A recent email from a visitor to my website asked some interesting questions and led to my asking my long suffering wife, the things that I should include in this article based on how bipolar feels from the other side.  That is from a spouse’s or partner’s viewpoint, especially if the one who has bipolar is going through the often regular, “I’m okay – I don’t need to see a doctor or take medication”, sessions.

I have deliberately written it in the first person so you can see it directly from her point of view.  I hope it helps gain an appreciation for what many of our loved ones go through, sometimes for many years.

Sue writes:

I had known Graham for a number of years as teenagers from not long after he arrived from England, and had seen a person that always seemed to be the life of the party and, in my shy personality, showed the sort of confidence and vitality that I had always admired in others.

I had gone out with others of our ages to the movies, bowling and the types of activity that was common in the late sixties and seventies with our age group.  And often thought how wonderful it would be if he happened to notice little old me amongst the other girls that I tended to think were better looking or smarter than I was.

I was thrilled when he started to ask me out on single dates and gradually we seemed to get closer together, or so I thought.  Imagine the hurt I felt when I found out that he was also dating four other girls from different areas of Sydney at the same time!  Naturally, being very hurt, I broke it off with Graham.

After a while he started asking me out for dates again and despite some initial resistance – he had that sort of smile and charm that I couldn’t resist going out with him again, although on the strict rules that should we appear to be getting serious, there had better not be any other girls hidden away!

Eventually he asked me to marry him and I agreed.  I knew that he was drinking at the time and there were many warnings from people that I should be careful about marrying Graham because of the drinking, and hints about other substances he might be taking.  With the innocence of love, I knew that all would change once we were married.  Little did I understand the reality of it all?

It wasn’t long after we were married that I noticed that the effervescent, upbeat Graham that I knew seemed to have periods where he was quiet, morose and generally very uncommunicative.  Also he had periods where he seemed to have little or no energy, and was generally irritable and on edge all of the time.

Initially I put it down to work as he was working on night shift during the first few years of our marriage and I knew how that could be difficult having worked night shift myself with him at the post office, especially during the hot summer months trying to sleep in a hot, humid Australian summer.

Over the next few years I noticed that these periods of moroseness seemed to alternate with what I thought of the ‘old Graham’, upbeat with boundless energy and drive, brimming over with new ideas and of course, the spending.  Always the spending!

It seemed that whenever I had something planned to do with some moneys we had saved or out of a particular pay packet; Graham had other ideas about it and often had already spent the money on gadgets or drink.  I always seemed to be the one worrying about how we would have food on the table or pay the next bill, where his attitude was not to worry about – something would always turn up! His drinking was increasing too and it got to the stage where I was frightened about what he would do while he was drinking.

He used to go out early in the afternoon on some days and go to the club or a pub before work and drink until 10pm when he started.  Drink through the night at work and then call in and bring some drink home to have before he went to bed for the day.  I also didn’t know at the time that much of these before drinking sessions were held with girls from work and his eye had started to rove again.

This cycle was repeated day after day and whenever I tried to talk about it – all I got was shouted at that he needed it to cope with things and don’t worry all would be okay.  It was during this period that he nearly killed himself by being so drunk that he fell of a moving train as it left the platform after suddenly realizing he had overslept while going through his normal railway station.

As the frequency of his mood changes got worse – I was at my wits end, with three children at home now and Graham being so inconsistent with his moods and the continuing drinking I reached the point where I said to him that I was leaving – I had had enough of the shouting, irritation and walking on eggshells all the time and that I feared for the safety of the children.

He was shocked – he had no idea that I would even consider this – to be honest – he had no idea how bad he had become to live with.  Even when I went through the details of how his changes of mood and other actions were affecting all of us, he really couldn’t understand it himself and had absolutely no concept that we could be so badly touched by his inability to control these sudden changes and the drinking.

To Graham’s credit – he started to take control over his drinking to the extent that in time, he stopped altogether as he realized that once he started the self-medication would talk over again and I am proud to say that he hasn’t had a drink since the late 1970’s and kept his word on that.

For  a few years he seemed to be settling down and although he was always prone to be impulsive and often got obsessed with a new idea – that became the project of the moment  - almost to the exclusion of everything else, our family life had overall become more stable.

Then Graham seemed to start the cycle of being unable to deal with life again and the smallest thing just got too much again for him to cope with more and more I had to take over the management of the finances and family affairs otherwise it just would not have been done.  The downside of these cycles was getting worse and worse.  At times we were just afraid to say or do anything at home because we did not know if it would set him off into a rage of irritation or a fit or crying because he was such a failure.

Now at the time, I knew nothing about mood disorders other than the fact that Graham’s mother had been treated for depression for over twenty years.  I had no idea that Graham could have been suffering from bipolar disorder or anything else because all I knew was what I had to try to make sense of over the years.

After Graham turned up at the surgery where I worked after his suicide attempt and the doctor explained to me that he was suffering from major depression at the time, initially there was a mixture of relief that at least I knew what was wrong and denial that he had a ‘mental illness’.

As always – looking back now with the knowledge of what the symptoms of bipolar disorder are and the age that he started displaying the symptoms – it seems so easy to understand what was happening.  And now that Graham has come to terms with his illness and the need to be medicine compliant and be honest with his doctors and as a really good friend of Graham’s used to say – “Spill his guts”, to the psychiatrist when he goes (which is an Australian expression meaning to tell everything and hold nothing back) generally he copes well with the disorder.

My only wish is that I had known about this illness when we first got married;  that I could have recognized the symptoms earlier for what they were, and saved both of us and the children from some very difficult times and heartaches.

I hope this helps some one to recognize that they may be suffering from bipolar disorder, or at least the possibility so that it can be properly explored.

It isn’t fair on the spouses, partners and families if it isn’t.


Graham Brown

28 July 2006



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