Small Problem #3: Am I supporting my Bipolar husband in the right ways?

My husband was diagnosed with Bipolar in his teens and has had some horrendous times, and some much better but still challenging times. He shared this with me very early on in our relationship when I was my usual ‘sure, I can handle anything’ self and we agreed that we both had our demons but it would be worth giving it a shot to see if there was anything here.

We’ve been married for nearly 5 years now, together for 8, and like any marriage it ebbs and flows but we support each other through everything no matter what.

About 18 months ago he decided he needed to come off his medication. He had been becoming less and less engaged with the world, with me and his job, his memory was really bad and he just couldn’t find the motivation or urgency to care about anything. He was making mistakes at work and not hearing how serious the implications were, bills weren’t being paid and he wasn’t seeing or hearing how much I was struggling to keep it all together while he coasted through ignorant to it all. He had changed so gradually that I think I actually forgot how he used to be for a while until one day he said ‘I don’t feel like me.’

We talked about what we should do i.e. change his meds, or stop them altogether, what I could do to help him stay in the present and eventually we decided to go and speak to his doctor about what he’s experiencing and what she recommended. The three of us decided the best plan was to slowly come of the meds, give it a month or two to see how he feels and to what degree without them and then assess what drug and dosage may be best for him.

He realised very quickly, once the fog had cleared, just how bad things had got financially, at work and he hated that he just hadn’t cared about it. He was fixing problems at work getting so frustrated with whatever idiot made this mess, only to realise it was him just a few weeks ago. I really felt for him.

I love my husband so much and I want to support him in any way I can, but I have this self-doubt that constantly questions whether I am actually supporting him, or if I’m enabling him. He doesn’t think or feel in the same way as most people and that’s one of the many things I love about him, but I really don’t know enough about his condition to understand if I’m actually being of any help.

One of the things I learned about myself when I realised I was suffering with depression, and was just so overwhelmed with everything that was happening around me, was that I was adjusting my own behaviour and sacrificing my own self-care to keep all the other plates spinning. My husband was very worried when I said I wasn’t coping with our home life and that all the support I was giving him was draining me. It was very hard for him to hear and he wanted to know specifically what I was doing for him that was so draining.

I only needed to give him one example: because of his paranoia and his insecurities, exaggerated massively by his Bipolar, I could never just tell him if he upset me, or if he was doing something that was wearing me down. I’m making him sound like a lead weight and that is simply not the case, I don’t know how I could ever be happy without him! I just mean those little niggles couples have, like putting a dirty teaspoon on the clean side of the sink because you intend to use it again but then you never actually do. Yep, those kinds of things. Very small and simple for most couples to mention and move on from, but with us, if I were to ask him to just give it a rinse and put it on the draining board he would forget. His mind focusses so intently on one thing for weeks and weeks that everything else falls to the wayside. After six or seven times any normal wife would say ‘look, sorry to be a nag but I’ve asked lots of times, it’s a little thing but would make a huge difference to me because it winds me up every time I see it’ and that would be accepted, problem solved. But my husband’s mind would go from ‘yea, I can do that’ and then totally forgetting to ‘that’s it, you’ve done it. She’s going to leave you’. So, everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – I say to him is carefully constructed to make sure that it doesn’t set his mind down that path. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t solely to keep him on the level for his own health, there’s an element of me not having the energy to talk him down if I were to slip up, but constantly trying to prevent this situation is really exhausting in itself.

When I explained this to him he was devastated that I felt I had to treat him this way, but he recognised that if I didn’t he would be constantly worried that he was losing me, something I never want him to feel. He made me promise I would stop and that any insecurities he had were for him to work on, not me.

This is what I mean by not being confident I’m supporting him in the right way – I was putting so much effort into protecting him from something and he had no idea, so it wasn’t actually solving anything at all!

Next up: Small Problem #4.