Living with a bipolar spouse
When Sally Wangeci met her ex-husband in 2008, it was love at first sight and he ticked all the boxes in her list. They dated for two years and got married in 2010.
But a few months down the line, Sally was a concerned wife.
“During courtship, I had noted that my fiance-cum husband would have sudden changes in mood over simple issues and at times, over nothing. I thought it was his personality. I didn’t think that it was anything to worry about,” she narrates.
As simple as this change in mood may seem to be, it slowly turned into fits of rage. She recalls how he once escalated an argument in a supermarket after she picked an item he didn’t want. Her husband would also break things in the house over small issues. His fits of rage would be so violent until he would froth at the mouth.
“One evening, he broke glasses and plates, locked himself in the kitchen and said he wanted to cool off. Because he used to drink during that period, I thought it was because he was under influence. After it became too much, I called friends to assist. His family too stepped in and prayed. He promised to go for therapy,” continues Sally.
Sally adds that her spouse would also threaten to harm her and her friends in the name of protecting his family. He would also complain and blame her all the time for his mistakes. It was also difficult for Sally, a businesswoman to have male acquanintances or business partners as he would often text or call to threaten them
Signs and symptoms
Her partner, a graphic designer and copy writer would abruptly quit jobs and blamed his work place for it. As a good wife, Sally tried to understand him, but it soon began to weigh on her and the family decided to have him checked.
“He was diagnosed in November 2017 with bipolar and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD),” she says.
By definition, bipolar is a disorder that is associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. “Mania can cause other symptoms as well, but seven of the key signs of this phase of bipolar disorder are feeling overly happy or “high” for long periods of time, having a decreased need for sleep, talking fast, often with racing thoughts and feeling extremely restless or impulsive,” explains Christine Miloyo a mental health advocate.
Other symptoms include a person becoming easily distracted and having overconfidence in their abilities. They also engage in risky behaviour, such as having impulsive sex, gambling with life savings, or going on big spending sprees.
“The signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder are varied. Many of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, making this condition hard to diagnose,” she continues.
To avoid disagreements, Sally would get home from her business late at night. When she saw how this behaviour affected their daughter and the fact that her husband had stopped taking medication and reverted to smoking bhang, she quit her marriage, one of the most difficult decisions that she had to make.
“I sought therapy a few months before I left because I wasn’t okay, and also for the sake of my child. I began questioning myself and my sanity. I thought something was wrong with me and my confidence was so low to the point where I couldn’t make decisions by myself. I walked on egg shells. I would also cry everyday thinking that I was a horrible wife,” she recalls.
While her family didn’t understand why she had to leave and advised her to stay, Sally felt that it was time to leave for her sanity.
After the diagnosis in 2017, Sally went on to read and consult with both professionals and friends on bipolar and how to handle it.
“Because I didn’t know anyone else who had bipolar, they helped me find my bearing and I realised others are going through this if not worse. They also made me break the guilt that I felt on leaving my marriage. They helped me navigate and understand what was going on. I also searched online for support groups and I found two international support groups on Facebook that changed my life,” she explains.
Co-parenting was also another huddle that she had to face. “It was hard because I wasn’t dealing with a rational individual. My husband would say things to our daughter, which would leave her confused. I had to make sure that I give her stability. At one point, he had threatened to harm my child and I. I was advised to go to the police and report. I had to go to court and file for custody. I was granted primary custody but he was given access. He vanished for some time. But now he’s back in our daughter’s life. She sees him on weekends accompanied by the nanny,” Sally shares.
Sally advises spouses to dig their partner’s history before saying ‘I do’ or when they notice something is not right. She also advises people to walk out of marriage should their spouses fail to take the necessary action to take medication.
“Always choose you. The society will blame you and tell you to be patient just the way our mothers did. But it’s bad for you since your mental health is affected and if you have children, they will also suffer. In addition, many people would prefer praying for the person with the disorder and leave it at that thinking that things will change. I advise people to go for therapy and follow up with medication. Bipolar is manageable if people are determined to live normal lives,” she advises.
While there are extreme cases where living with such a spouse can be frustrating and unbearable, it’s possible to establish and maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship.
Christine shares how couples should focus on communication, support their partner’s treatment plan, and most important, take care of themselves.
“Educate yourself. This is the first thing you should do when you start a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder. Ask about their experience and also how they act when have mood swings. It’s also beneficial to ask them what you can do, if anything, to help them during the episodes. Support their care too and don’t forget to take a break if you need one, whether that’s taking a walk around the block or spending a weekend away from your partner. Last but not least, have your own support system of friends and family to assist,” she says in ending.