Mentally ill spouses often feel that finding ways to give to your spouse is impossible. When it takes all the will you have just to get out of bed in the morning, tending to someone else can seem laughable. And yet, the more I have shifted my focus off of my own suffering and onto the needs of my husband, the stronger my marriage becomes and the better I feel about myself. I think it's important for mentally ill spouses to give what they can to their marriages.
Mental Illness in the Family
When a marriage contains a mental illness, you should make a wellness contract to create boundaries.With a 90 percent divorce rate for couples in which one spouse has bipolar disorder, I realize how blessed Jack and I are to still be married. But our marriage has not survived for 16 years just because we love each other. Our marriage has survived because we made a straightforward contract after my bipolar 1 disorder diagnosis, and both of us have kept to it. He promised to stay with me for better or worse, and I promised to be med-compliant and to attend therapy in an effort to become as well as possible. Our wellness contract is helping our marriage and my mental illness.
Last year on my birthday, I became very ill with Strep Throat. I only agreed to go to the ER when I began shivering with a high fever, believing my ear was about to explode. As they wheeled me in for a CT scan, I started wondering, how on earth could I have let myself get this sick? Since my bipolar 1 disorder diagnosis at 21, I’ve practiced the art of ignoring my own needs. If addressing my needs didn’t fit into my environment, I numbed out. I refused to listen to the needs of my body and soul, even if it meant I was ignoring symptoms of my mental illness.
For years, I looked into the mirror, and all I could see was my bipolar disorder. I felt worthless. I wondered every day if my family would be better off if they just quit loving me. Maybe everyone would be better off if they forgot to feed me, forgot to look for me, let go of fighting for me. I believed the lies my bipolar disorder told me. I spent all my time and energy staring into a mirror that was lying to me. But now I know that it is possible to put down that mirror. It is possible to find self-love and acceptance when I refuse to listen to the lies of my mental illness, and instead look to the people who love me to help me define my self-worth.
If you are a member of a family dealing with mental illness, you'll probably agree: dreams of a perfect Christmas hardly ever come true. We look backwards to before the mental illness, wishing, once again, for a life without meds, doctors and the mental illness rollercoaster. But looking backwards instead of focusing on the present sets unreal expectations for the Christmas at hand. The best gift you can give your mentally ill loved one this Christmas is not more unrealistic, nostalgic expectations. Rather, focus on making choices for this present Christmas that will help move your loved one and your family further down the road of recovery.
I think I know the best gift the mentally ill can give their families this season. It’s Christmas time again. I’m trying so hard not to get swept up by the tinsel and twinkle lights that, frankly, it’s a little depressing. Christmas without my usual hypomanic buzz feels like an arranged marriage, instead of my usual love affair with this season. But this year I'm giving my family something my hypomania can't. I'm taking charge of my illness to make certain my bipolar 1 disorder doesn't wreak havoc on my family's special moments. After all, peace is the best Christmas gift I can give my family (How Not To Take Bipolar Hypomania Irritability Out On Others).
Giving thanks is hard when your family is a mess. When I started thinking about writing this Thanksgiving post, I almost wrote my manager to let her know I’m not qualified to write about mental illness in the family. Do you know why? Because I feel like a fraud. My family relationships are not all cleaned up and pretty like I'd like them to be. Rather, the messiness in my family amplifies as we make plans for the holidays. I want to wave a magic wand and make all of my relationships work, if only on these special days. I know what it's like when your family is a mess and it's hard to give thanks.
Planning ahead for mental illness during the holiday season is tough, but it is doable. I could almost feel the whisper of hypomania pulsing through my veins last weekend as my family and I rolled through the Starbucks drive-thru. I squealed with excitement as the green aprons passed me my steaming red cup. As I sipped my cup of eggnog and espresso, I couldn't help but hope that my usual upswing was on its way. I look forward to my Christmas high--to actually feeling good--all year long. Christmas is so much fun. But is hypomania really a good thing for my family (Effects Of Bipolar On Family And Friends)? How can I navigate through my bipolar disorder to have a magical and peaceful holiday season? How can I plan ahead for my mental illness during the holidays?
Before I had my babies, I imagined that I would be the perfect stay-at-home mom, and despite being a parent with a mental illness (bipolar 1 disorder), I thought I could keep everything normal. I planned to arrange play dates, work out, make all of my family’s food from scratch, keep the house clean and decorated, while still reserving enough energy for some saucy romance with my husband. My kids deserved to have a normal childhood, no matter how crazy their bipolar mother was. I was determined to not allow my bipolar disorder to interfere with my mothering.
Mothering with an invisible mental illness is challenging. I know you couldn’t see my mental illness when you were sitting next to me at “back to school” night. You couldn't see the bipolar medications I swallow twice a day or the 14 years of therapy that have equipped me to behave so normally. You can’t see my bipolar 1 disorder, but sometimes I wish you could. I'm mothering with an invisible mental illness.