Life in the Shadows—What to do When Your Partner is Bipolar

Life in the Shadows—What to do When Your Partner is Bipolar

Linda is a 42-year-old woman who has been in a committed relationship with her boyfriend for over six years. She often complains about her boyfriend’s mood swings, and over the last few weeks, her boyfriend is withdrawing from the relationship, he appears to be indifferent, sad, and basically shut down. They usually stay in touch

Linda is a 42-year-old woman who has been in a committed relationship with her boyfriend for over six years. She often complains about her boyfriend’s mood swings, and over the last few weeks, her boyfriend is withdrawing from the relationship, he appears to be indifferent, sad, and basically shut down. They usually stay in touch via email, phone messages, or even phone calls, but now, she barely hears from him during the day. Linda thought he might have become uninterested but was surprised to find out the next day that he was planning to propose marriage!

Day after day, Linda gets more confused as she tries to find an explanation for her boyfriend’s behavior. Most of the time, he is not angry or violent, but rather, just pushes people away and caves into his own skin. He spends so many hours asleep that he misses work. Then he becomes irritable and upset over silly things. On their good days, however, he is nice, loving, and has a very charming personality.

Linda does not know how to manage the situation; whether to leave or to continue, and if she chooses to continue, how to best handle his mood swings. She also isn’t sure if her boyfriend’s behavior is due to a difficult personality or if he might be suffering from an undiagnosed mood disorder.

In fact, Linda’s story is a typical scenario for dealing with a partner’s undiagnosed bipolar disorder. According to Treatment Advocacy Center Fact Sheet, “Bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) is a neurobiological disorder that severely affects approximately 5.5 million Americans age 18 or older, or 2.6 percent of the adult population.” An estimated 51 percent of individuals with this condition are untreated in any given year. Moreover, “Generally people with bipolar disorder consult three to four doctors and spend more than eight years seeking treatment before they receive a correct diagnosis.” This is because bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed for other psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression due to their common symptoms.

So…What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder happens when a person dramatically alternates between two moods, sometimes even three. One is considered emotionally high (happy mood) and is called mania, the other is emotionally low (sad) and defined as depression, and the third, which happens only sometimes, is hypomanic episode, which is a milder type of mania. Sometimes, a person with bipolar disorder might also experience mixed episodes of mania and depression at the same time.

Depression episodes typically last at least two weeks and are characterized by feeling sad for no apparent reason, having no or little energy, not showing interest in things that used to be enjoyable, changes in appetite, weight and sometimes, sleep patterns. Depression episodes might also accompany suicidal thoughts.

Manic episodes can be triggered by life stressors or can happen suddenly. They can last for at least one week and are characterized by an unusually high mood or the so-called euphoria, irritable behavior, rapid speech, decreased periods of sleep or lack of it, inappropriate social behavior and spending sprees. During hypomanic episodes, mood is elevated, accompanied by feelings of overconfidence and increased production.

Depending on the type of bipolar disorder a person has, a person might experience different episodes. Bipolar 1, for example, is characterized by recurrent episodes of mania and depression, whereas Bipolar II is characterized by severe mania episodes. A person with this type of bipolar disorder may keep alternating between both hypomania and depression.

Some people with this disorder might sink into a denial cycle and refuse to seek treatment. The problem, however, is that left untreated, bipolar can worsen at later stages in life, and sometimes even require hospitalization. According to Elements Behavioral Health in its online issue in August 19, 2010, “A new study sponsored by National Institute of Mental Health has found that almost 40 percent of adults with a history of major depressive disorder also experience a subthreshold hypomania.” It goes on to claim, “Without recognition of hypomania behavior, symptoms of bipolar disorder may go undiagnosed among a large proportion of individuals suffering from major depression.”

How to Deal with an Undiagnosed Bipolar Partner?

Understand the illness

The best way to understand your partner’s behavior is to educate yourself more about his or her condition. The more you read about it, the better you are going to be able to handle the ups and downs.

Don’t blame yourself; it is not your fault

Don’t feel guilty that when your partner is down, you don’t feel the same way. In fact, the more positive you stay, the better you are going to be able to help your partner to feel better.

Try to convince them to seek treatment

The only way a person with a bipolar disorder is going to feel better about their lives and symptoms is if they decide to seek treatment and get the medication and psychotherapy required to monitor their moods.

Set boundaries and expectations

It’s a good idea to talk to your partner and explain how you feel. Although an individual suffering from bipolar disorder might not be able to control how they feel, they are in control of their actions and words.

Offer your support and show your love

Even though a person who suffers a depression episode from bipolar disorder may seem uninterested in you, the fact is he/she might be in the most need of your love and support. Reassure your partner of your love for them and that you are going to be there for support.

Give your partner the space he/she needs when asked

If you feel your partner is withdrawing from your daily contact, don’t get offended, and don’t take it personally. Just give him/her the space needed while keeping yourself busy with some other activities.

Create your own social circle

In order for you to be able to survive the emotional ups and downs of your partner, you have to be mentally strong enough to handle this situation. The best way to do this is by surrounding yourself with a circle of family and friends who know the situation and are going to be able to help you when needed.

Take a break… Relax!

Finally…Perhaps the best way to handle an undiagnosed bipolar partner is by keeping a cool and level head yourself. Try to participate in activities that you enjoy and that help you relax for at least 30 minutes every day. Set aside time daily to go for a walk, listen to music, or read a book!

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