OUR STORY – THEN (2003)
Living with a Bipolar spouse or Bipolar loved one
The first time we met was in 1982. At the time, we both had families and were raising small children. For the next couple of years, we maintained contact until finally the responsibilities of life and work took us in different directions. We lost touch, each of us becoming a pleasant memory in the other’s mind. It would be fifteen years until fate—and our souls—brought us back together.
In the last year of the century, on a sunny summer morning, in Oregon, we once again found each other. The following months brought our two lives and two souls together and by the following fall, we decided to move to Mazatlan, Mexico, along the western coast of the Mexican peninsula. We spent hours walking the beaches and exploring our new home. It was a quiet and in many ways idyllic time for both of us and we let the world evolve around the outer edges of our life together. The following spring found us driving, trailer in tow, across the country to the other side and Cancun.
In Cancun, things began to slowly change for us. We traveled about to the tourist areas and attractions and continued to look for a place to put our Bed and Breakfast. We were becoming increasingly concerned about our son’s education, making ends meet, and finding the right place to make and fulfill our dreams and aspirations. Finally, with the new school year approaching, we once again loaded the Jeep and the trailer and headed back to the US.
We returned to Eugene, Oregon just as the economy careened into recession, forcing us to deplete our savings. We spent the next five months in a green, lush environment, under gray and rainy skies, increasingly depressed and concerned about our situation. We needed a change, we needed jobs, and we needed sunshine.
The answer for us was Phoenix, Arizona. Warm, sunny, a booming economy it seemed perfect. We quickly purchased a house, enrolled our son in school, and Mark returned to work. For the next three months, life was very good as we made new friends and basked in the warm sunshine. Work was going well, money was starting to come in again, and things were looking up. In May, we attended Mark’s son’s wedding and returned to Arizona to find Mark’s job gone. Mark slipped into depression within days.
We are convinced that the time period described above—nine short months, from leaving Mexico to the termination in May—delivered to Mark an increasing number of triggers. These triggers, which were of varying severity and irregularly timed, ultimately allowed Mark’s Bipolar Disorder to manifest itself. Unable to recover each succeeding trigger took on greater importance, and the emotional impact aggregated until Mark hit bottom — months after it all began.
As days became weeks and his depression increased, Mark’s physician prescribed Zoloft, Celexia, and then Effexor. Each would work for about three months and then Mark would once again be raging.
Even as he began attending real estate school in an attempt to realize his long time dream of selling real estate, he seemed to just be going through the motions. Something was clearly wrong. Mark gradually became distant, less and less communicative, unable to concentrate, and he was almost continually critical as he continued to battle his depression, which was frequently followed by periods of optimism and heightened activity and energy.
By fall, Mark had changed real estate companies after having lost a sale to his supervisor, and as a consequence of the move he had to rebuild his clientele and business. Mark is intelligent, educated and driven, yet here he was, suddenly and inexplicably struggling to get his feet underneath him. In addition, he had become disturbingly withdrawn.
In an effort to find out what was wrong, I started to read about depression and related illnesses. In an effort to find support and answers, I began attending Al-Anon meetings and discussing what was happening at home. At the end of a meeting one night, a fellow group member suggested to me that Mark might be suffering not only from depression but might possibly be bipolar. I returned to the books and the Internet, looking for as much
Gone was the dream of opening a Bed and Breakfast as the future became increasingly clouded by the rapidly changing moods that Mark was experiencing. It was clear that something was terribly wrong and we both needed professional help.
Enter the world of psychiatrists and therapists. After making several calls, we located a doctor, an MD and a Ph.D., who was apparently at the top of her field and well respected. Almost immediately, she decided Mark was, indeed, depressed, but since there was no history of mental illness in his family he was, clearly a victim of ADHD, coupled with a case of situational depression. Ritalin would solve everything.
By spring, the doctor was regularly increasing the dosage of Ritalin as Mark’s body adjusted to each dosage level and his mood swings heightened. His real estate efforts came to a stop and he languished about the house, alternating between even deeper depression and briefly elevated moods, a warning sign of Bipolar Disorder. Mark would swing from extreme highs of obsessive-compulsive behavior accompanied by periods of raging back down to severe depression.
In late May, Mark returned to Oregon to work on our property there and prepare it for sale. What should have been a two-week project of cleanup and preparation became a six-week odyssey of obsessive-compulsive driven attempts at perfection, along with manic behavior.
On the 4th of July, I returned home in the afternoon and found Mark curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, screaming that he just wanted to die. I called an old friend, a retired therapist, and he immediately saw Mark. An hour later he had determined that Mark’s problem was Bipolar Disorder.
He took Mark off of the Ritalin immediately! Mark’s doctor dug back through her case files and noted that her original inclination had been to diagnose him as bipolar. Now, given all that had happened, she prescribed Lamictal and sent us home again.
Four days later, Mark walked into the kitchen, put his arms lovingly around me, and said, "I love you so much. It feels like I have been out of my body for so long."
In the weeks that followed, as we inquired into the medical (and mental) history of various family members, we uncovered a long history of mental illness, suicides, and odd stories about relatives who were labeled eccentric or just lazy. As Mark slowly, painfully, began talking about his childhood and I began asking questions of his family, huge gaps of time about which he had no knowledge or memories were filled by stories from his dad and siblings.
As a result of my struggles to find out what was wrong, and in a desire to help others avoid the problems that I encountered, I decided that I needed to pass on to others all I had learned, Mark and I founded the Meehl Foundation and created a web sites at www.meehlfoundation.org, to help others deal with Bipolar Disorder and to let them know that they are not alone.
Today, with medication and therapy, life is calmer, and, after going through what often seemed like the fires of hell, Mark and I are much closer. In between learning how to handle everyday strife and stress Mark now writes and works around the house. Together we research information for the Meehl Foundation and for the web sites and our seminars and workshops.
Williamsburg Virginia NASW
March 23, 2013
Palm Springs, CA