By: Julie A. Fast
***The following is part one of an article from Julie A. Fast, the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner. In today’s post, Julie gives realistic and positive ideas for a joyful special occasion when a partner has bipolar disorder. Part two of the article includes a special webinar from Julie where she discusses exactly how to put the ideas in the article into action.***
What creates a strong relationship? There is love of course, but as you know, love is no match for the ups and downs created by bipolar disorder. What else keeps a relationship strong? In my experience, open communication about tough topics creates the foundation of a strong relationship. What does this have to do with bipolar? I believe that couples who want to manage bipolar disorder within the relationship automatically have to get better at communication. Talking about the role mania, depression, anxiety, psychosis, irritation and anger, violence and focus problems plays in your relationship is intense! New communication skills are often needed.
Everything you do to manage this illness through talking about what you need from each other as well as from a health care team and support group in terms of bipolar is GOLD for you.
This is why your journey to learn about bipolar as a team doesn’t have to be the end of something, but instead can be the beginning of a relationship that is much, much stronger than it might have been if bipolar were not your frequent house guest.
It might be you’re at the beginning of this process and need help in general. Or maybe, it’s a special occasion such as an anniversary or Valentine’s Day and you just wish you could have a normal relationship for once that didn’t involve so much talk about this rotten illness. No matter where you are in life, I have three strategies you can use to create a relationship where bipolar disorder is not always a negative. You can also learn to see the positives that already exist in your relationship that are often hard to remember when you’re smack in the middle of a mood swing.
Treat Bipolar First. Happy couples talk about bipolar in a clinical way. This means seeing bipolar as an illness that affects your relationship on both sides. It is what you and your partner have in common. The person with bipolar has an illness that is separate from who she or he is as a human being. Put bipolar in the middle, between the two of you and deal with it as any team would deal with a problem.
Bipolar is separate from your relationship. When you treat bipolar first, as an illness, you then get to focus on your relationship like a regular couple. My book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder has a chapter called The Bipolar Conversation. It teaches you that the language of bipolar is separate from the language of a loving couple. Learn the language of bipolar and treat that as an illness first. Then, what is left is the real relationship. When a depressed person says, “I don’t love you any more,’ a few days after you have had a wonderful movie night together, it makes sense to say- is that really my partner or is it bipolar? When you realize it’s bipolar, you can move into management mode instead of the oh no he doesn’t love me any more! mode that doesn’t help anyone. Learning to do this strengthens your relationship in ways that are so beautiful I find it hard to put them into words. This means you become partners willing to deal with this illness as a team. As a consequence of treating bipolar first, you will have more time to be a loving couple with time to do the fun things in life.
Create a Bipolar Free Zone: Even in the midst of a deep depression, a breathy and uncertain anxiety or irritation that threatens to derail the dinner you planned for a special occasion, you have the ability to take time away from this illness. Learning to create a bipolar free zone takes practice, but you can use it for a special occasion as an immediate salve to any wounds you may be discussing throughout the week. Here is how it works. I like to use scripts to help people know what to say for these tricky topics, so feel free to use this script at any time. This is an example that uses Valentine’s Day here in the US, but it can be adapted for any special occasion.
Honey, Valentine’s Day is for couples in love. I love you. Times have been rough lately and I know this. We can’t deny it. But we are together for a reason and for Valentine’s Day, I am going to do something different and I would love you to join me. I am going to create what Julie Fast calls a Bipolar Free Zone. This means that from the minute we decide to celebrate our relationship as true Valentines the topic of bipolar and anything connected with bipolar is off the table. We can choose a place and a time and the minute we start our time together. We will then focus on us. What we like about each other. What we think is funny. Movies we have seen. Us. Not the kids, not work, not health, not addiction, not diets, not anything except the positives of us. We have two hours to do this. Julie suggests using a door as a gateway to the process. This means that when we walk into the door to celebrate, even if it’s at our own kitchen table with a beautiful meal and candles, that door is a signal that our evening is a bipolar free zone and it’s time to focus on why we were together in the first place. I am so looking forward to spending Valentine’s Day with you. I love you!
Scripts are written in advance and can be read aloud. This is a big topic and you might be nervous about wanting a zone where mental health is not discussed. It’s so liberating. If you try this, I hope you will write the IBPF and let us know how this worked for you.
Everything is a process. Even if you get 20 minutes of blissful time, free from bipolar, it is worth it. Soon, you will learn to take bipolar free zone days! and possibly even weeks! Of course, I am not denying the seriousness of this illness. I live with it every day, but I can tell you from personal experience, that distracting myself from my own symptoms works. Practice and don’t give up. The bipolar free zone is a vacation for the brain and it’s lovely. The surprising consequence of this simple practice? You are reminded of why you are with someone and what life is like when bipolar is not in control or always the topic of conversation. This can be calming for everyone involved.