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.”
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.