Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Spousal/Partner Lack of Support

While yesterday's post was about spousal/partner support, Josh wrote a comment, which made me realize that I should also write about spousal/partner lack of support. While I don't know about this first-hand, I do know what it's like to be deserted by other family members and friends. And it's terribly disappointing and painful.

I would imagine it's just devastating to have an illness that is as horrific as bipolar mood disorder, clinical depression, or seasonal affective disorder, and feel that your spouse/partner isn't supportive.

In fact, I have an acquaintance who divorced her husband because he is bipolar and she was tired of having him live off disability, sleep a lot of the time, and show no initiative in changing his situation. Since I heard about his situation through his mother-in-law--who was a friend of my mother's--there wasn't much I could say.

Had the BIP's wife been a friend of mine, I would have told her how horrific depressions feel and how difficult it is to survive them. I would have explained how difficult it is to work when you're constantly struck by depressive episodes. I would have asked what kind of help and support her husband was getting from his doctor, and perhaps have suggested other wellness activities.

I did tell my mother's friend that I would be happy to talk to her son-in-law or daughter, but I got the impression they wouldn't call me or email me, and they didn't. It seemed like the BIP's illness wasn't something they publicly talked about.

And this isn't the first time I've offered to help people who won't seek help. I once met a woman in a manicure shop whose grandson had been diagnosed as bipolar. We spent an hour talking about the illness and I offered to discuss things with her grandson and/or his mother. This woman, who so loved her grandson and felt so happy that I could provide hope, sadly said she didn't think her daughter would call me. And the woman didn't. Again, it wasn't something this family publicly discussed.

Josh, in terms of your situation, I don't know what to tell you. My husband and I had been married for many years before I was diagnosed as bipolar. For much of our relationship I was only depressed for two six-week episodes each year, and I was well enough to work even though I didn't feel well.

For most of our marriage, I was able to plan our social life and participate in it, travel, and assume marital and family obligations. Even during my six-week depressions, I was able to go out at night, share household responsibilities, and spend fun weekends with my husband.

I wasn't diagnosed until our son was five-years-old. But once I was diagnosed and went on medication, everything changed. Since I've written about this before, I won't repeat it here.

I believe that one of the reasons my husband stood by me is because that's just the kind of person he is. But, I also believe he knew that there wasn't anyone who tried harder than I did to achieve wellness. Also, I tried very hard to remain upbeat--even when I was personally devastated. I always tried to hide the worst of my illness from our son so that he didn't feel he was living in an "ill" household, or that his mother was "mentally ill."

My husband knew I would do everything possible to take care of our son to my fullest ability. And he knew that I hated canceling plans as much as he did, that I would try to socialize, try to participate in family events and holidays, and that as soon as I was well, I worked as hard as I could to get freelance grant writing assignments, and financially contribute.

I'm not sure if there are different dynamics when it's the husband who's ill, rather than the wife. Since I don't know you, I have no idea what your marriage was like before your illness. These are both important questions.

I guess if I had any advice to offer, I would suggest couples counseling. While I don't know anything about it, I would imagine that both of you need a therapist or counselor of some sort to open up lines of communication, and see if you can work this out. If any of my readers have advice, or have been in Josh's shoes, it would be nice to hear from you.

Josh, in the meantime, I believe there are sites for relatives of people who are bipolar. I'm not sure how helpful they are, but perhaps someone reading this can make recommendations.

I'm sorry you're not only having a tough time with this illness, but with your marriage as well. I truly hope that things get easier for you and your wife.



Gianna said...

I'm going to be bold here and, Susan, if you like, please feel free not to post this...

In my experience both as patient and mental health worker I've found that some of us can be downright abusive in our misery.

Sometimes it's the healthiest thing a partner can do to leave.

I am deeply humbled that my husband has put up with some of the crap I've dished out. Granted, I have a fairly quick ability to see that I'm being screwed up and quickly ask forgiveness, but unfortunately not everyone has this capacity for insight and some people act atrociously and then think it's their spouses problem.

No one should have to put up with abusive yelling or out of control behavior forever. People need to have limits and self respect...spouses legitimately suffer too.

I'm not saying that all people who have unsupportive spouses are like this, not at all...some unsupportive spouses are just that, unsupportive for no good reason...

but others are only trying to take care of themselves.

so I just suggest we all take a look at ourselves and honestly ascertain, would I put up with myself if I were married to me?

It's a painful but valuable question and could potentially lead to healing and maybe even some support from that unsupportive spouse.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
I'm posting this because I think it's a valid and important point of view. And I appreciate your candor in writing it.

I agree that some people are abusive when ill. And I've seen it firsthand. Sometimes it's not a spouse, but a relative and/or friend, and I agree that we must distance ourselves from abusive behavior--no matter how difficult or cruel it seems.

Screaming on the telephone is as damaging as screaming in person. Going into rages for no apparent reason is irrational and highly distressing.

Wanting "what you want when you want it" no matter how inconvenient it is for others is downright selfish.

And never apologizing--no matter how awful you've been--is inexcusable.

Choosing to blame everyone else for your problems, choosing not to follow anyone's advice when your behavior is getting worse and worse, asking for honesty and then saying nasty things when you receive it--all of this takes its toll.

Accusing people of deserting you for no reason when you should have thanked them profusely for standing by you for decades--is the final blow.

So...Gianna...I do know what you mean and I agree that sometimes the healthiest thing a relative/friend can do is to leave.

This kind of behavior takes it toll on an entire family. In my experience, the people who produce this kind of drama never assume responsibility for their behavior, while everyone else becomes physically and emotionally exhausted trying to cope with it.

Thanks for pointing this out!


P.J. said...

My husband just doesn't get it - nor does he want to get it. He's told me to "go take another bipolar pill" and he just can't understand that my brain is out of balance and I am taking the meds to help me and all of us and not just to be a pill popper. He thinks I can turn off the down-ness and thinks I'm such a party pooper when I am low. When I get really excited about things, he tells me to "calm down."

I know that it's tough on him, but my medication is working well. I am much better to live with than I was a year ago! We talked about seperating on more than one occasion, but now that my meds are working, and I am learning wellness behaviors, things are much smoother.

I found that the more I tried to cover it up, the harder it was on our marriage. Now that I am open and able to talk about it more, that makes a difference. He certainly doesn't understand it, but slowly he's beginning to accept that I am what I am.

I would like him to be the kind of person that want to walk beside me and help me through it, to discuss it openly without him thinking it's a bunch of crap, but that is not him. That's why I have to turn to places like these blogs and my life friends in order to get the support I need.

That may or may not have made sense, but it's just some feelings about that jumbled together!!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear PJ,
I'll have to respond later. I'm off to the eye doctor and some errands. Just wanted to let you know.