About

This blog is about the intersection of marriage and mental illness, because it’s something I deal with every day. Since 1999, I’ve been in a Twelve Step recovery program for binge eating and bulimia. My husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008 after suffering a severe psychotic break.

Coping with mental illness in one spouse is challenging (supposedly, there’s a 90% divorce rate for marriages involving bipolar disorder). Coping with it in both is even more so.

There are a lot of fears and uncertainties that assail the spouse of someone with a mental illness, particularly when you first find out about the illness—whether that’s through the onset of symptoms or by learning about your partner’s past. Some people can’t, or won’t, deal with the fears and uncertainties and ambivalence. They think, This isn’t what I signed up for. This isn’t what I want out of marriage, out of life.

But it is possible to weather a mental health crisis together and come out the other side.

I share a lot of personal stories in this blog because I think there’s value in sharing experience, strength, and hope with others. But I’m not a mental health professional, and what’s worked for me, my husband, and our marriage may not work for you.

If you’re looking for some background on John, me, and our mental illnesses, I suggest starting with these two posts:

Note: I’m writing this blog under a pseudonym to protect my husband’s privacy as well as my own anonymity.

13 Responses to About

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am also answering anonymously. Linked to you from Therese Borchard’s Beyond Blue. I also am in one marriage, 2 mental illnesses – in my case, I’m depressive, husband manic depressive, and we had to conceal for work reasons for years. I did not know statistic of 90%, not surprised. But we fellow ex-psych patients are incredibly loyal, because we have felt discarded and dismissed ourselves. I remember once wanting to tell my own therapist, “you know, I think more than meds or anything, if I were truly loved I would get better, but that’s nearly impossible in this consumer-driven society (including consumerism in relationships).” best wishes! so brave – and I love many of Therese’s posts. They help in absence of support group currently …

    • Hi there,

      Thanks so much for visiting the blog and sharing your experience! I hadn’t thought about the connection between psych issues and loyalty before, but it makes a lot of sense. And finding a loving and supportive community has been vital for my recovery—for me, I’ve found that love and support in my marriage and the Twelve Steps.

      I find online resources very helpful as well (Beyond Blue is awesome!), but I need face-to-face relationships and interaction, too. NAMI has a lot of good, free support groups if you’re looking.

      Best,

      Heather

  2. Harold A. Maio says:

    The more success stories we hear, the less “stigma” (sic) there will be. (Comment, on Huffington Post)

    The less we accede to the term, the faster it will disappear.

    Being carriers of this prejudice helps no one.

    • Hi Harold,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry you found my use of the word stigma in my comment on that Huffington Post article off-putting, but I have to disagree that simply eliminating the term from our collective vocabulary will make the problem disappear.

      One thing I learned in my Twelve Step program is that naming a problem frees people to find a solution for it. Sweeping the fact that there is still—unfortunately—shame surrounding mental illness under the rug only allows the problem to fester.

      The things of which we dare not speak take on more power and importance than they deserve.

      Best,

      Heather

  3. Gabriel... says:

    “…naming a problem frees people to find a solution for it.”

    It’s still amazing to me how similar the recovery is for addicts and people with manic depression. Language is an important tool in recovery, personally I hate “disorder”, as in “bipolar disorder”. I’ve always thought a ‘disorder’ was something we can be taught to change with exercises… something like dyslexia.

    Whereas manic depression is better described as “bipolar disease”. To be honest, I prefer manic depression to either, but “bipolar disease”, in my opinion, has more gravitas, and gives a better idea to people who don’t suffer with it, as to what’s going on inside our heads.

    • Hi Gabriel,

      I know! I learned so much about myself and my recovery through my husband’s experience. I think having a Twelve Step perspective also gave me a lot more understanding of what he was dealing with, along with some great tools for coping with everything that happened.

      Funny you should mention your preference for the word “disease” vs. “disorder” re: bipolar. I feel the same way about my struggles with food. I think of myself as having “the disease of food addiction” rather than an “eating disorder.” But I do use both terms because more people understand the term “eating disorder” than “food addiction.” In the end, I guess we all find the language that works best for us.

      Best,

      Heather

  4. Ethan says:

    Thanks for the post, it’s eye-opening to see that high of a number for the divorce rate.

    I’ve been fighting what seemed to be a winnable fight for my wife (diagnosed with bipolar disorder) for the past eight years. 16 hospitalizations and many different doctors later, we are regretfully now going through a divorce. I have always confident in my ability to help her manage her illness and she has recovered nicely a few times, but every time after a year or so goes by, she ends up deciding to go off of her meds and every time with dire consequences. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do, it has to be up to her in her times of recovery to accept this illness and claim it as her own. This will be her only hope to have a life. I used to think I could love it away, but that has not proven successful.

    She’s now perfected her behavior and knows the rules and knows that if she doesn’t present a danger to herself or others, she will stay out of the hospital. No matter how delusional she gets, what she says, she stays out of the hospital. Now in an effort to protect myself and our children, I’ve had to (begrudgingly) file for divorce and sole custody. I can only hope that I can remain in the background of her life and try to protect her, but I’m not sure how it will all turn out.

    I never thought I would become one of the 90%, but sadly here I am.

    • Ethan, I’m so sorry to hear about your wife and her inability to accept the need for treatment. What a difficult situation for you and your family. I’m glad, however, that you’ve come to recognize that love isn’t enough to cure her, and that you’re committed to doing what’s best for you and your children. Figuring out what our boundaries are around a spouse’s mental illness is challenging, but it’s necessary to figure them out and stick to them if we want to stay healthy ourselves.

      My father-in-law wasn’t as strong as you are—he stayed with my mother-in-law until the day she died from alcoholic liver failure (and I believe undiagnosed bipolar disorder). It hurt my husband and his siblings tremendously to see their mother’s health deteriorate and their father’s happiness wither (you can read more about it in a post titled, “The Martyr Syndrome in Marriages with Mental Illness“). I know it’s extraordinarily difficult, but you really are doing what’s best for your family. Best wishes to you all!

  5. Lizrd says:

    Thank you for this blog! I just read your post about why the spouse should go to the other’s psychiatric appts. My question for you is, how do you “force” this issue if your spouse will not allow it? My husband needs to go (our marriage counselor and his GP have pushed it), but we are separated now (for a year…hoping to “work on it”) and I have even less influence on his mental care. He is just now starting to see a counselor after the almost insistence by the counselor that our children are seeing because of the separation. I am praying he will “insist” that my husband see a psychiatrist. He is already on antidepressants for “anxiety” and has been for 8 years. I am convinced that he is really bipolar II (per much research and talking w counselors). Mental illness can be such a pivotal player in marriage- distorting the reality of the partnership and of the family unit. I love him – want him well- want our family to be whole, but have no idea how to be sure that his counselor and potential psychiatrist get reliable information from my husband…seems essential, as you said, for the spouse to be part of this discussion. Any help would be so greatly appreciated.

    • Thanks for your comment — I’m sorry you and your husband are going through a hard time. You can’t really “force” the issue of psychiatry, but be honest with your husband about why you think it’s important for your family that he try doing things differently than he has in the past. Given that you’re separated, it might be a harder sell than it would be otherwise, but is there anything that he has wanted you to do in the past that you’ve not been willing to try? Perhaps you could agree to do something he wants you to do in exchange for him going to see a psychiatrist with you.

      Again, very sorry that you’re dealing with this. Best of luck to you and your family.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I recently found your blog while i was researching bipolar disorder. I am 27 years old and have been trying to cope with a bipolar mother for most of my life. Over the last few months her symptoms have become worse and worse, and on a more regular basis. My father, 2 sisters and brother need help and don’t know how to go about it. She knows she’s ill and says she’ll get help but as soon as she tries she instantly thinks we are trying to send her away and then refuses to get help! It is so difficult since I am now married and trying to figure out my life and still try to be there to help my father manage this. I was hoping you could give me some advice on how we could seek help and get her to stick to it.

    • I am so sorry you’re in this situation. My mother-in-law was an alcoholic who died from her disease because she was never willing to admit she had a problem or get treatment, so I know how tough this kind of thing can be.

      Have you ever sought counseling for yourself regarding how to handle your mother’s illness? Has your father? That would be my biggest piece of advice here — to encourage you, your dad and your siblings to speak with a counselor and/or go to NAMI Family-to-Family class. I found both the class and speaking with a counselor really helpful in dealing with my husband’s illness and my feelings surrounding it. Both gave me good strategies for how to cope with his symptoms, as well as help and support in dealing with the anxiety and fear that his illness brought up in me.

      The more help YOU get, the more equipped you’ll be to deal with whatever happens with your mother. Ultimately, please remember that her recovery is not your responsibility. We do what we can to help the people we love, but we can’t control their reaction to our efforts. Stay strong, and please do try to find a professional or a support group to talk to.

  7. Read a lot of your posts. Scary when someone you know has a psychotic break. Doctors give meds but don’t tell you how to act. Where’s the manual? Thanks for writing.

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