I know I mentioned it being mental health awareness this month, and that I’ve gone back and forth with whether or not I should do a post about it. And I know the month of May is almost over. However! Since this is an area that I deal with on a daily basis, and one of the many reasons I got back into running as a way to cope, and something we should all be aware of, I’m going to touch on the subject because I’m sure there is someone out there that can relate.
No, I am not the one with a mental illness – even though sometimes it may seem as if I am. 😉 My Hus is the one with bipolar disorder. He was diagnosed as manic depressive/ADD at a very young age and went through most of this life without the right tools – medication, support, etc…Now, I’m only “touching” on the subject. I’m sharing MY story, because when your spouse has a mental disorder, you can sometimes feel like you’re the mentally ill one as well. And, when your married, your one, and if you aren’t schooled on the disease – like I wasn’t for the first, oh, 5 years we were together – you guys are probably a wreck. Like we were. For a good 5 years. True story. It’s literally God’s grace that kept us together through those first 5 years. (We’ve been together 8 now.) There are different forms of mental illness – bipolar, ADD, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc… – but I’m talking about bipolar because that’s what is real and present in ‘my world’.
Like I said, when we started dating, I knew he had bipolar, but I really had no CLUE what the HECK it really was. Addictions – drugs, medications, alcohol, gambling, spending money – are all typical bipolar signs. I was dealing with quite a few of those addictions from the beginning. And let me tell you, when you don’t have a clue what you are up against, and you have the most unrealistic “support” to give, you are not only making the situation worse, you are setting both of you up to fail. I know. I can humbly say I made everything about the disease, worse for us both. Tough love isn’t an option when you are dealing with bipolar. Trust me, I tried that. 😉
Without sharing TOO much of The Hus’ “troubled past”, let’s just say, as much as I have a “list” of things I think he could be doing better, he has done a complete turn-around, and he is NOTHING like he was even 3 years ago. Yes, there was 1 major thing that HE did to help the situation, but if I’m being honest, ME changing MYSELF, was what REALLY helped us work on US – and gave him the motivation and desire to work on HIMSELF. Like I said, I was oblivious to how I was making it worse, but once I started getting help – taking a family-to-family class with the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), getting counseling, working on my spiritual life, making friends – that were supportive – exercising, my whole view changed. When you are the one who is in your right frame of mind (kinda), you should be the first one to take the steps to get help for yourself. They aren’t in their “right state of mind” all of the time – it’s a chemical imbalance after all – so you can’t expect them to be thinking realistically all the time.
The biggest impact, was taking the informational class through NAMI because I learned what I – WE – were up against. From there, I basically ‘got a life’ – one of the many reasons I started running. Again. Instead of walking in the door at night, getting angry that my husband was drunk, again, you would find me at my 24 hour gym, at midnight, pounding out miles on the treadmill, and then sitting in the steam room to make sure that by the time I got home, he was already passed out and I didn’t have to deal with him. THAT’S how I learned to release my anger issues. Throwing umbrellas and mugs at my husband’s head, while he was drunk, wasn’t cutting it. 😉 I know, I was quite the trophy wife eh? We’ve come a long way.
Because I learned about the disease, had a support system through friends and a counselor, and started just getting out of the house more, gradually, my attitude started getting better, and then he started changing. I was able to break out of my own depression that made me feel like I was the one with the disease, and that helped me to cope with HIS disease. My battle wasn’t with HIM, it was with the DISEASE – and still is! He doesn’t like having bipolar either! Gradually, he would go to counseling with me here and there, started seeing a psychiatrist, stopped drinking (3 years sober in July- YAAAA!), and we started working TOGETHER on making plans and setting guidelines for how to face this devil head-on.
Even though each mental illness is slightly different and can look different in each person, it is very predictable. And you kind of need a sense of humor – thank God we both have THAT going for us! Haha. We get a LOT of laughs at how good I am at giving a play-by-play of what is going on with his thoughts, emotions, moods, etc…We had to learn to be communicators, because he needs to be able to tell me what kind of mood he is in and what he needs from me, and I need to be able to listen, not be offended all the time (because he can be quite offensive and brutally honest with what is on this mind at that very moment), take things with a grain of salt (because it’s usually the disease talking, not HIM), and be able to transition to what he needs from me. He definitely needs a LOT of alone time. He’s a total introvert, where I’m an extrovert big time. Sure, I like alone time, but not like he does! And trust me, it wasn’t easy accepting that and forcing myself to start being me – an extrovert – without him. Since he’s my BFF and I love hanging out with him, it was hard to start doing things that I want and like to do, without him. And still, sometimes he’ll join me, most times he doesn’t. 😉 But that is part of knowing what you both need, and being able to take care of yourself first, so that you can be a “rock” for when the “episodes” happen. And most of the time, our world is very spontaneous, plans change repeatedly, and sometimes things don’t get done on time. And if I see depression setting in, I know that suicidal thoughts come with it, and I will cancel everything to stay home with him. 😉 Guess it’s a good thing I like change. haha.
Here are a few signs of bipolar:
- Shifts in mood
- Extreme behavior – quitting jobs, spending every last penny on something crazy, etc…
- Extreme highs to deep depression – all in 1 day 🙂 (And you don’t know how long the “episode” will last – A day? Week? Month?)
- Abusing prescription medication & drugs
- Abusing alcohol
- Inability to follow through with things
- Socially awkward
- “Chatty Cathy”
- Trouble focusing
- Crazy ideas
- Racing thoughts – all the time
- Complete exhaustion – physically and mentally
- LOTS of creativity – and very smart
- High suicide rate, suicidal thoughts…this is something to be VERY aware of. Think about all recent school shootings. Most were mentally ill. Yes, this is something I fear and I have to continually put my fear in God’s hands. Some days when I can tell he’s struggling with suicidal thoughts, I cancel everything and don’t let him out of my sight. This is not something to mess around with. There IS help.
You get the jist. 🙂 Yes, we deal with ALL of these signs. But hey, who doesn’t like roller coasters?! 😉
Since it IS a chemical imbalance, they are really just trying to find a “high” that makes them feel “normal” and stops the racing thoughts, depression, guilt from the bad past choices, etc…And they desperately NEED proper medication, counseling/support group, exercise, consistent/regular sleep.
Anyway, I know I didn’t touch on any other mental illness except bipolar, but like I said, bipolar is what I’ve learned and live with. And this was just a ‘tip of the iceberg’ on bipolar and what it has been like for us. If you know someone who has bipolar, or might have bipolar, your first mode of action should be to take a class and really learn what you are up against. You can really cause damage not knowing how to handle you or them, and you NEED coping skills like you’ve never known before. But you know what? I’m here to tell you, you CAN survive. And so can they. And so can your relationship – whether it’s a spouse, child, friend, etc…but you need to be educated and get support and take care of yourself – emotionally and physically – to be able to cope and somewhat help THEM.
The family-to-family classes through NAMI can be found at this website:
And there are also classes for the mentally ill person as well. If you have any questions, feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to share more info and/or answer any questions. I’m not a pro. I am not certified. I am not “over this” situation. It’s life-long and never goes away. But I’ve learned how to cope and how to get help when I need it. One of the biggest battles we are dealing with right now, is the fact that his past was so filled with chaos and fighting, that he doesn’t mentally and emotionally have room for it. So even a tiny “I-don’t-agree-that-you-think-the-glass-is-green” thing, to him, is an all-out brawl. Fun times. 😉
Sometimes our days look like this:
And sometimes our days look like this:
And a lot of our days are spent diving right into a hobby. 😉
We’re both a work in progress, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. 🙂 Builds character. 😉 If you have anything to add to this, or thoughts, tips, advice, please share! 🙂
Here are some other helpful books/sites:
And I promise, my next post will be back to all things pizza, running, and workouts. 🙂