Instruction Manual.

The very best way to tell your future husband that you are damaged goods is to thrust a sheaf of computer printouts from the National Institute of Mental Health into his hands and say, “Here. Read this.”

Matt and I met and got engaged in a whirlwind few months during the chilly 1999 New York City fall, as the Yankees swept the Braves for the World Series. But before we married, I felt I had to make full disclosure so he could perform due diligence on me in order to make such a monumental decision.

You see, I’m bipolar. So one night, I handed him that stack of information from NIMH and whatever the 1999 equivalent of WebMD was, all about “Supporting Your Loved One With Bipolar.” “Huh,” Matt said, tossing the ream of paper onto his kitchen counter, where it sank into a sea of pizza-encrusted take-out menus and discarded Taco Bell wrappers.

I have Bipolar Type II. Bipolar 2 is the underachieving little sister of Bipolar I, which is known, in some circles, as “real bipolar.” Thanks, some circles, for making us feel like losers. “Oh,” Bipolar 1 says, “You’ve got hypomania? That’s so cute. You’ve got mild depression?  Wah, fucking, wah.”

You may remember Bipolar 2 being in the news last year, when both Catherine Zeta-Jones and Demi Lovato made big announcements about their diagnoses – riding my coattails yet again — and it almost became a thing for a few weeks.

I’ve been more or less stable for years now (right, Matt?) on an awesome handful of meds I take every morning and every night. But in the beginning of our marriage, I was still fairly newly diagnosed, still going through the roller-coaster ride of adjusting my drug cocktail. With every new prescription you try, you go through the list of questions as you feel more or less like shit:  Is it side effects that are making me feel like shit? Is it the mania making me feel like shit? Is it the depression making me feel like shit? Is it just ME feeling like shit? Who am I? Why am I here? Why am I quoting Admiral James Stockdale?

You can imagine how much fun that is for the people who share a life with you.

I prefer the old-time label “manic depressive” because it’s so perfectly descriptive of how one feels in the throes of an attack. Sometimes even still, my brain throbs with energy like a tube fluorescent bulb about to go out, flickering on and off, on and off – pulsing, and letting everyone in the room know I’m pulsing – my bluish white light fritzing ever more erratically….zzzzzt….zzzzzzzt…..zzzzzt…. Until, man, my brain is just so exhausted that with one big POP, I’m OUT, and OFF. And depressed. And the only thing that can calm me down is taking a hot shower. Forever.

Matt’s awesomeness during these episodes cannot be overstated. OK, honey, he might say, just go upstairs. I’ve got the kids. I’ve got supper. I’ve got drop-off, or pick-up, or groceries. I’m taking the kids to my folks for the day. Are you OK? Do you need anything? Do you just want us to stay the hell away? He knows now, attuned to the mood swings, when to hover, when to back off, when to bring me a root beer float.

I realized early on that Matt doesn’t really, you know, read stuff. The only books he brought into the marriage seemed to be Bloom County comic strip anthologies. So I asked him later about the “wife instruction manual” I had dumped on him that evening. He was OK with the bipolar? He didn’t have any questions? “That? I never read that,” he said. “You didn’t?????” I stared, incredulous.

No, lovely. I didn’t need to.


yeah write crowd favorite

I’m very honored that this post was voted Crowd Favorite by the Yeah, Write blogging community. It was definitely a step outside my usual comfort zone of self-mockery, and I’m floored by the positive reception. The more we tell our stories, the less the stigma. So thank you, thank you, for all the loving comments and emails of support.

About Cindy Reed

I hate pants.
This entry was posted in Marital Bliss, Self Improvement and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to Instruction Manual.

  1. love how you brought such a touchy, sensitive & personal topic into the light and made it humorous. My grandmother was bipolar and you know I suffer from depression & anxiety. I wish there wasn’t still such a stigma attached to all of these mental things. A lot of people just don’t get it.

    I’m so glad you wrote this!

  2. Greta says:

    I live you, Reedster. And now I love your husband, too. Thanks for sharing this big part of you.

  3. Kenja says:

    Awww, you have a great guy. Kudos to the strong spouses!

    Bipolar is a bitch. My dad had it and spent over 20 years self-medicating in a bottle of booze before they diagnosed him. Once he started meds he never took another drink.
    My sweet stepmom stayed and loved him through it, and he was so much better for it.

    Thank you for this real and heartfelt post.

  4. Robbie says:

    This is a different kind of post from you than most I’ve read and I LOVE it. It’s truthful and difficult yet you slip us the funny too. Matt sounds like a keeper!

  5. Cindy Moy says:

    Who isn’t damaged goods in some way? I’ve never met someone and thought, “Now there is a person in perfect mental health.” The only difference between you and “them” is that you’re willing to admit it. Rock on, Reed!

  6. Mimi says:


  7. 50Peach says:

    Oh …. just…. *sniffffffffff*. Pass me a kleenex. My lower lip stuck out at the sweetness of Matt’s response. Just goes to show that it IS possible for someone to truly “get” you. All of you. I admire your courage to write so honestly, and with your innate humor, about being bipolar. The “real” is refreshing. Brava.

  8. Delilah says:

    This post? Rocks. Seriously. I have some of those “mental health issues” as they are called in my family. snort. I know I am not easy to deal with during some of the down cycles. Postpartum crap made it so much worse and I’m still not regulated. Thank you for this post. I might just forward it on to every single member of my family who thinks that “the crazies” should be locked up because they can’t be productive members of society. I’m looking at you, Mother in law. I’m sending her this and telling her that you’re a freakin’ lawyer so BOOM!

  9. I just always love and appreciate your honesty. Thank you for sharing your heart (in a way that makes me giggle!)

  10. My sister knows when I’m too high or too low and I previously gave her a list of questions my psychiatrist asked so she can identify if I’m too high or low. The one ‘cool’ thing about being bipolar? We can provide PROOF in a blood test. My husband too is amazing, awesome and super aware.

  11. Mayor Gia says:

    Awww, what a good hubby!

  12. Carrie says:

    Wow! what a great husband you have! And how brave you are for writing something so personal and something so different than what you usually do.

    What a great post!

  13. Matt sounds amazing, and so do you.
    Mental illness is everywhere in my family, and your story was so well told and so perfectly descriptive.

  14. I love me an understanding and supportive husband!!!

  15. Julie says:

    Girl, they never read the instruction manual. 😉

    This was very sweet.

  16. I love this. You take something that is a really serious, important topic and you talk about it in a way that makes it accessible to people who do not understand. You don’t make light, but you are not overly dramatic about it (that’s a compliment, by the way). If more people could talk about this like this, there would be a lot less stigma attached. Well done.

  17. Shosh M says:

    It was so good to read this. My sister and my mom have bipolar II and anyone who says it isn’t the real bipolar didn’t grow up in my house. Amen to manic-depression. Why don’t we call a duck a duck anymore?

    • The Reedster says:

      Shosh, it’s totally real bipolar, although bipolar 1 is obviously a much more debilitating disease, what with the whole hallucinations, etc. But the incidence of addiction and suicide for all bipolar, and the fires it leaves behind for all who come in contact – yeah, that’s pretty damn real.

  18. I read everything, especially instruction manuals. There really should be an instruction manual that tells men how to operate wives and women; it would save me a lot of grief.

  19. I so love this. Sending you love.

  20. Well, to follow a comment by The Bloggess is obviously awesome, but more importantly this post is fantastic. Like Michelle Longo said, I love that you took what is a typically taboo subject and made it so real. You pulled the cover back and allowed everyone to see that it is not a dark and scary world, but in fact a world where people are funny and wear sw’obes and also have this daily condition that must be managed. Kind of like life that way.
    And Matt rocks! 🙂

  21. christina says:

    ah, what a good, good man you got.

  22. Cindy, if you whipped this post up as quickly as I think you did, then I’m impressed with your bravery but also your writing talent – this was so good, and you had a migraine to boot!

  23. Sounds like you’ve got quite a Dude. And with Catherine Zeta Jones copying your every move, it sounds like you are on quite a path 🙂

  24. they never read the manual, they never ask for directions, and somehow they manage to be all kinds of awesome. what a nice love letter. and while i know that it’s “correct” to say bipolar, I agree that “manic-depressive” is a much more accurate description of what it feels like inside and what it looks like outside. I mean, bipolar, what’s that? You’re hot your cold; you’re penguins and polar bears, what? Plus what if you don’t have a compass? Anyway. Glad the meds are working, glad your man is working for you too. Your writing is funny as hell, if that counts for anything, as well…

  25. Isn’t it great to be married to someone who is willing to do what he can to make those times easier on you? I don’t have to deal with anything close to what you live with every day, but I love it when my wife senses when things are “off” for me and gladly gives me the space/attention/understanding that I need to pull out of my funk.

    +100 husband points to Matt.

  26. Maureen says:

    LOVE this. You rock, Cindy. You’re a role model, too!

  27. Erin @Momfog says:

    My husband is bipolar. Sometimes, it’s hard but there’s a lot of funny crap that happens, too. I just try to remember that in the hard times. Matt is a sweetheart and you are hilarious.

  28. Marta says:

    Thank you my dear friend for this beautiful, bold blog. You have given us all permission to let down the walls and see us for the beautiful yet oft marred individuals that we are. Makes me love and appreciate you even more – and I didn’t know that was possible! XOXO!

  29. Ok, so first, Bloom County is awesome. Much wistful and warm smiling on my face.

    Second, I love how you describe Bipolar II. I’ve read a couple abstracts on how Bipolar disorder relates to creativity. It’s an interesting take on the old “artistic demons” argument.

    • Kay Redfield Jameson has a book about bipolar and the artistic temperament. It’s interesting, but a little dangerous because sometimes people don’t want to “give up” the manic side for fear it will stifle their creativity.

  30. ugh. i hate it when celebs copy me 🙂 but seriously? love the way you weaved your truths and his love. these men make our lives better.

  31. Cat Poland says:

    Loved this post. Loved your honesty.

  32. Christie says:

    I love your wit, humor, authenticity, and self-awareness. Your husband sounds pretty cool too. 🙂

  33. Elizabeth says:

    Wow. You described what my husband and I go through. The crazy (ha ha) thing is that he married me before I was diagnosed with OCD and manic depression– I like it better too. He has learned to ride the waves of my emotions, understanding when I need to be left alone and when I want to be with people. He has gone through multiple medicine changes with me and still sticks by me.

    Do you ever wonder why they do it? I do. I don’t think I would be as strong as he is if the roles were reversed. Thank you so much for your descriptions here of what it feels like to be on and off without a warning.

    • Elizabeth says:

      By saying that I like manic-depression better doesn’t mean that the actual thing is my favorite. I mean the terminology feels better to me. Ugh. When I read it before posting, it made perfect sense. (=

      • I understand – I don’t think anyone would like manic depression “better” unless, maybe, the alternative was, say, drilling holes in one’s head. And you know what, I’m sure you would be just as strong and supportive – and are — in ways you don’t even realize.

  34. Mel says:

    First, your husband is awesome (which is clearly not news to you). Second, you are awesome for sharing your story. I really believe that just sharing our stories can help society at large get more comfortable with mental illness. It can also, and perhaps most importantly, help specific people who might be struggling to identify and possibly seek help.

  35. Y’all are so lucky to have each other! Love your description of your brain lighting up and then turning off. My brother was married to a bipolar girl and I could just see her face and her mannerisms, the highs and lows of it all, as you described the feeling.

  36. Kathleen says:

    What a vivid description! I felt like I was inside your head feeling it with you. Brilliant writing.

    Your husband sounds like quite a fella. I love stories of couples who endure difficulties with grace and humor.

  37. Vanessa says:

    Reading this made me think your husband reads stuff – the really important stuff – your needs.

  38. Rachel says:

    Found you through @saalon – what a lovely, sweet story. 🙂

  39. Most excellent. Love it. Fucking Catherine Zeta J riding your coattails. Welsh bitch.

  40. Dang those celebrities for trying to steal your thunder. Sounds like you won the matchmaking lottery with your guy though. Well done.

  41. I love your description of bipolar 2. My husband had (has?) that diagnosis, and told me about it on our first date. Not sure why I was undaunted, but by the third (we moved really quickly) we were visiting his therapist to talk about the prospect of mental illness in our unborn children. His charm outweighed any thoughts that his mental illness could complicate our life. And it still does….

  42. laurel says:

    “No, lovely. I didn’t need to.”

    That line made me well up with tears. True love is wonderful.

  43. Beautiful and touching with the right touch of wit. Great post.

  44. Deb says:

    Thanks for being so out there and candid, Cindy. You’re the best of the best and I so appreciate every bit of you and your willingness and courage to increase awareness and decrease stigma for people with mental illness. And to do so in your one-of-a-kind humorous manner.

  45. Elisa says:

    Hi Cindy- U fucking rock.

  46. This was beautiful! I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 with Rapid Cycle when I was 17. I knew I had the disease but it took a couple of years for everyone else to catch on. My mother found this article and suggested I read it. She went to high school with you (Sarah Tiede). I’m glad you were able to find someone so supportive. It’s so important with a mental or mood disorder. Thanks to the strong support and love from particularly my parents in high school, I was able to be diagnosed at a young age. Although it was not a fun diagnosis to receive your junior year in high school when you are thinking about college, but because of that I have been able to find my drug cocktail, counseling, and learn about my disorder. It is so refreshing to hear your story, which involves the good and the bad. Thanks for sharing!

    ~Angela Nicole

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