Tuesday, 16 February 2010

My wife has [not got] bipolar disorder

You won't normally catch me listening to the radio at 9 am - I'm much too busy - but often it's just playing away there in the background.  Then suddenly I am aware of it and realise that something worth listening to is being broadcast.

This morning was one of those times.  And the programme worth listening to was Taking A Stand with Fergal Keane.  You can listen to it too - there's a link at the end of this post.  Fergal was interviewing a married couple where the wife has bipolar disorder.  He was hearing how the disorder is affecting their lives, both individually and as a couple.  Of course, my wife has not got bipolar disorder; she has an anxiety disorder; but the similarities in how these disorders affect our relationships are many.

Read on and see if you can identify with the husband or the wife or their relationship.

The wife
The wife is aware that her disorder is a problem for her husband as well as for her.  She worries about how much of a burden she is to her him.  She doesn't want to cause him stress, distress or emotional pain.  She knows that she is, at times, needy of his time and attention.  However, she has to concentrate on "getting better"; and there are times when her disorder takes over her life and there is no space for other people's problems.

The couple
As a couple, when making plans for the future, the wife's disorder must always be a consideration.  The biggest decision - which this couple has yet to make - is whether or not to have children.  Can the husband cope with the additional responsibilities of parenthood during times when his wife is not only too unwell to help, but also a responsibility herself?  How would children be affected by living in a household where one of the parents has bipolar disorder?

The husband
The husband's main problem is loneliness.  When his wife is unwell, there is no real help for him at hand.  Society doesn't want to know about the problems of people with a mental illness or about the issues that their carers have.  The husband says that in this country, "care in the community means just one carer..."  There is no backup, no information and no support.  A physically unwell person can usually be identified by their appearance.  Not so, for the mentally unwell.  Most people can relate to the amount of effort required to look after one's physical needs, but not to look after one's emotional needs.

The husband has worries about their relationship.  For him, the good things about their relationship outweigh the bad.  But is he is the best person to look after his wife - particularly if she doesn't appear to be getting better?  He sometimes questions his ability to cope.  What if he left her - how would that affect his wife?  Could he deal with the guilt?

I can well identify with the husband.  And if I was a wife and carer, most of the same concerns apply.  Everything the husband says about his relationship worries are issues which I have considered or am still considering.  Also, the husband is totally accurate about the lack of support for the needs of the carer, and the isolation that most carers experience.

The husband recognises the support of his parents.  I have the support of my adult daughters.  How carers without family support exist, I really don't know.

The link
To listen to the programme, click here.  The programme lasts 30 minutes and you'll have to endure a couple of minutes of other stuff before it starts.

A parting thought
Fergal asked, but wasn't answered, how the wife felt about the perception that her husband was virtuous and stoical in his devotion to his wife?  Does she resent it?  This made me think - do people see me that way?  If they do, is that welcome?  How does Marie feel about that perception?  Do those being cared for feel that they are somehow less worthy people because they have a disability?  Does this lead to an unequal partnership inside the relationship?  Anyone care to comment?


♥ Kathy said...

That was very touching and informative. There are many mental disabilities in my family and I know the turmoil they can cause. Thank you for writing this.

Ethereal Highway said...

I do not feel that I have an unequal partnership with my husband. What we have done is to divide up tasks and I take on many important ones that he is no good at anyway and then he does the things that I can't really take on because of my issues. Proably the thing that is hardest for him is always being the one to drive the children to school. But I still don't feel unequal because I have a lot of important skills that I use to our benefit and my husband appreciates it. As much as I would be right out of luck without him, so he would be without me also - PTSD or not. And he'd be the first one to admit it.

Sarah♥ said...

"What if he left her - how would that affect his wife? Could he deal with the guilt?"

Clearly wasn't an issue for my ex!!!!!!

Good article.

Robert said...

Kathy - I suspect that most extended families have one or more members with mental health problems. Usually this is a taboo subject. Perhaps we (as a society) should bring this more into the open.

EH - You and your husband have the type of relationship which I would consider ideal. A relationship which is mutually beneficial. Both of you are very fortunate in this respect! It's a good secure place from which to confront your PTSD demons.

Sarah - I'm going to fess up here - I wasn't a big fan of your ex, and I always believed that you deserved better.

Alcoholic Daze (ADDY) said...

I can't comment on the last paragraph, but would say the rest is true of living with an alcoholic too.

maz said...

Hi Robert, very though provoking entry!
This is not only true of couples coping with mental ill health, it's the same with any hidden disabilities too!
In my own experience, Coo's had some awful confidence and esteem knocks over the years - you look ok to me/why aren't you out at work/ you can't cope on your own etc. the list goes on! and while Coo knows he can't really be on his own, people telling him so isn't very helpful!
I think it has to be a real strong relationship to weather the storms!

If I'm honest, there is a change in the relationship over a long period of time if you're Caring but it's as little or as much as you want to make it.
With Coo and I it's still a partnership and I think that's why it works but I'b be lying if I said things would be exactly the same were he in better health - I think some days he needs me more and other days? well, I need a cuddle and a smile more than he does!
I guess we're all needy at times.
Does that make any sense?
I hope so! LOL
maz x

Nechtan said...

Hi Robert,

A lot to think about there. In these cases its not an ideal situation and one that neither partner wants but neither is it one that can be helped- just like if it was a physical rather than mental problem for one of the two. It is a strain and I can understand why for some it is too much and they have to get out. I guess it depends on the severity of the problem, which varies greatly, and how close the couple are.

I don't think the partner with the problem can feel resentful of other for being devoted- at least I hope not. They must be praised and it must be said often because otherwise resentment may creep in- if the partnership is unequal. And does the problem partner feel less worthy? I think so. In my case that is true but again it depends on how much of a load is being carried by the other. I do what I can in the house though most is shared but outside my contrubution is limited and I do worry about that. I try but just can't get there. That in itself is a difficult point because I see a change in my wife when I am actively trying and I see the slump when I am not. Though "try" is the wrong word.

My partnership is therefore unequal which does make me feel unworthy. Sometimes she lets me know when it gets too much- and I can appreciate that. It is a strain. I wish there was some other way. To be honest if my wife walked away tomorrow I couldn't blame her but nor could I change the situation. Its a very hard position for both to be in and the longer you are in it I think the harder it gets.

All the best


Coffeecup said...

Then there are those of course who don't have anybody to care for them, and no external support either. In my case I feel so unworthy I have stayed single so as not be a burden on anyone else or hold them back. It has to depend on the couple surely? How close and loving they are. I would never have thought you and Marie anything other than equal partners even though you do obviously bear the bulk of responsibility. Maybe it's Marie's attitude? She doesn't come across as downtrodden or demoralised by her condition, though of course, there are down times and tough times to go through. My last relationship made me feel as though I was a complete failure, even though I was a lot better and trying a lot harder than now, being single. In reality, having a partner is probably the greatest inspiration and motivation to endure the distress that panic brings. The reward is love, and that's worth giving everything for :)

You're right about one thing for sure, there ought to be a whole lot more support for both parties. Mental health is very much the poor relation when compared to the money invested in physical disabilities.

Robert said...

Addy - (I keep wanting to type "Daddy", I wonder why?) I would have expected my post to be relevant to the carer of an alcoholic. I consider alcoholism to be a mental health issue. Wouldn't you agree?

Robert said...

Maz - Yes, that makes sense :)

You're absolutely right - all sufferers from hidden disabilities, physical as well as mental, share the common problems of how the public sees them. Or rather, doesn't see them...

I have occasionally wondered if our relationship would be different if Marie didn't have agoraphobia any more. And I've always come to the conclusion that it would probably be quite different - but not any better. Do you feel like that? I mean, it would be less stressful for me from time to time, but I can't see our bond being any stronger.

Like you, I need a cuddle and some reassurance every now & then. I'm not ashamed to admit that I am needy, too!

Robert said...

Nechtan - You've got 2 main themes in your comment. Firstly, the inequality in a partnership. Subsequent to penning my post, it occurred to me that all partnerships are unequal. Eg, one partner may earn more than the other, work longer hours, do more housework, look after the family finances, spend more time on childcare... But as long as neither partner feels "used" by the other, then there should be no resentment. It's the old socialist ideal "from each according to his ability; to each acording to his need" (Karl Marx, 1875, I think).

Secondly - The feeling of the disability sufferer of being less worthy than their partner. I can see that this is a very common perception. After all, don't most MH sufferers have self-confidence issues? In psychological circles, the accepted truth is that, in a successful relationship, each partner gets something that they want. As long as this situation persists, the relationship is secure. In this scenario, neither partner is more or less worthy than the other. Wouldn't you agree?

Robert said...

Cc - I'm sure that MH or other disabilities will open up any cracks in a relationship, often destroying it. Perhaps that was a contributory cause of the breakdown of you last relationship? Or it simply made what was inevitable happen sooner?

I can see why you would be apprehensive about risking being hurt, should the opportunity for a new relationship arise. But unworthy? Surely your rational head can see that you're just as worthy of a relationship as the next person. Indeed, better qualified than many - the unfaithful, the users, the dominators, the misogynists etc. - all less worthy than you. An intelligent, caring, articulate, thoughtful person like yourself is most definitely worthy.

Funding for MH. It's estimated that 50% of all illnesses emanate from mental health problems. One would expect vast resources to be thrown at research in this potential money-saving area. But no...for some unfathomable reason, it's all but overlooked. :(

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I think a lot of older people (late 70's onwards) don't want carers even though they realise they need them. Simply because of their determined need to stay independent. I have one such friend who is 90 next week and she is very lonely. But she won't go into a home which is by far the best place for her.

CJ xx

Michelle said...

This is a really excellent post, Robert. I consider myself to be really fortunate, because while the agor causes the family not to be able to do certain things together, that is not what my husband focuses on.

I couldn't sleep last night. I was lying in bed and overheard my husband talking on the phone to his best friend. He was talking about me. He was telling him about all of the caring things that I do for him every day and how much he appreciated it. Agor didn't come up at all. He was so positive.

There have been times when the anxiety has been much worse than it has been recently. During those times, he has been an advocate, and has made it clear that I am also there for him when he needs me. He also tends to look at it scientifically--in other words, I don't get the sense that he thinks I am "crazy" as much as he thinks that I am unfortunate to have a chemical or hormonal imbalance which can make functioning more difficult at times.

I am really lucky to have him, because my self esteem would take a beating if I picked up on feelings that he thought I was a burden of some sort.

Robert said...

CJ - I see a lot of older people in my business activities, so I know a bit about this.

When their faculties begin to deteriorate, old folk know that at some stage, they're going to need help - possibly go into a nursing home. But they want to put off that day for as long as they can. I can understand this - when they ask for assistance, they're admitting that they're on their way out. Who wants to admit that?

While they still have their wits about them, I think old folk should be able to choose whether or not to have assistance/go into a nursing home. Even if it seems to the rest of us that they're not making the best decisions.

Robert said...

Michelle - I agree with you - you're a lucky lady! But then, your husband is lucky too - to have found someone who fulfils his needs!

I also concentrate on my wife's good points, and I truly feel lucky to have met her. Sure, she has agoraphobia and it restricts what our family can do, but who knows, one day my problems may be more debilitating than hers!

Sapphyre said...

Great post, Robert. I think caring for your spouse is hardest when they have mental health issues as they are not always rational (more emotional some times). Hubby and I have a partnership, but there has been a lot on my plate for some time now.

Excitement, though... yesterday and today, hubby is taking DS to his specialist appointments... not sure whether to hope that this is the start of him being able to do more, or just keep taking one day at a time.

I try to concentrate on hubby's good points... but sometimes it's hard when he self-sabotages yet again (monthly occurrence so far).

Thanks for this blog. I love reading it!