILL NOT listen to.

So many days I feel like a target. On a good day, in a civil conversation, I may be asked to help by pointing out manic behaviors when I notice them. On the day that I notice them, I become the enemy. I’m asked to help with financial planning after the mania has helped to create a financial panic, until my plan involves the limitation of his spending, then I am the enemy. I’m asked to change my moods, my tones, my level of patience, and despite my best efforts, I’m stuck behind enemy lines.

I feel hopeless. It feels like being slowly drowned. I struggle with staying in this life, and this marriage. I am losing hope. I am not the one getting treatment, or taking medication. I am not the one diagnosed, thereby making me insignificant. I am not grandiose, I am struggling for room to breathe.

Cyclone

Jan 2017

I am the hard shelled one in our marriage. I do not break often or easily, I don’t fall apart and I don’t sulk for long, no matter the situation. I’ve had to be strong my entire adult life and it has served me well.

My husband is soft. He is emotional, intense, needy and insecure. He needs to hear often those words that cover a multitude of sin. He needs to touch often even when it is mindless and his attention is on a screen, his hands need to feel me nearby. When this insatiable need for affection is not quenched, he begins the descent into depression, self-loathing, and despair.

He asks about my day, my location, my activities, my plans every time I am not in view. He needs my texts to show when I read his, my location to be available at all times and my reassurance that I am always on my way home. Lest I should vanish into thin air.

Then there are times when his ego inflates to God like stature and he cannot be held down by earthly limitations. No job is too big, no expense is too outrageous, and no one else compares to his mighty and anointed hands. In these times I am not enough for him. I do not bow down to his greatness with enough gratitude, enough awe, or enough fear.

When he is inflated to Godlike proportions I am never supportive enough to satisfy his need for admiration. When he is deflated to a weak and fragile skeleton I am not soft enough for him to fall into.

Both sides of my husband destroy me, poke cancerous holes in our marriage and chip away at the foundation of our life together. In both polarities, I am the wrong wife. Too strong, too able, too willful and too real. Not soft, not understanding, not supportive and not loving.

I live in the middle of this cyclone. If I move left or right I know I will be inhaled into the raging chaos that is greedily devouring everything it can. If I stay still, steady and strong I can stay in my place, I can keep my footing but I will always stand here alone. I will always feel the wind pulling at my clothes and hair, always changing direction and waiting for me to slip in either direction so that it can finally swallow me.

Inhale, Let Go, Keep Going

The size of the world will grow and shrink according to the eyes that view it. Day after day the weight of the world bears down onto your shoulders, and just holding it up takes everything you’re made of. A good night’s rest does little to revive you. Your spirit begins to crack and you begin to wonder exactly what, if anything, you’re made of. You feel like the sand along the shoreline, beaten endlessly by a careless and brutal ocean. On the worst days the world is closing in, the air is thick and suffocation feels inevitable. You wait for the heaviness to steal your last breath, you exhale, your lungs deflate, and you wait. How many times did you pray for a miracle? Inhale. There it is, your miracle. The chance to breathe another breath, the chance to keep going, is your miracle. While you’re spending your energy angry at a God who would allow you to keep going in spite of your suffering, this miracle is denied to many who desperately beg for it.

Though the world may feel closed in on you, the good news is you aren’t alone in it. How self-absorbed we become in thinking our suffering is so great. We hurt, we cry, we struggle but we get to keep going. And despite the turmoil, the weight of the world doesn’t crush you. The pieces of you that feel broken are in reality, only momentarily dark. That light that once was bright has lost its power, but it remains in place, waiting.

One day the world will open wide again. The air will become thin and fragrant and the birds will once again sing a glorious morning song into your ears. One day the light inside you will be fed again and its warmth will radiate from your eyes. One day the sound of your breathing will be a soothing lullaby as you drift warmly into peaceful slumber. Music will be for you, sunshine will warm your face, your stride will be a dance, and your smile will return. One day.

Inhale, let go, and keep going.

Musical Chairs

I told him he was handsome and he told me he wasn’t sure. I told him he was special and he shook his head. His eyes downcast, he thought about my words. I saw the way his eyes rushed around the room, moving like sparks of lightening but seeing nothing. He was deep inside his mind, with my words and his own. Inside his mind our words danced face to face. He said nothing. His eyes returned to me, seeing my face and he shrugged. In his mind the words I gave him were still roaming, in search of a place to sit.  When I told him he was very smart, he gave me a list of things he had yet to learn. My words again went into the warehouse of his mind, and found no place to rest.  Inside his mind, a game of musical chairs played out.  Imagine there are 5 chairs in a small circle within the mind of my seven year old son. Each chair has been claimed. Then, I add a new player. My new player is an expression of positive affirmation. The new player enters the game, and has no seat. The game begins. The music starts and the others get up and circle the seats. The other players are not like the new player. The other players are doubt, fear, worry, disappointment and sadness. When the music stops, my son has to decide who gets a seat, and who does not fit. Time and time again, my words of affirmation are left without a seat, and the game is over.  This is what happens in the mind of my child with ADHD. Meanwhile within my chest, my heart breaks again and again for him.  They called him defiant, disruptive, unruly, stubborn, and bad and those words each found a seat within him. Ask him what he thinks of himself and those words will parade out of his mouth in a declaration of self-destruction and shame. He did not do this to himself.  His mind is a wide open field of discovery, endlessly in search of something new. He is amazing. Facts and numbers enter the stream of his thoughts and return in perfect order. Questions pour out of him and answers absorb back in. He is happy when he is learning, and he is perfect. One day the game of musical chairs will begin to change. One day when the world opens up to allow him the freedom to be himself, he will let go of those hopeless words and mine will sit in their place. He is good, he is smart, he is handsome and he is loved.  ADHD is a diagnosis, not a curse. ADHD is a condition not a limitation. Encourage your children, help them to replace the negativity in their minds, with the love and affirmation they truly deserve. Be the voice that speaks louder than the doubt. Be the smile that covers them. The music is playing, change the game.