“To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, so long as we both shall live.”
I have said those vows twice in my life.
My first marriage ended in 2014. Truth be told, it had crumbled long before that. I was addicted to opiates for years leading up to our divorce.
I never realized that my addiction to prescription pills and other drugs was largely due to the fact that I had bipolar disorder. I was coping in an unhealthy way and chasing happiness when it felt completely unattainable.
Undiagnosed bipolar disorder can wreak havoc on all aspects of your life. Manic episodes, combined with irritability and compulsiveness, followed by the sudden drop into depression, can make it impossible for any relationship to thrive.
My current husband and I just celebrated our seventh anniversary. It’s been beautiful and messy, and profoundly complicated at times.
Even after my initial diagnosis, which ended my first marriage, I still did not accept the fact that I had bipolar disorder. I completely ignored the advice of mental health professionals.
Several years later, after I remarried, it took a psychotic break (another symptom of bipolar disorder 1) to fully get the help I needed.
My psychotic break included an overnight trip to jail when I was arrested for domestic violence. I scratched my husband in the face in a fit of manic rage, and when he threatened to take my children away, I called the police.
The police came and quickly saw the marks on my husband and none on me. They read me my rights and next thing I knew, I was cuffed and headed to jail.
I can’t think straight when I’m manic. “How did I get here?” I wondered as I sat alone in my cell. I had two kids, 15 months apart. Two under two. I couldn’t handle it.
I was unmedicated. Manic. And — most of all — alone.
After my overnight stay, I was involuntarily checked into a psychiatric facility. I was diagnosed with bipolar a second time and I finally took it seriously. I could’ve lost my children. My husband. My family. The relationships that mean the most to me.
I knew immediately I needed to take control over my life.
The first step for me to heal was to acknowledge that I have a chronic condition.
The next steps included:
- medication management
- relying on my support systems and relationships
Accepting my bipolar diagnosis and finally taking control of my disorder caused a ripple effect within my relationships.
They’re more stable. Connected. And — most of all — safe. Within this acceptance, I’ve learned a lot of things to help strengthen them.
Foremost among them is knowing that domestic violence is never OK.
Abuse in any shape or form should never be tolerated. It was wrong for me to physically put my hands on my husband. Truth be told, I had hurt him in other ways too. It’s true when they say that words hurt.
Having bipolar disorder is not an excuse to hurt other people. It can be an explanation, but never an excuse.
Accept that people will hurt you, too.
Humans are flawed. We’re not perfect individuals. People can also hurt us unintentionally.
Perspective goes hand in hand with empathy. I couldn’t see from anyone else’s point of view for a long time. I was either too hurt or too bitter to see their side, and consumed by my own daily struggle, I projected my own feelings onto them.
Finally, I’ve also learned to honor my wedding vows.
“For better or for worse.”
Loving someone when things are good is easy. But it’s taking the bad moments and still loving them anyway that make relationships sustainable.
“In sickness and in health.”
Issues such as chronic or debilitating health conditions, addiction, and mental illness can test relationships. The answer lies in finding the strength to stand by your partner when only one of you can be strong. Unconditional love combined with compassion maintains relationships through hardship.
Hang onto hope
All relationships ebb and flow. There are moments of joy, and also moments of pain.
Having bipolar disorder can amplify these feelings. However, being bipolar does not always have to hinder your partnership.
Managing the disorder can take time, patience, and, most importantly, hope. Because in the darkness, hope can be the only way through.
Tiffany Romito has her master’s degree in special education and resides just outside of Seattle, Washington, with her husband and four boys. She enjoys working as a special ed teacher and writing about mental health through her experiences with bipolar disorder. Follow her journey on Instagram @tiffanyromito.