My husband struggles with bipolar disorder and doesn’t choose to get treatment for it. Because of this, his job, the pain and issues with his Crohn’s disease- and just life in general – can really get to him sometimes.
A big piece of my spiritual practice and emotional healing is learning how not to get sucked into his drama. I am learning to connect with my center and stay grounded, even when he acts chaotic and irrational.
Since I have learned how to be mindful and how to live in the present, I am learning to just let him be and not judge or condemn him too much. But dealing with my husband, when his bipolar rears it’s ugly head, is a continual challenge.
This past weekend was pretty tough. Bob was working on a detailed project in the driveway and garage: he purchased a used boat recently and has been fixing it up. He loves to work on projects, that’s his hobby.
As he tends to do with his projects, he gets really involved and obsessed with them. He has repainted the boat, he is fixing the seats, staining the woodwork, fixing the engine, adding lights, a cover, a canopy, etc, etc.
At a certain point on Sunday I realized he was not acting right. His mood became dark, he started swearing a lot, and he seemed to have a lot of frenetic energy. “Where is that goddamn hammer? I just had it one minute ago? How can I use something and then lose it one minute later? Motherfucker, now I have to go to Home Depot and get a new one!!”
He made a few frantic trips to Home Depot when he couldn’t find various tools I guess, tearing out of the driveway in his truck each time.
Meanwhile I’m on call for work, so I have to stay close to home. So I am just going about my chores quietly in the house. When he gets manic like this I do my best to leave him alone. When I try to help him, it tends to agitate him further.
So he was upset and angry and frenetic for several hours. I was very aware that he was having a hard time, and yet thankfully I was holding my own: I was not overreacting or bugging him to calm down or anything.
I was mindful of doing my usual things that make me happy and keep me grounded, like listening to Byron Katie on YouTube while I cleaned. I also sat outside by the pool and meditated in the sun. I also did a lot of laundry with my son, and we had some good conversation as we folded piles of socks.
Later that evening as the sun was setting, Bob was still carrying on in the garage with the boat .
I was watching TV and just relaxing before I turned in for the night when I could hear the sounds of someone sobbing hysterically.
I quickly muted the TV and realized it was Bob.
When I went into the garage, he was in there crying and rocking back and forth. Big gut wrenching sobs.
I didn’t know what to do, but I went to him and asked what was wrong.
I have Alzheimer’s! I’m dying! I hate everything! I’m going to blow my head off!
Even as I type this I can feel myself tensing up. It was surreal and scary. That’s how it bad it gets sometimes. When I asked him to please come inside for a rest he reacted negatively of course.
NO!! I’ll never finish this project. If you only know how much I have to do!!
It was sad and terrifying all at once.
I love my husband. I have witnessed him having these psychotic breaks many times over the course of our 23 year marriage. It is never pleasant and never easy.
But somehow, by the grace of God, our son and his friend came home just then, and Bob stopped the yelling and sobbing. But he wouldn’t come in from the garage and continued working on that stupid boat.
As I was brushing my teeth before bed, I realized how anxious and tensed up I was from being witness to all that all day long.
The next day Bob was no longer manic, he was just the opposite- depressed- hardly being able to walk or talk. He mostly slept on the couch.
Suffice it to say I was pretty exhausted emotionally myself. It’s hard to watch someone you love acting like that.
But then started round 2 of the crazy. Now I noticed he wasn’t talking to me. This is also something I live with. After he acts out, he gives me the silent treatment, often for days.
This is very hard for me not to take personally. After all what the hell did I do? It’s like he’s punishing me.
Since This silent treatment would drives me absolutely nuts, I decided to do a Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet on it. (This is from The Work of Byron Katie).
I’m angry that Bob is giving me the silent treatment.
Is it true?
Can I absolutely know it’s true that Bob is giving me the silent treatment?
No. I can’t know that absolutely.
And how do you react when you believe the thought Bob is giving me the silent treatment?
Disgusted. Wish we were divorced. Think he’s a very mean person. Tired of it. Exhausted. Wish he’d go away. Feel hopeless because I think it will always be this way.
And who would you be without the thought Bob is giving me the silent treatment?
I would be at peace. Perhaps I would have compassion for him.
Bob is NOT giving me the silent treatment.
Evidence of this:
His actions are kinder than yesterday. He’s not slamming doors and yelling and whatnot.
Maybe he’s giving himself the silent treatment.
I can’t be in his business. Except for not talking to me, he seems back to normal.
Maybe this is the best he can do.. (!!)
Oh my goodness, this felt so real and so true! This gave me so much peace! I’d done other Judge Your Neigbor worksheets on The Silent Treatment before, but I never considered that perhaps this was the best he could do.
Can I just say that once I had that insight, my anger and outrage and sick feeling in my stomach melted and now I feel mostly compassion. It is quite miraculous actually.
I love The Work! Thank you Lord! 😀
I went on WebMD just now and actually found some helpful tips for dealing with mania. I am filing these away for the next manic flare up:
- Spend time with the person, depending on his or her level of energy and how well you can keep up. People who are manic often feel isolated from other people. Spending even short periods of time with them helps them feel less isolated.
- Answer questions honestly. But do not argue or debate with a person during a manic episode. Avoid intense conversation.
- Don’t take any comments personally. During periods of high energy, a person often says and does things that he or she would not usually say or do, including focusing on negative aspects of others. If needed, stay away from the person and avoid arguments.
- Prepare easy-to-eat foods and drinks (such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, cheese and crackers, and juices), because it is difficult for the person to sit down to a meal during periods of high energy.
- Avoid subjecting the person to a lot of activity and stimulation. It is best to keep surroundings as quiet as possible.
- Allow the person to sleep whenever possible. During periods of high energy, sleeping is difficult and short naps may be taken throughout the day. Sometimes the person feels rested after only 2 to 3 hours of sleep.
You can read the full article here. I do most of these things already, but I didn’t know about the spending time with them to help them feel less isolated. That makes sense, and I will definitely do that next time.
I also think it’s incredibly important for the partner of a bipolar person to take excellent care of themselves. Here are some tips I came up with for us:
- Take care of your body.
- Get rest when you need it.
- Get regular exercise.
- Sit for a few minutes in meditation each day. Connecting to your presence and being mindful helps you better deal with these challenges.
- Express your emotions in a healthy way. (I talk to friends, my mom and sister, my son as appropriate, and I blog here of course). I also do lots of Judge Your Neighbor worksheets in a journal.
- Have fun activities, hobbies, and/or purposeful activities separate from your partner.
- Love yourself.
Well that’s it from me this week. Dealing with my bipolar husband when he’s not well is challenging, exhausting and draining. And yet, I’m doing OK. I’m very thankful to be taking good care of me and feeling compassion for Bob 🙂
Sending compassion, love, and healing thoughts to all those who are touched by bipolar disorder.
xo, Lisa Arcelia
Thank you for reading!
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