Help Me Help Bi-Polar Partner
August 29, 2012 7:13 PM   Subscribe

My partner suffers from bi-polar disorder, manic mood swings, and chronic fatigue syndrome. I need help. Books and personal experience please. More details inside.

She is extremely proactive about her illnesses. She is religious about taking her meds, goes to therapist regularly and sees a psychiatrist. She is very insightful about her condition and works very hard, and often very successfully, to manage her symptoms.

Being a loving and caring partner for her can be difficult sometimes. She has been under a lot of stress lately and has been having bad symptoms. I try to help and to be kind and loving. She has given me some good tips about what to say, what not say, and some things I can do to help when she is having symptoms.

I get tired and stressed myself and feel like I don't have time to do the things I need to do to take care of myself, and sometimes I find myself getting angry at her. I want to help, and don't won't to make it worse by getting tired and resentful. I think I'm a good person most of the time, but sometimes it gets to me.

Does anyone have experience about useful tools they used when in this situation? If you were the person with the symptoms, what did you need from your partner? Also any books or website recommendations would be appreciated.

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posted by Shit Mittens to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Self-care comes first. Self-care comes first. Self-care comes first. That means you. You must make sure you're doing everything you need to do to keep yourself healthy and sane. Get her some extra people to lean on. Figure out what your needs really are. Attend to them.

After self-care comes communication. Safe communication, where everyone agrees they aren't going to freak out or hold things against the other for months afterwards. This is usually easier in couple's therapy - several people in my support group say couple's therapy has been a lifesaver for their relationships.

If you are in the US, I suggest very strongly that you take the NAMI Family To Family course, and attend NAMI support group meetings for family/friends. I also suggest DBSA meetings - they generally have support meetings for family/friends as well as for consumers. You might also appreciate the DBSA site for family members.

I also suggest you read some books written by people "inside" bipolar disorder - Kay Redfield Jamison's "An Unquiet Mind" is pretty much the first and most obvious suggestion, but if you want more along those lines I've got them coming out of my ears. I found this book, Manic-Depressive Illness, by Jamison and Frank Goodwin, to be incredibly helpful, but it might be a bit much for you unless you're really into science stuff. Definitely don't spend the new-book price. I've heard good things about Living With Someone Who's Living With Bipolar Disorder, but I don't own it and haven't read it myself, since... I only live with me, and yeah.

If I had a partner, the thing I'd need most is permission & encouragement to ask for things with the promise that it wouldn't make them feel bad about themselves. One of the girls in my support group mentioned that at one point during a conversation, she really needed her boyfriend to leave the house for a few hours. She needed it to be about just "please go away for a few hours" and not a bigger "she's rejecting me and we're doomed and I am lousy at helping her and this is awful." Another girl needed her boyfriend to accept that she had admitted her purchase of a box cutter and had turned it over, and to drop the subject already.

I also need a lot of prompting to take care of myself - and someone to help me get things done. Like, someone to sit there with me and remind me that I'm cleaning right now. Someone to go with me to the store because I can't shop by myself but something needs to be bought. Someone to point out that it's been four weeks since the last time I ate fresh fruit. Someone to help me keep track of meds and when they were last refilled.

Oh, and I need someone who can help me detect prodromal symptoms. She probably has lists of warning signs, especially if she's taken any CBT/DBT or IPSRT kinds of courses. You can find the warning signs in lots of the "Bipolar Workbook" type books.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 7:43 PM on August 29, 2012 [10 favorites]

For a good place to vent with people who care:
posted by luckynerd at 8:35 PM on August 29, 2012

I like the "self-care comes first."

Perhaps not your deal but -- sometimes it can feel to the person with fewer illnesses/disabilities/etc. that the person with more illnesses/disabilities/etc. takes up the attention allotment or space(, man,) for illness-and-wellness-related discussions. So "fewer" person feels neglected maybe which goes back I think to self-care first concept.

But. That could totally be a crock of compost in several ways.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:04 PM on August 29, 2012

An ex of mine was bipolar. We were together for almost 7 years (I think) and lived together for quite a few. I think Fee Phi has a lot of great things in her post so I will just add that as the significant other of someone living with bipolar disorder the best thing I could do for myself was to NOT take things personally. If he needed room, I gave him room. If he needed to vent, I let him vent.

It really depends on the person but self-care is important and that often means not taking to heart what may happen and also scheduling time for yourself. I often had days where I would just take care of my business assuring him I am there or just a phone call away. I had dinner with my best friends sometimes, I went shopping, I worked in the office and caught up with things like metafilter. Either way, make sure you still get that time to yourself just as you would want in any relationship and allow her room and the freedom to work out living with bipolar disorder in a healthy and productive way (which may include sitting quietly on the couch next to you without saying a single word for an entire day or at least in my relationship it might have).

Good luck, it sounds like you are doing a great job being a super supportive partner!
posted by MyMind at 9:43 PM on August 29, 2012

I have chronic depression and my partner recently bought this book for us to read together:

Living with the Black Dog

It's beautifully and poignantly illustrated, and straightforwardly helpful.
posted by greenish at 3:12 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

My wife has Bipolar II. She was diagnosed about six years ago. Before that diagnosis, she was diagnosed with some form of depression and was improperly treated, resulting in a hypomanic period that lasted for several months. I've been through a lot of with her illness in the 10 years we've been together.

In my opinion, the part where your partner is good about taking her meds is the most important thing. You can be support number 2, but support number 1 has to be treatment, and for Bipolar that usually means meds. To be blunt, I would not recommend anyone maintain a relationship with a mentally ill individual who isn't serious about treatment.

The other thing to remember is that mental illness can be (in a non-literal way) contagious. When my wife is depressed, I tend to be down myself, and when she's manic, I can be a little manic, too. You can lessen this if you're conscious of it, and able to provide (for yourself) perspective that's not hers. There are times I need to consciously say to myself "this isn't as a big a deal as she's making it out to be, don't act like it is."

Having outside interests/friends can be helpful in this regard, as it provides for times when you don't have to worry about her problems. I know I can get a bit of Wife's Depression Fatigue when she's feeling down, and stepping away from her problems for a bit is helpful. You should also be perfectly willing to be angry at her. Maybe you don't want to yell and scream at her for being bipolar (you probably don't), but let yourself feel that anger; honestly, a good fake screaming session in your head when she's out of the room will frequently be enough to calm those feelings. Mental illness is illness and people shouldn't feel bad about having them, but the people who care for them are also human beings who should feel free to be angry when the illness is negatively affecting their lives. It's a natural reaction, and you shouldn't be ashamed of it.

As to how you can help her, if she's open and comfortable about talking about her illness with you, I'd encourage you to be frank with her about it. I try to keep a handle on my wife's medication levels so that I can say "hey, you're talking really fast and looking really anxious, maybe you should take a 20 tomorrow instead of a 30."

I also try to be available to do the kinds of things that can help alleviate her symptoms, but also be willing not to force her into doing them. If my wife's feeling depressed leaving the house usually helps a bit, but she doesn't always see it that way. The occasional "how about going to see a baseball game this weekend" can be really useful for us, provided that I am willing to follow it up with "oh, I suggested we do something and now you're crying, maybe this is not the time for baseball."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:33 AM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

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