How to process the past and live in the present with Bipolar II
December 5, 2018 10:36 AM   Subscribe

My partner of 15 years was diagnosed with bipolar II this fall and I need help processing the past in light of this new information and figuring out how to be in our new reality.

After years of misdiagnosis my partner finally is getting treated for Bipolar II by a team of outstanding professionals. The difference in them is amazing and I am so thankful and relieved that we are finally on the correct path. I am having some serious trouble processing the trauma that occurred during the years of misdiagnosis with this new understanding and I do not know what to do with those emotions. For years my partner blamed me for our problems, eliminated any chance of savings through self-medicating with marijuana, and spent most of those years either angry and agitated or isolating themselves from myself and our children. I know that this is going to take time to work through and I am in therapy and we are in couples therapy but suggestions of any books, support groups etc that might help me work through this would be very much appreciated.

As far as our new reality goes I am really having a hard time integrating my partner back into our daily routines. For years I had to just assume that they would not/could not participate in most family work and activities. With treatment and medication they are doing so much better - clearly able to be a dependable and functional partner and very much wanting to be a part of our family again. I too want my partner back but I just don't know how to create the space for them to participate in our day to day lives after so many years of having a to create a wall between us so that I could take care of myself and the kids. Assuming I have to do everything is so engrained in me that I really have no idea how to do anything else but I desperately want to change this dynamic but I just do not have the tools to do so. Where do I learn to unlearn this behavior? What resources will help me?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think one thing to do, and I can't speak to the more specific stuff about routines and formal support, is to remember that your partner is not a new person. They've been misdiagnosed but they've always had Bipolar II, this isn't a new reality, just a better understanding of the reality you and they already existed in. Your partner was never "gone", they were having symptoms of an illness. They're the same person you fell in love with, had and have troubles with, are getting to know in a different way now, and all of that may be hard and confusing and perhaps frightening, but it might help to re-frame that as you're not going through it with a brand new stranger who suddenly appeared post-diagnosis, but with someone you already know and have known a long time, and clearly love very much.
posted by colorblock sock at 10:50 AM on December 5 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure if this would help, but I'll share. I was your partner. I was being treated for depression, instead of bipolar. I lost my marriage for other reasons, my selfishness; however, I think a lot of it was related to BP. One of the things that my family noticed was that I was a different person after a correct diagnosis/treatment. I even noticed it. You've carried a lot of weight in these past years.

So I pose these ideas:

.. maybe go to couples counseling a bit just to clear the air. It doesn't sound like you have an issue in your relationship that needs to be resolved. I'm just thinking it might be good to talk around a neutral party.

...journal

...find a support group at a nearby hospital. There's one near my geographic location that focuses on families of persons with BP

Also, you may not have heard this yet from your significant other, but thank you for being a good partner and sticking in there. Just hearing you say that makes me smile. Be proud of that.
posted by Draccy at 11:05 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


If you can afford private couple's counseling, that's the place to unlearn the behaviours. You can set goals with your counselor around integrating your husband back into family life and your counselor can hold you accountable.

Hospital support groups might not be the best thing for you, I know my doctor has steered me away from these before. The groups might make sense for the partners of the suicidal, the opiate addicted, the actively unwell but they're not really the best place for the higher functioning individuals.

Trauma is trauma. It doesn't matter that there is a reason why you were traumatized, you simply were traumatized. This new knowledge doesn't change your past experiences. The literature on complex PTSD might be informative for you to help you manage your emotions and find a path forward. A lot of the literature is focused on trauma from childhood/war/sexual abuse, but trauma from a long-term emotionally abusive and neglectful relationship also qualifies. Try The Body Keeps The Score and Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. Take what speaks to you and leave the rest.

I caution you that bipolar depression can recur even with good treatment. It is a cyclical illness that requires management. Just because things are good now, doesn't mean that things will stay good. You need a written plan of what to do when symptoms deteriorate. Long-term couples counseling will also help.
posted by crazycanuck at 12:00 PM on December 5 [4 favorites]


. I too want my partner back but I just don't know how to create the space for them to participate in our day to day lives after so many years of having a to create a wall between us so that I could take care of myself and the kids. Assuming I have to do everything is so engrained in me that I really have no idea how to do anything else but I desperately want to change this dynamic but I just do not have the tools to do so. Where do I learn to unlearn this behavior? What resources will help me?

Make a list of the things you do and ask him what things on that list he thinks he can reliably pick up. He may need to upskill in order to be able to do a grocery run, or even laundry, but he can take a kid to a weekly practice, make a simple meal (or put something from the freezer in the oven?), take out the trash, wash the dishes or load the dishwasher, and clean a bathroom.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:31 PM on December 5 [3 favorites]


spent most of those years either angry and agitated or isolating themselves from myself and our children

if it is available to you and appeals to you, and if your children are old enough to benefit from it, family therapy instead of or in addition to couples therapy might be a good idea. having a parent who isn't dead or even divorced, who doesn't directly abuse them, but who doesn't parent them and is barely there in connection to them, is sort of a specialty boutique trauma that could probably do with some attention. it is really hard to explain to anybody that you spent many years growing up without a father/mother when there was a person by that name who lived in your house. and it is easy for children to say, because they know what is expected of them, that they don't blame their parent for an illness. but it is not always true.

you are under enough stress of your own that you shouldn't have to be the one to try to address this parent-child relationship history, and you can't anyway because you're part of the same family. I would not be surprised if there's some unfair anger at you from the kids, for "letting" them be absent or not "making" them get better soon enough. if that ever comes up it might be good for you to have a professional person able to absorb and interpret it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:33 PM on December 5 [10 favorites]


I would not be surprised if there's some unfair anger

Not even necessarily unfair. It sounds as if OP has worked hard to shield and protect their children, but if the partner went through the "angry and agitated" phase(s) without engaging in behaviors that the children experienced as at least emotionally abusive, everyone is quite fortunate. Depending on how bad it got, the kids may not even really want the partner back in family life. I'm definitely not saying that is the case, but I agree with you very much that the kids need an opportunity to work through their own feelings with a professional--whatever they may be. Possibly even individual therapy, depending on their current age.

Good luck, OP.
posted by praemunire at 1:35 PM on December 5 [4 favorites]


I think it's on your partner to do the work of figuring out how to rejoin the family at a pace that suits the family as a whole rather than suits them personally, and it will be up to them to earn the privilege of the family's trust, one responsibility at a time. Let them pick some aspect of life management, propose to you how they intend to take it on, and then work out the details from there. With a lot of involvement of the entire treatment team to help teach you the skills you need to successfully negotiate this.

I don't think you're wrong to be reluctant, and I think it would be hard for anyone to relinquish any control at this point, especially when a lot of family responsibilities are high-stakes because there's children involved, so you can't just merrily let them fail (which they're gonna, not having any practice, or at the very least they're going to do it differently than you would and it's going to fuck up the system).

Not to be punitive, but I think there is value - whatever the circumstances - in the checked-out person having to do some heavy lifting to check back in. I do not think it does them, you, or the children any good to pretend everything is 100% fine now and there's no consequences (your kids need - now and when they are adults carrying around the lessons they're learning now - to know you're not just going to fling them into the care of someone they could not previously trust). You are recovering (I hope) from an abusive relationship while having a relationship with your former abuser; that's incredibly difficult ground, for everyone involved.

How your partner proceeds from here is going to determine the outcome of a lot of relationships, and you cannot do that work for them. You should focus on your recovery and they should also have some focus on supporting you in it, it's not going to be fast because that's a lot to process and you can only chew so much of it at any one time, and I think for the most part carry on as you have as far as responsibilities go, and focus first on developing the communication with your partner that will be absolutely critical for them to join the team full-time one day. There is no magic word that will make the past go away, and it is not possible to live in the present unburdened by the context and trauma and scars of the past. This is a years-long project, and the statistics aren't necessarily on your side; what you're working toward may be at best an amiable co-parenting relationship with someone you are not personally with anymore.

You have a right to be angry, which it seems like you're trying very hard to avoid - probably because it seems unfair to them, but it's unfair to you to be expected to swallow that much anger and grief and not eventually explode yourself. It's great that your partner is getting productive treatment now, but in part that means you've only just been freed to truly grieve for the years they were not and you had to hold it all together yourself, years of a life unlike what you wanted or would have chosen for yourself. You get to be angry about that, even if some of that anger gets on the person who didn't choose those things either but at some point they have to own their role in it. They dictated the terms of the relationship for years, "fair" is a pretty dangerous metric to work from now.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:34 PM on December 5 [7 favorites]


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