September 18, 2017

How My Bipolar Diagnosis Affected My Marriage

How My Bipolar Diagnosis Affected My Marriage

This is something that I've been debating writing about, mainly because I feel ashamed. None of this really came to light until after I was diagnosed with bipolar, on the correct meds, and feeling 100% better than I did just two months prior. When Jerry and I had a heart-to-heart about this, I felt terrible. Ashamed.

I want to start by saying that I really hit the jackpot when I met Jerry.

He is nothing short of a saint for going through all that he has with me, and still loving me more than ever. I am so grateful that I had him through all these years of the ups and downs with my emotions. I can't even count the number of times that I told him to leave me, because he deserved someone so much better than me. Without him, I certainly would not have gotten better; in that way, I'm glad he stayed. But I wouldn't have blamed him one bit if he couldn't take it anymore.

(To be clear, I was cutting his hair, not stabbing him in the head with a knife, haha)

One big symptom of bipolar is overreacting to very small things. I can remember times where I flew off the handle from something as minute as Jerry buying the wrong brand of whatever at the grocery store. I knew at the time that I was being irrational, but I couldn't help myself. He always stayed so patient with me, and this was before I was ever diagnosed!

One of the first people I told about the diagnosis was my friend Adam, who has no problem being blunt and to the point. He told me that it makes sense, because for a long time in my 20's, I was "buggin'" (his way of saying that I was just being nagging and irrational in my relationship with Jerry). He said I got mad about stupid things. I knew this was true; and thankfully, it wasn't nearly as bad for these last several years.

bipolar meme

Jerry and I have been married for 14 years and together for 18 years, so he has certainly spent a lot of time dealing with my hypomanic and depressive episodes (each have their own drawbacks). It wasn't until after my diagnosis of bipolar this year that we finally realized it wasn't simply a bad personality trait, but that it was a mental illness--and that it could actually be helped.

The relief we each felt from that realization was almost palpable. We actually had hope that I wasn't going to be dealing with these ups and downs to the extreme for my entire life. Most of all, I felt so much better that it wasn't entirely my fault.

Over the next couple of months, I noticed that as I was getting better and better, Jerry just didn't seem himself. He almost seemed upset sometimes (in a sad way, not in an angry way). I couldn't imagine why my being better would make him react that way. So, we had a candid talk, and it made so much sense. But still, I felt shame in a way that hurts me to even think about right now.

Jerry said that for years, he was always very worried about me--not just at home, but he worried all day long at work. After work, he made sure to rush right home to see if I needed help with anything or if there was anything he could do to make my life easier. I didn't know this, but he turned down invitations to go out for drinks with the guys after work, do something fun on the weekends, etc.

When I learned these things, I felt so bad that he felt he needed to take care of me in that way. I'm not sure what would have happened if things had been different, but I sure wish that I had known and I like to think that I would have encouraged him to go out with friends. He missed out on a lot of fun opportunities because he wanted to take care of me.

After my diagnosis, and taking the correct medication, I became MUCH more easy-going. I didn't snap at stupid things; I was able to stay calm when I normally would have been irritated; I became very independent by doing ALL of the things that needed to be done around the house; and in general, I was just a much easier person to live with. I felt like a great wife!

So why wouldn't Jerry be thrilled? When we talked about it, he said that he wasn't sure what to do with himself now. He felt like I just didn't need him anymore, so he was a little lost. Meanwhile, I felt like I was unburdening him and being the wife that I always wanted to be.

I talked to my therapist about this, and she suggested that we each find separate hobbies and do things on our own. And then, when we do spend time together, we make it special. Not just a sit-on-the-couch-and-watch-TV togetherness, but that we actually play a game, go on a date, go for a bike ride around town, etc.

It was so funny when I came home and told Jerry about my session, and what my therapist suggested. We hesitantly asked each other what our thoughts were about it, and again--we both felt a huge sense of relief. We had each wanted to do our own separate things lots of times, but we felt guilty. Jerry works a lot, and when he's home, I've always felt that I should spend all of my time with him. And he feels like he should spend all of his free time with the kids and me.

Once this was out in the open, we talked about how sometimes he wants to do yard work or something, but feels bad; and I said that sometimes I have things I need to get done, but I feel bad. And we loved my therapist's idea of doing our own separate things much of the time, and then when we do spend time together, it will be because we really want to and it will be quality time. We'll have things to talk about and we won't be worried about what else we have to get done.

Previously, when Jerry would have 2-3 days off in a row, the house would look terrible by the time he went back to work--because I neglected all housework to spend time with him (even though we weren't doing anything special). Now, I do the housework I need to get done, even on his days off; I write blog posts when I plan to, whether he's home or not; and I make plans with friends without worrying about taking time away from him.

Likewise, Jerry can relax when he gets home from work, or make plans with friends, or work on something in the yard or garage. We still see each other, but we aren't sitting around twiddling our thumbs and thinking about what we could do or what we could talk about.

Since all of this has happened, we are both feeling so much better! Jerry no longer worries about me all the time, and I feel like I'm very stable and independent. Jerry doesn't feel like I don't need him anymore, and I am happy that I'm not a burden anymore (he says I never was a burden, but I know that I clearly was). I never meant to be so difficult, and he knows that.

I think I'll always feel a nagging guilt about Jerry having spent so many years worrying about me and putting up with my bipolar cycles (including 10 months of depression last year!). But this whole experience has made us much closer as a couple, and I think we are happier now than we ever have been. Even with my being on the "crazy" spectrum, I am much happier now than before my diagnosis.

I asked Jerry if he would be interested in writing a guest post or doing a Q&A about what it's like to be married to someone with mental illness (depression, bipolar, anxiety...) and/or tips for helping a spouse who is going through it. He said sure, so if any of you have questions for him, feel free to comment or you can send them in an email: Katie (at) runsforcookies (dot) com.


  1. So many couples refuse to talk, seek counseling, etc while you two have made the effort to continue to grow. Im grateful to know and love both of you. #blunt #buggin

  2. Thanks for sharing this.
    I wish more people would be open so stigma would start to reduce and others would not feel alone or that mental health issues are a thing to hide.

  3. Good for you two for always sticking by each other, supporting each other and loving each other. It's great to see a couple stay together and work through the tough times and not just give up on each other.

  4. You guys are truly an inspiration and an image of what marriage really is. <3

  5. My question: Looking back, what would you (Jerry) do differently (in the years prior to the bipolar diagnosis)?

  6. I love your therapist's suggestion about you each doing your own thing most of the time and then when you're together, really being together.

    I think it's important to have that kind of balance -- and to take the stress or pressure away that sometimes comes when you feel like you should be entertaining one another.

  7. I just wanted to say how much I love your love! Most certainly inspirational!!

  8. I think this is wonderful, and I'm happy for you. I think, though, and I hope this will come with time, that you need to lose the guilt. It doesn't serve either of you. I say this as the queen of guilt, so do what I say, not what I do, but you both know what you have, and that is what is important.

  9. As the spouse of a person with mental illness, please believe your husband when he says you weren't a burden and try to let go of the guilt. If the situation were reversed and you were "taking care" of him, would you feel this was a burden to you? On some level yes, but mostly you would probably just assume taking care of your spouse comes along with marriage, that it's what you signed up for, and that it feels good to be able help your spouse. My husband has a mental illness and I have a physical one. Whenever he gets on his pity party about how I'm "stuck" with him, I just remind him that some day he will be pushing me around in a wheelchair, dressing me, and a bunch of other stuff. It's a give and take in marriage. Some day it will be your turn to take care of your husband.

  10. This is a wonderful post. I have tears in my eyes right now...And--I was just going to request that Jerry write a guest post, again. I remember his other one and it was great.

    I wish you both much happiness. You two deserve it.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing that. The advice you had given me in th past privately hS been amazing mind you on how to be supportive for my husband. I would personally love it if Jerry wrote a post about it as well!

  12. Thank you for sharing. A lot of what you said really hit close to home for me. My boyfriend of 12 years and I have gone through these issues; him worrying about me when he's at work and I'm alone, him rushing home after work and missing opportunities to do things on his own, us spending all of our free time together, even when we don't really enjoy ourselves... Many times the strain of my mental health issues on our couple almost broke us up. I'm glad that you and Jerry are still going strong. It is a testament to your love and it is inspirational.

  13. Thanks again for being Real!! You two are definitely in it for the long haul :D

  14. I love to see how you and Jerry grow together, and I think your honesty is so valuable. Thanks for sharing your life the way you do.

  15. So much of this sounds similar to my marriage. I struggle with anxiety, which comes and goes, and my husband does the same thing. Sometimes it's as if he lives solely to make me happy and to take care of me, so I know how you feel with the guilt. Sometimes I need extra help to get through a tough time and when I don't, I bet he goes through what Jerry has been going through (in feeling less needed). This is such a good post, Katie. It made me think a lot and I am going to share it with my husband! I'd love to hear Jerry's perspective, too! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  16. I am so glad that you have each other's support, and that you talk to each other. My husband suffers from depression, and sometimes it's very hard to deal with it. However, I try to remind myself that however bad I feel, he must feel a million times worse. I wrote a blog post about my experience of it - if you're interested, it's


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