Talking about bipolar disorder is absolutely necessary

Q: I always knew that my husband had a bit of a problem, but I did not understand how significant it was.

We recently spent time with our community’s psychiatrist and he said my husband is probably struggling with a bipolar disorder.

That threw both of us, my husband and me, for a loop. The disorder was not as noticeable in the past as it has been of late and certainly not before his father died.

My husband and his dad were close. They not only farmed together, they fished together, stopped in at various farm auctions with each other and spent a fair amount of time just driving around together in the truck.

In retrospect, it seems likely that his father had some kind of an intrinsic understanding of my husband and was able to handle the highs and lows that make bipolar disorders so challenging.

He had pretty solid control over my husband, so much so that until Dad died, I was not at all aware of how disturbed my husband was. Now that his dad has passed, my husband has been increasingly unstable, and how to manage him has been left to me.

I am not certain what to do.

I don’t want to talk to my husband about his disorder for fear of hurting his feelings, but we have to have something going so that I can step in whenever he starts to get out of hand, either spending too much of his time buying useless equipment and just junk to throw around the yard or withdrawing completely and wallowing in a mountain of despair.

I am not sure where to start, or when to start.

A: For starters, I think that you and your husband need to talk about his diagnosis as much as you possibly can. Not talking is pretending that it is not there. It would be like stealing Grandpa’s hearing aid so that he won’t hear that great, huge locomotive barreling down on the tracks on which he is sitting. He is going to get run over, just as your husband is going to get run over if his treatment is not working.

Read what you can, talk to each other about the disorder and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your doctors and the nurse to whom your husband has been referred.

The more that you talk and understand what is going on, the more likely it is that you and your husband will ask for the help he needs if and when the disorder starts spinning out of control.

It might help you to know that you are not alone in this thing. I don’t have statistics from Canada but I was able to come up with what is happening in the United States.

Down there, about 5.7 million people have been diagnosed with bipolar disorders. That is about 2.6 percent of the population. Translated to Canada, where our culture is much the same as it is in the United States, that would make an estimate of about a million Canadians reasonable. In some of our larger centres in Canada, mental health services often have support groups for both people who have been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder and for their families struggling with them. I hope that you will check that out and if possible get yourselves into groups to encourage both you and your husband.

What you need to remember when you are talking to your husband about his disorder is that it is a disorder. It is not something that he brought on himself and it is not something over which he by himself has control. You have to be careful not to blame him.

When you are talking, you are working with him and when the two of you are keeping in touch with his disorder, you are better able to figure out when the highs are too high and when the lows become too low and you can judge when it is time to seek help.

What is great about this is that the more you talk and understand the disorder, and the more you get his medication adjusted with some help from his psychiatric nurse, the better are the chances that your life circumstances will fall into your new normal with great satisfactions for both of you.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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