Positive demotions and Mental Health Awareness within relationships

January 21 2015 | Guest post by Catherine
Bipolar
By: Nicola Jones – CC BY 2.0

My wife is bipolar. For her, that means a life full of mediocre, less-than-positive contentment. And that's all when she is at her absolute best. When she is having an episode of either mania or depression life is awful and she doesn't want to live.

But we are working on understanding it. We are working together with individual therapists, a psychiatrist, a couple's counselor, a bipolar support group, and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family-to-Family classes. We are working, individually and collectively, on understanding her abilities and limitations.

I use the word "limitation" in a neutral, guilt-free, shame-free way. Limits are defined as "the final, utmost, or furthest boundary or point as to extent, amount, continuance, procedure, etc." So let's stop putting stigma and negativity on that word when it is empowering to remove the shame and acknowledge that we all have limits.

My wife recognizes her exact limitations — learning what she can and cannot do, and in the process learning what she can and cannot handle.

For example, she currently has a very prominent job at an institution of higher learning. And she is consciously leaving it. In leaving her prestigious, well-paying, highly-praised, highly-important position on campus, for a less-prestigious, less-well paying, less-praised-but-still-equally-important position on another campus, she is making a supremely mature decision.

As I mentioned before, I am in a NAMI class for family members of people with severe mental illness. In a recent class, we went over this worksheet:

NAM1-001

We discussed where we were on the chart as family members/caregivers. I'm bouncing between 2.5 and 3 in regards to the emotions section.

Then we talked about where we thought our family members with mental illness were. According to me, she is all over the charts depending on whether or not she's in an episode or stable. But when she's stable she's right there with me around 2.5

It was a great conversation once I got home, to have with her. We agreed on where we were but it was empowering to have the resource and the conversation.

Thanks to NAMI, she has words, and a diagram, and a physical piece of paper to hold, that helped her recognize where she was, where I am, where we are together, and where we are individually. And it was wonderful.

This conversation that we had, (and these conversations that NAMI provides us with the tools for having) along with this "positive demotion," create excellent opportunities for us to be in a place, physically, mentally, individually, and as a couple, that we will be healthier and happier.

Self realization, self actualization and empowerment FTW!

  1. Your wife is lucky to have such an involved and understanding partner.

    Limitations are hard to get used to, let me tell you. I've suffered from depression basically since my pre-teen years (I'm 31 now), and only started to get treatment right before I went off to college. And even then, treatment really doesn't "help" me. But I've learned what self-care looks like, how to avoid major depressive episodes, and what I can and cannot do.

    I graduated cum laude from a well-known and prestigious university. For the past year and a half, I've worked as an associate manager in corporate food service on the same campus where I went to school. It's a job that's beneath my education and skills, and yet, I'm grateful I can hold it down. I have health insurance! I have an actual salary! My husband and I could buy our first house, all thanks to this job. I know in my heart that a more stressful job would be too much for me, and could very well push me into another (life-threatening) depressive episode.

    I often get a bit sad that I'm not using my college degree for something "more". That I left graduate school because of my depression. That my closest friends are all doctors or lawyers and making more money than I will ever dream of. But then I take an honest look at my life – my beautiful, wonderful life – and realize that I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I own a home with a loving husband. We have a dopey dog together who just wants to play all the time. We have enough money to spend on luxuries like eating out when we want to. I have a welcoming and loving church community. We live in a part of the country where snow is infrequent and sunny days are plentiful.

    Depression will always be lurking in the bushes, waiting to pounce. But by acknowledging and adhering to personal limitations, I can keep the monster at bay, and actually enjoy this life I've been given.

    • Thank you for putting into words exactly what I feel! My job is…fine. It doesn't excite me and it's far below my abilities. But it is stable, and stability is what keeps the anxiety from becoming all-consuming. Seeing my friends become so successful professionally and financially when I know I could have achieved something similar can be painful. But when I'm truly honest with myself, I know that the cost of that achievement would have been too much to bear for me. I live my beautiful life to the best of my abilities, and that's all I can reasonably expect from myself! Something I heard a few years ago that really resonated with me is "comparison is the thief of joy." I do have to remind myself of this at times; and remember that comparing myself to some hypothetical, possible "me" is just as damaging as comparing myself to others.

  2. My husband has A.D.D. and I have a Panic Disorder. We're just starting out together, but so far it seems as if our issues are fairly compatible. My panic gives me a need to over organize and prepare for any eventuality. He's not good at organizing, but is good at handling crisis situations, which is something I'm not good at. We're still learning how to coexist with our issues, but so far so good.

  3. I love what you said about limits. Everyone always considers it a bit of a dirty word. I don't have a mental illness, but an 'invisible' physical illness. When I talk about limiting my responsibilities or social engagements to others, they try to encourage me to do more and to put myself out there. It is difficult to make others understand that knowing and adhering to your limitations actually allows you to do more than attempting everything.

    • I wish more people understood limits. I have generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression. There are some things I just can't do sometimes, or at all. But I am told, "buck up! quit being sensitive! just push through and you'll be fine." This is always from someone who does not have a mental illness (or invisible illness), or someone who refuses to see that they too have limits because of whatever. Or they are also mentally ill but they have slapped such a stigma on it that they won't recognize it. Then there are the ones who say "well it could be worse, you could be bipolar, so you should suck it up" or "GAD isn't as bad as agoraphobia, so you should be more grateful". Having had agoraphobia (yay for counseling!) I know how bad it can be. That's why I don't downplay my GAD.

      I've learned to tune those people out – the whole lot of them. Even the ones who say what I have is not as bad as… Ridiculous.

      I think, in America at least, that we live in this world of go go go. And if you're not going, for whatever reason, you're not as strong as your co-workers, your peers, your neighbors, your siblings…add anyone you care to. I work in a university filled with people who won't stop until they are crazy sick. Two have been hospitalized. It's only a matter of time when the third will hit the same mark. But they have this belief that the world and everything will STOP if they limit themselves. They believe this because the people above them on the food chain tell them that. Because the people above THEM tell them that… it's a vicious cycle. And it's hurtful and wrong.

  4. This is such a well-timed article for me. I am probably at a 1, 1.5 right now, and just trying to figure out where I go from here. Trying to figure out what is "wrong" with me. I've been diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, but I suspect A.D.D. as well, which is exacerbating the problems I have with anxiety. Lately it's been difficult for me to leave the house, thanks to the panic attacks I get when I'm in public spaces. I am definitely going to share this with my wife, who's been such a great help with my illness, and is learning to understand where I'm coming from. Thanks so much!

  5. When I first moved fifteen hundred miles away from my family to join my now-husband in Missouri, it also happened to be the first time in about two years that I was off my medication. I had just graduated from college, and I didn't have my own insurance.
    I suffer from clinical depression. And even knowing how mild my depression is compared to many other sufferers, I never want to go through that again. I become a person I don't recognize, lashing out at the people I care about because I can't feel anything and it scares me. I was working as a waitress at the time, and every ounce of my ability to put on a smile and power through it was used up by the time I got home.
    Even past our wedding, when I should have been on his insurance but again had difficulties obtaining my medication, I had a period of about three months where I felt completely out of my own control. We had some of the worst fights of our relationship, over the stupidest things, in front of close friends. And at the end of one of those fights, as I was crying in the kitchen telling him he never should have married me, that we shouldn't have done this, that I was too damaged to handle it, he grabbed me and held me tight and said that he would never regret marrying me, never.
    I have help now. I'm on a regimen (I should probably have therapy, too, but I'm doing fine.) and due to my husband's job, I have the privilege of being a housewife and deciding each day what I can handle. I have the support and love of a small but wonderful group of people here, and the great joy of moving home to Florida in under a year when my husband leaves the army. There, amongst family and friends, I plan to undertake one of the biggest challenges in my life, opening a cafe. And despite the occasional (fully justified) attack of nerves, I know I can do it. I know that with the people I love supporting me, those who have been through it on their own, and those who have survived me at my worst, I can do anything. I will take on this stress and power through it, in a way I was positive I never could.

  6. Thanks for this post!

    I'm currently in the process of leaving academia (both for my own mental health and for the health and happiness of my partner and his children). I need to be a good step-parent, a good person, and a wonderful wife/partner not a stressed-out, miserable person. My therapist believes I am doing it for all the right reasons, too. Explaining to her the way that academia works and how it's like an organized crime family this morning was interesting. She can't believe how stressful processing out is – not only because I'm bipolar and have OCD – but because it really is such a definite leave. I have confidence I will find an excellent job in the public or private sector within a few months. Until then, I am keeping it hush hush.

    It's hard. I'm glad your wife and you found a way to figure it out and she's doing the best thing for her. Being at an R-1 currently and being terribly miserable makes me realize it's not a good fit. That's not to say it makes me less of a person or less of an intelligent individual. It just means I am smart enough to know my limitations, needs, and desires. Thanks for putting it this way.

    • oh my gosh, it IS like a mob crime family!! That is honestly the BEST description I have ever read.

      I've managed to find a balance so far, with 4 day weeks at a community college in a program that I believe in. I need to have the down time to recoup from the week, and the summers to recover from the school year!

      • Academia is a crime family! I hate it. It's so…nasty. Wow, what a great descriptive word for this insanity that we live in.

  7. Great post! I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (officially for exactly 10 years now, but really since I was a teenager). I tend to face flare-ups of anxiety after embarking on something new – not at the very start of something new, but after the glow of newness has faded a bit and I'm confronted with the reality of my new job/project/program. However, for me, it has often been better to keep going.

    At the start of my anxiety story, I was hospitalized towards the beginning of my second semester of graduate school. After that, my (brand new) psychiatrist suggested taking the semester off, but that didn't really sound right to me, and my adviser concurred with me. I learned a lot about taking care of myself and managing my anxiety that semester, and I had to learn fast, but I did it. And I don't think taking a semester off would have been the right choice at all. Right now (10 years later), I'm starting the second semester of my first "real" job, and I'm encountering more severe anxiety than I've felt in a long time. But for me (again, this is just me), this is really not a sign that I need to step back. It's actually a sign that I need to keep moving forward. But I also know that it's a sign I need to take REALLY GOOD care of myself and listen to my mental and physical needs. I might not have the "luxury" of the kind of stress that some of my colleagues encounter, but in the long run that's probably for the best.

  8. I am glad to hear that you're also attending couples' counseling. When we first got married, my husband and I went to a couples counselor to help us through the crazy transition of getting married. On top of it, my husband and I both work on our mental health through therapy, meditation, self care, etc.. Recently we both went through huge breakthroughs in our individual therapy work, and realized we needed help getting to re-know each other. So we went back to our couples' counselor, years after we "graduated".
    Just know that this is a process and a practice. You may have to come back to some of the therapists, counselors, or classes later on to do some refresher work. Keep with it!

    • I love how you put that: "know that this is a process and a practice." For many of us, this is life, all day every day.
      I'm so grateful i came across this article tonight. I actually just got off the phone with my mother, and for the first time was able to open up and "confess" to her that I've been struggling with anxiety and ineffective meds for some time now. What a relief to come clean!
      I don't know where i am within those steps, but thank you to the op for posting that NAMI document. It's so helpful – and hopeful – to see that there is progress to be made. Best wishes to you ASL on your journeys.

  9. I never finished collegend because of bipolar disorder and anxiety. I worked office administration jobs bu the stress got to me and trying to do therapy was hard. Mostly having to leave, dig up emotions and then go right back to work.

    Nowe I'm in a retail job I really like. I've turned down a supervisory position because I wasn't ready emotional. I'm full time and put in 40ish hours a week. I have set days off during the week so I can go to therapy weekly and have a day to either process and recover or do other appointments.
    I'm in my eaearly 40s so to some it may seem like I'm not doing well in life or failing. But the most important thing is healing and being able to live my life better. So I have a job that I like that I can work around my needs rather than putting off my needs because I can't work my job around them.

  10. So grateful to the offbeat empire for posting these kinds of articles. It makes my heart feel lighter to be reminded that I am not alone. And what an inspiration to see other couples work through mental health problems together in a positive and nurturing way!

  11. Is the "individual living with mental illness" listed in the reference title the patient or the partner of the patient? I assumed the information contained in the chart was intended for the patient to help them understand where they are on an emotional scale, but then I read the bit where you rank yourself and I became confused. (I'm sorry if I'm being a bit daft about it.)

    I suppose, since you are involved in family support classes and writing from the perspective of the support in the relationship, that there isn't any reason for a chart that speaks to a patient who hasn't anyone, but do you know if one exists? Not to be too melodramatic, but looking over the chart and seeing how much support is required for someone going through severe depression and other mental illness issues, it kind of knocked me for a loop thinking about how bleak it is for those who must deal with it all on their own.

  12. I just want to say thank you for mentioning the awesomeness of NAMI. Many don't know that NAMI exists. NAMI is FREE everyone. The classes are there to help. I am so glad that your state had a class that could benefit your family. Cheering for both of you! May you find success!

  13. Last fall, when I received the news that the wife of one of my oldest and dearest friends took her own life I was dumbfounded. I simply couldn't wrap my head around this news…she was the epitome of all I thought was right and good in this world. She had an awesome husband, 3 beyond cool kids and was the director of a center that worked with at "at-risk" youth. All that aside, she was always "happy" when I saw her, optimistic, basically the kind of person one is naturally drawn to-so a lot of us were shocked at the news.

    In the days after her death, my friend send out small group emails letting us know that his wife had been diagnosed as Bipolar many years ago and that it was important to her that this be kept as secret as possible. The email detailed the struggles they faced with her diagnosis between the happy times and that there were usually "clues" when a difficult time was looming just ahead. This time however, there was no indication anything was wrong, no sign of discontent, no kind of warning at all. He came home one day and found her lifeless body and a note that included goodbyes to each child, my friend and where donations could be directed. He chose to share this information with us in case we may be close to someone living with mental illness, encourage us to talk about it and spread information. Thanks for putting this article out there and thanks for referencing NAMI, they are a fantastic resource for individuals and families who's lives are affected by mental illness.

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