Coping With Bipolar Disorder – Cathy’s Story

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Cathy’s husband was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in 1997. She has for a long time wanted someone to write this for the loved ones and the effect this illness has on them. There is medication and specialists for those afflicted but what about the family and close friends?

Cathy suspected something was amiss while she and Dan were dating. At the time she put it down to excessive marijuana smoking. She dismissed the obsessions with certain songs, staying up until morning and the frenetic way he did everything. They had been together six weeks and he proposed. She laughed and thought he was drunk as he stated with sanguine expectation that it would be a really good idea for them to get married and give birth to the “Messiah”.

Cathy and Dan married a couple of years after that initial proposition and, in retrospect; it’s only now that she can see how unwell he had been during that time. On their wedding day, – it still breaks her heart today, eleven years later – ,he was crying what she thought were tears of emotional joy as she walked down the isle, but he was, in fact, experiencing an episode. According to his best man, Dan had been extremely high all morning, and ventured next door to the neighbor they had barely known a couple of weeks and asked him for a lift to the church!

For their first wedding anniversary Cathy received a card her husband had made himself in the psychiatric hospital. He was committed the week before due to erratic behavior displayed in the general hospital where she and his parents had taken him in a panic.

Prior to admission the medical staff questioned them relentlessly in regards to Dan’s mental state and were duly convinced when the patient took off his shirt and invaded an operating theater! Once admitted, he proceeded to cause havoc in the ward until the hospital decided to transfer him to a psychiatric facility out of town. Cathy was filled with dread as she awaited the results of the brain scan. She was convinced her husband had a tumor. She had never imagined a mental illness.

Today Dan doesn’t really have any strategies for himself aside from taking his medications without fail and regular visits to the psychiatrist. Any strategies in place are for Cathy, in the event of his becoming unwell as she does not cope with it at all, in fact she has come very close to a breakdown herself during one of these crazy events.

He had an episode on his birthday a few years ago, and Cathy moved out and left him alone because she could no longer be in his presence. She loathes him when he is sick to the point that she has slapped and kicked him. I know Cathy has never been violently inclined in her life and has never been again in any other situation.

Best strategy for Cathy is to remove herself from him during these times. Dan has managed to find somewhere to go in the past such as a hostel, as it is easier for him to leave because of their two children and dog, but, as of late there have not been any vacancies for him anywhere, so Cathy, her sons, and their pet have had to be the ones to go. These days the public hospital system is on a tight budget and Dan is not usually considered threatening enough to warrant a hospital stay. Unlike when he was first diagnosed, nowadays there has to be evidence of physical danger in the home before a bed will become available.

There have been times, though, when she managed to have him hospitalized and he received adequate counseling and care. She would go home alone with a heavy heart and the knowledge that he would not be wearing his wedding ring, “because that’s not what the Messiah would do.”

As far as warning signs, Dan will begin to talk about spiritual things and make quite good sense; he’s a guy who is not open with his feelings and not much of a talker. So one reliable (if you know him as well as Cathy does) warning sign is the change in his personality; he has increased confidence and openness.

He has a “look”, again good sign if you know him well, only Cathy and his mother recognize. He adopts an air of superiority, he is genuinely convinced he is Jesus Christ and is certain that everyone he encounters can read his mind. This is displayed in a guy who under normal circumstances is quite shy and not overly confident. He parades a constant smirk and should Cathy or his mother show any sign of emotional distress such as crying, he would find this extremely amusing, which is also out of character.

It’s hard to understand whether Dan’s lack of insight as to what the illness does to his wife and the extent of her stress, is actually part of the disease. They have received counseling and this is one example of his lack of discernment. One night during the drive to meet the counselor Dan turned to her and said, “Don’t know what the big deal is, so I change a bit. I don’t do anything wrong, why can’t you just put up with it or stay at your mum’s?” Cathy wanted a divorce right there and then.

He has become a lot more aware of himself due to his illness although it is difficult to find an upside to this situation. The benefits of his manic episodes are that a lot more gets done around the house as he has energy to burn; this is a man who is normally hard to motivate!

One of the psychiatric nurses who regularly visit Cathy and Dan’s home made a funny comment one day as she sat in tears describing “the Jesus thing” and doubting her own sanity. He said, “Oh well, should we discover that he really is Jesus, just apologize profusely! I mean really apologize!”

When an episode passes the family feel as though they have come through a tornado, but it’s occasionally at these times that Cathy has managed to look at the amusing side; she and Dan have both joked that he could at least perform a miracle or two during these “Christ times”, although she has cried a lot and there was a time she decided to walk away from him. She worries about separating and handing her children to him for visitations with the knowledge that he could change at any given time with arrogance, delusions of grandeur, acrimonious behavior and over impulsiveness.

The medical staff does not consider his condition particularly grave because they feel there are more severe cases out there, so her fears, especially in regards to her sons would not be alleviated should they separate. Her concerns for her children’s safety became clear to her, when Dan picked up the baby by his feet and dangled him after attempting to have him drink some beer. The little one was around 3 months old and, although Dan had no bad intention, – he loves his kids deeply – he allowed his impulses to take over and turned a game into something dangerous.

Cathy relented on the idea of leaving; he is a good man. He has a disorder, but he loves her.

After many heated pleads from his spouse Dan has agreed to see another doctor and they have a new psychiatrist now. He is very good. He has taken time to talk to both of them, has made changes to the “meds” and is keeping a close eye on their situation, unlike previous medicos who did not have the time to deal with them as individuals. The previous specialist referred Cathy to a counselor who claimed she was the one with serious problems and everything would be fine once she was in therapy! Therapy she would welcome anytime, but, -excuse my irritation here- she’s not the one with the mental illness!

Cathy does fear whether her sons will demonstrate symptoms of bipolar disorder later on; they are only five and three. She knows there is a small chance that she will have to deal with it. She tells herself at least she knows what bi-polar disorder is now. The truth is Cathy will probably not cope. She is afraid of the resentment and hatred she is able to feel and express at these times and she knows it is because she is afraid. She does not want to feel that toward her precious sons.

The family is experiencing a good patch at present. It has been a year since his last episode, but although they are all still together the damage to the marriage has been done and Cathy still doesn’t feel as though “he gets it” even though he says he does. For now they plod along with the hope of never having to face the madness again. It will take a long time of being episode free before they can even begin to take care of the damage and who knows if that will ever happen?

Cathy fell in love with this man’s gentle and kind nature and these mood inflexions have planted a seed in her mind, which makes her question who he is. Is the real person the “crazy one?” She hopes not.

Was her instinct right when she envisioned his potential for great things? She would like to think so. Dan holds down a very demanding, responsible job these days as he has finally found his niche in his chosen field. Cathy and her husband have had a lot of financial concerns in the past. Almost every time he would get sick, his job security would be in jeopardy, because of his behavior at work and the time off required for him to get better. All of this has added to her stress.

They both have work to do on themselves and their marriage. It will be not be an easy path, but they have come this far and one foot needs to be in front of the other now for the sake of their family. I am hoping against hope they’ll make it. Only time will tell. I wish them all the best.

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