I Tried a Support Group Because My Partner is BiPolar: Guest Blog by KJ
Never in a million years did I ever think I’d say, “Hi. My name is KJ and my partner has bipolar disorder.” And no, it’s not the bipolar partner part that surprises me- it’s that I would share this information with a bunch of strangers in a support group. How did I get here???
I struggle with what to tell, if anything, of my partner’s story because it’s not mine to tell. But her story is why I sought support, so I think it’s important to share some of it. My girlfriend told me early into our relationship that she is bipolar. She asked if we could have a cocktail before giving me all of the gory details. And they were gory. Seven years ago, she slipped way, way down in to a dark place and did the unthinkable- took a bunch of pills, slit her wrists and tried to stab herself in the heart. She got as close to death as you can get. Thankfully, she survived; the doctors patched up her severed mammary artery and reworked her med plan. She describes it as a detachment where she wasn’t herself. She wasn’t in control. That part terrifies me. I’m planning on a life with this woman… What if it happens again? What if I don’t see it coming? I don’t want to burden my friends these horrific details and she, understandably, doesn’t want to rehash it. So, where do I go to discuss my fears? Where can I go and not be judged for loving her completely? Say it with me, kids: a support group!
I signed up for the NAMI Family to Family class a couple of months ago. It’s a 12-week course where we go through every mental illness, its symptoms and treatments and share personal experiences and advice. My goal was to learn more about bipolar disorder and, hopefully, meet some other people who are dealing with similar issues. I’ve spent my fair share of time in therapy, but never considered anything outside of one-on-one help until now.
The first couple of times I went to class, I felt like I was intruding. My situation isn’t that extreme, so I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. I don’t have a son who is schizophrenic and have to manage calls from the police on a regular basis. I don’t have a sister who refuses to take her meds and has lost her job, her home, and her touch with reality. I don’t have terrible first hand experiences to share. What I have is fear of the unknown and the struggle to rectify that horrible image from that horrible day. I know what is possible and I never want to see it. Regardless, I stuck with the group and came to realize that just being there lightens the load a little- like magic. It’s amazing to be in a circle of acceptance and unconditional support. There is no judgment and I am welcome. I am also reminded of how well my girlfriend manages her illness. I hope I never need a shoulder to cry on, but I’m glad to know it’s there. I’m also happy to know that I can provide one, too.
Every member of that group wrestles with the stigma around mental illness. If she was in a ghastly car accident or had battled cancer, nobody would question my desire for a future with her. But add a mental illness into the mix and your friends might be a little more concerned. My best friend asked if I was sure I wanted to go down this road. I told her that I’ve dated a lot of crazy girls- at least this one’s got a diagnosis and medication. And, honestly, she’s amazing. She has that light in her eye and love of life that is infectious. Everybody loves her. You would never guess she’s bipolar.
I’m doing my part to make sure she’s safe, loved, and supported no matter what. This means learning the warning signs, keeping notes, knowing what’s necessary for her to be healthy. Fortunately, she is incredibly self-aware and is able to catch herself when she’s drifting up or down. Her disorder is hardly an issue in our lives. I am grateful she’s so on top of it! On the other hand, she has the scars to remind us both of what can go horribly wrong.
She fell into the pit at 21… then deeper, near the point of no return, at 31. I’m a little worried about what 41 has in store for us. And if the shit does hit the fan, at least I know I won’t be alone.