I was reading through some of my friends’ posts on Facebook last night when I ran across a link to a site dedicated to providing information to bipolar caregivers. This is an aspect of dealing with the disorder that I’ve never thought about much, mainly because I’m the person with the condition and it takes pretty much everything I’ve got just to fight it. But as I perused the articles, it began to dawn on me that life as a caregiver for someone like me must be fraught with danger….there are literally a gazillion ways in which things can go sideways in a hurry, and they don’t always work out in real life the way they do on TV.
Naturally, my first thoughts while reading a commentary on how to handle extreme behaviors were of my poor husband and how I must scare him sometimes when I’m out of control. I’ve made him hide the gun and my pills; talked of wishing I could just go to sleep and not wake up; spent us into bankruptcy not once but twice; taken an overdose of Ativan and slept for fifteen solid hours while he watched me to make sure I didn’t stop breathing. How helpless that must make him feel!
I know it doesn’t do the rest of my family any good either. I once texted my oldest daughter in the middle of the night to tell her I was thinking about OD’ing (I didn’t). I’ve nearly burst blood vessels while screaming at the kids, risked life and limb by peeling out of the driveway and speeding off in a rage, thrown things against walls and punched refrigerators. Never hurt a soul while doing any of it, but that’s only been through God’s grace and plain old dumb luck.
I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the idea of living with someone and never knowing when their next mood swing will blow in and disrupt life all over again. Yes, bipolars need love too, and those of us lucky enough to have found it secretly live in fear of losing it, because deep down we don’t think we deserve it. But it must take a special kind of strength to love a person with this disorder because of our sheer unpredictability: while we love with the same intensity that we approach everything else in life, we are not necessarily good companions.
We are often too self-absorbed with our woes to be able to offer anything of value to a friend or family member with troubles of their own. We make all sorts of social plans when we’re “up”, only to break them when we crash and the last thing we want to do is be around others. We are well-intentioned and begin projects with great enthusiasm, but are also notoriously unreliable when it comes time to do what we said we would, or to finish what we’ve started.
Now that I’ve tried stepping into the shoes of the people who love me—my husband in particular—I find myself looking at the issue with new eyes. Love is a gift even under normal circumstances…..but for someone with bipolar disorder, it’s nothing short of miraculous!
So I was trying to explain this newfound perspective to Will as we were settling into bed, and true to form, he was genuinely puzzled. “But I love you,” he said, just as he has for the last thirty-three years. “You’re my wife, and I’m here to take care of you. That’s what a husband does. I would never leave you.”
That is an incredible reassurance in a world which always seems to be shifting under my feet. If I must have a caregiver, I’m thankful it’s Will, because his love is almost like God’s—I can rely on its always being there, strong and pure, ready to defend me to the death….even against a disease which he will never be able to understand.