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Thoughts on relationships where one partner is bipolar

(27 Posts)
Resilience16 Mon 04-Jul-16 22:36:28

Hi mumsnetters. Just wanted feedback on your experience of relationships where one partner is bipolar? The challenges, the pitfalls, the good bits? Just after a bit of perspective from people with experience of it please.

sykadelic Mon 04-Jul-16 23:04:15

My ex was/is rapid cyclic bipolar. He was diagnosed not long after we broke up (so he says) and I understand is now medicated.

For the longest time I thought he was just narcissistic and a general dickwad. He was absolutely awful to me, lots of emotional abuse, walking on eggshells and nearer the end sexual assault. I could never tell which him I would get. When we were out with friends he was (what I now realise was) manic. His personality would completely change and he would be loud and obnoxious. I absolutely hated that version. Then when we were home he was sullen and did nothing around the house. I wasn't "allowed" to do certain things. For instance I had to go to bed when he did otherwise getting in would wake him, and I'd need to get up when he did or he wouldn't wake up and that was my fault... shit like that.

So my personal experiences means I would never ever ever go there again (even if I wasn't married).

Saltfish Mon 04-Jul-16 23:07:18

It's not an easy experience and to be completely frank one I would ever put myself in again. Some words of advice? Don't fall into a codependent trap where your partners needs trump yours. This is very difficult to achieve.

Their bipolar disorder is also not an excuse for bad behaviour.

And finally never get involved with someone who has more problems than you. Are they currently receiving counseling? While meds are great it is more of a band-aid situation without counseling.

netflix Mon 04-Jul-16 23:36:28

It's hard. Heartbreakingly hard.

There are times it's amazing and he's the sweetest, kindest, loveliest guy I know, my best friend, soul mate etc

Then bipolar crashes the party - sometimes it's the impulsive spending of all savings on crap that's uneccessary that he argues is vital like comics or every single episode of some series, sometimes it's suddenly doing a million things at a million miles an hour - committing to anything and everything, occasionally it's coding, delusions, voices

Other times it's him not being able to get out of bed, having no empathy even with his toddler DC, him disconnecting from everyone and everything having no drive, no goals, no consideration, him being paranoid and defensive or suffering crippling anxiety and regret or those awful days wondering if he might actually go through with taking his life despite him promising he won't but he's told you how he'd do it etc

And it's so bloody hard to recognise when bipolar is crashing the party or if he's just happy, or understandably annoyed about circumstances as they happen - too often you don't realise what your in till you're right in the middle of it, so many symptoms could also be personality, so many people without bipolar do things my DH does - it's just the sum total that makes it up to "bipolar"

The meds can have side effects that feel worse than the symptoms sometimes too - when he can't think clearly enough to hold a conversation as its "foggy" or naps through your honeymoon, or kids show, or Xmas because he's so sleepy on them, or develops tremors, or can't feel any emotion at all because everything's numb. Sometimes side effects reach the point I think - actually I'll take the bipolar now over sluggish robot that they turn him into

Sometimes I wonder what I did marrying him, however I suffer OCD and depression myself and I know that he fights a horrific unkind illness everyday like I battle mine, and I admire him and I'm incredibly proud too.

Anything can happen in life - you could be with someone who develops anything - mental illness, terminal illness, brain injury etc and there are no garantuees. If you can see past the illness - and you could take the shit that comes with it because past the illness they're that lovely - go for it but go in eyes wide open and never shut them, ever.

The most important thing to do in a relationship with someone with a mental illness is actually not to take care of them but to take care of yourself imho (obviously you care for them but you put the most effort into caring for your own wellbeing and allow HCPs to take on responsibility that would floor you)

desperateMum45 Tue 05-Jul-16 00:33:51

My sisters bipolar but I think actually borderline as well

Comes across as being very selfish and narcissistic, but then needing 100% care and kindness at other times for long periods, that she never reciprocates

As my mother is also bipolar possibly borderline, made for a very dysfunctional co dependent family. Where my dad and I ended up caring for people a lot who didn't reciprocate and were often nasty.

I would completely avoid. It'll take over every waking thought before it know it.

alwaysinamuddle Tue 05-Jul-16 01:06:22

I have been the bipolar half of a relationship, and it's not always been pretty, but it hasn't always been bad.
The right partner can help more than anyone could understand.
The issue even with the best partner in the world is becoming dependent, almost like another form of medication.
Netflix summed it up pretty well, and yes there are some really shitty days, but the good ones are worth it, if the persons bipolar is well controlled and the medication doesn't turn them in to a zombie just existing through life.

Resilience16 Tue 05-Jul-16 06:32:11

Wow,many thanks for all your honest, thoughtful answers. That was really helpful and insightful.Thank you for taking the time to come back to me. It really is appreciated.

Tabsicle Tue 05-Jul-16 08:28:33

I'm bipolar. Been with the same person for fifteen years. I think a lot depends on how well the condition is managed and how much effort the other person is putting in to manage it.

I've not had an episode in two years at this point, which means for that length of time DH has basically had a normal person in his life. But for three months before that (during the last episode) I was hellish. He says he relies on maths in all this. For 70% of the time this is the best relationship he's ever had. For 20% of the time it's really difficult. For 10% of the time it's pure hell. He copes as long as the maths are good, and as long as he feels I'm trying - I take my meds, I see my psych, he has a phone number for my CPN. The numbers change or I stop trying and he'll leave.

But obviously YMMV. I'll be honest - he's had to cope with a lot from me - I am sure loads of people on MN would say LTB and I'm lucky in that I do have long periods of calm. But he's had months where I couldn't get out of bed, or conversely, when mania is in the house, I've cheated on him because the gods decreed it must be so (btw, coming down from a manic high and realising I'd had sex with someone I didn't even fancy because "the gods wanted it" was bloody scary and horrifying). I'm constantly grateful her managed to forgive me and it motivates me to do the best I can to stay stable but it can be hard work.

Resilience16 Tue 05-Jul-16 10:36:08

Thank you Tabsicle, great to have the perspective from the other side. I have huge respect for anyone living with this on a daily basis.

Tabsicle Tue 05-Jul-16 17:41:58

As an extra note, having read some of the stuff above, bipolar doesn't mean "gets to be shitty" and some people use it that way, I think.

Honestly, if someone is manic when out with friends and depressive when they get home, they aren't bipolar. They are just moody. Bipolar mood swings last at least a week usually.

Not caring about other people doesn't mean you're bipolar. Just shit.

The side effects of the meds are crap, mind. I've fallen asleep while sitting at the dinner table before, and had total slurring word salad in a job interview.

snipface Tue 05-Jul-16 18:02:49

I do the maths thing as well - my dh has bipolar, we've been together 17 years, he's been on meds for the last 3. The first 14 years were about 90/10 in favour of well. That 10% was a fucker, though, to be honest. The last 3 years have been 100% good in terms of bipolar, and we are hopeful that this means the meds are working. I think we are lucky, but I know other people in similar positions - bipolar varies a lot in its severity & response to meds. But it doesn't have to be a defining characteristic of a relationship.

ShowOfHands Tue 05-Jul-16 18:11:37

Bipolar mood swings last at least a week usually

My Dad swings from one extreme to the other and back again more than once a day when cycling very badly. Average length is 11 weeks at a population level but can be less than a day or months.

OP, why do you ask?

semierectfreddo Tue 05-Jul-16 18:23:13

I'm the bipolar half but currently single. I am studying to be a doctor and stable on my medication. My bipolar doesn't affect my relationships as it's essentially been cured.

A lot of the horror stories I hear about bipolar are either about people who are untreated or suffering a comorbid personality disorder like borderline pd. There are also a lot of cases where a borderline pd patient is mistakenly diagnosed as rapid cycling bipolar, or there's addiction in the picture too.

It's actually a highly treatable condition. Just to give you another view.

alwaysinamuddle Tue 05-Jul-16 18:29:23

I have rapid cycling bipolar, and my mood can change from manic to severely depressed/suicidal 3-4 times a day. I also can suffer with delusions (what long term would be called psychosis), daily.

My better ex partner and I used to do maths too. Things had to be good 75% or more of the time or he'd drag me to doctors/hospital etc. It's a good indicator of how well the illness is managed on a long term picture.

Tabsicle Tue 05-Jul-16 18:49:12

Totally believe I'm wrong. My psych told me once that an episode had to last a week to count and that's clearly stuck. My episodes are normally 3 weeks to 3 months so I guess it stuck with me. Very sorry if I got that badly wrong and offended anyone.

semierectfreddo Tue 05-Jul-16 20:12:58

It does have to last a week to count as bipolar depression and four days for bipolar mania. Rapid cycling bipolar is a really controversial diagnosis in the UK, and the vast majority of psychiatrists would use borderline/emotionally unstable PD as a differential diagnosis there.

semierectfreddo Tue 05-Jul-16 20:20:10

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922389/

"The last category, bipolar IV, describes mood swings typical of BPD (i.e., rapid shifts over hours). This expanded definition might include many, if not most, patients with BPD.

The issue is whether the lability of mood seen in BPD is identical to phenomena observed in mood disorders, such as bipolar II.23 Hypomanic episodes have to last for at least four days, and this consistency of mood is rarely seen in BPD. Instead, affective instability (AI) is a characteristic feature that distinguishes BPD from classical bipolar disorder (as well as from other personality disorders). Emotion dysregulation is a similar concept."

Resilience16 Tue 05-Jul-16 20:35:02

Thankfully for all of your honest responses. I really do appreciate them all.
What are people's thoughts or experience of lithium? Good, bad, indifferent?

TheSockGoblin Tue 05-Jul-16 20:46:35

I think it's like any other illness really..it will be different for different people. Some people find lithium works very well and others find not so much.

Some people manage their moods and are able to work and so on and others might struggle a little more.

FWIW my partner is on Lithium and it seems to be very good for him. He seems to have more problems with other mood stabilisers or anti-depressants. But that's just him, whoever you might be referring to might be different.

At the end of the day if someone has an illness then there will be challenges. In terms of bipolar specifically my personal experience has been that it can often be treatable and manageable if the person is willing to engage and find the right meds for them as well as use other coping tools and strategies. I've found this goes for most mental health issues which are not severe enough to warrant regular hospitalisation. As with all things though there are different degrees to which someone is affected.

I once knew a young person for example whose 'up' stage was so severe they barely slept or stopped talking for about a month, barely sat down and figeted constantly. When the swing went to 'down' they were essentially catatonic and just about able to do very basic personal care tasks / eating with a lot of physical assistance from staff members of an inpatient unit.

In contrast other people with bipolar I have known have managed to care for children, hold down jobs, drive, get to work and so on.

So really there is such a wide range of how people can be affected.

Are you asking because someone close to you has bipolar disorder?

ShowOfHands Tue 05-Jul-16 20:50:36

My Dad's cycles are usually around 2 months, sometimes a bit longer but when things are bad (usually necessitating a meds increase or change), he develops psychosis and rapidly cycles. He was misdiagnosed at first because his first sectioning was during rapid cycling. He can present atypically but i think it's as much the meds as the underlying condition.

Tabsicle Tue 05-Jul-16 23:23:49

I didn't like lithium but it works well for lots of people and is the gold standard for a reason. I'm on aripiprazole and lamotrigine and that works for me.

Resilience16 Wed 06-Jul-16 17:20:45

Thank you all. Does lithium really decrease your life expectancy significantly?Sorry to be asking all these questions but I was talking to someone with bipolar recently and it made me realise how little I know about it.

alwaysinamuddle Sat 09-Jul-16 18:01:53

I actually hadn't heard about Lithium reducing life expectancy, and actually saw someone share an article about a study in to it increasing life expectancy... i'll definitely ask my doctor about that when I see her.

It's worth noting that there are different types of Bipolar, and it's always best to know which you're dealing with to be the best support you can.
Also worth mentioning that Rapid Cycling can be temporary. And most people who suffer with it also have longer periods of normality, depressed state and mania.
It's a bit of a minefield but I'm sure all of us here would be happy to answer any questions.

junebirthdaygirl Sun 10-Jul-16 10:02:21

My dh of 30 years is bi polar. He was only diagnosed about 12 years ago. He has a very demanding professional job in which he has been very successful. The diagnosis came when he was prescribed anti depressants for low mood due to an event. Let me say loud and clear anyone with bipolar needs to be very careful with ad.as hey can elevate a high mood into a dangerously high one. This is what happened and for a time things were very bad. He refused to accept the diagnosis and to get treatment. I moved out with the dc. So he engaged with the doctors and is now on lithium for years. He is good. Lithium can affect your kidneys if there is too much in your blood so he has regular blood tests. Looking back before the diagnosis he was a risk taker with financial investments but fortunately most did well but it was risky business. He is a very intelligent man which in my experience a lot of people with bipolar are.
After his mood stabilised we move home. That is over 9 years ago and he has done well. I totally agree with the poster who said me looking after myself has been paramount. I have had personal counselling which has made me strong and which l still go to now and then. I have very clear communication with his medical team as they stress that a supportive partner can be a huge help. Our dc are at college now and we do lots together. We are happy but have our moments which l have to say get less. Another thing is he very rarely drank because alcohol and bipolar are a lethal combination. Also as he works in the medical field himself understanding the medication and being totally responsible himself has helped. But he has been heartbroken to accept the diagnosis and to accept longterm medication.
I joined a support group for relatives for a while which was a help but the biggest help for me was looking after myself dealing with stuff in my own upbringing and just living my own life. For a while l was obsessed with his illness and traumatised but that was years ago in the worse times.
My dc are very open about it and we have always talked about it as a family.

CharlieSierra Sun 10-Jul-16 11:38:41

My DH has BPD, he has been very ill in the past but not since we have been together, although obviously I have experienced a range of moods. Although it can be difficult, he is also the most insightful and sensitive man I have ever known; there are good aspects resulting from his experiences. I have read a lot about it, I like Tom Wootton's approach and would recommend. Re lithium, yes it can take it's toll on the body, however some would argue it potentially increases life expectancy if it stabilises the mood and prevents suicidal lows.

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