Bipolar Disorder and Intimate Relationships

The Bipolar Burble welcomes Ka Hancock, a psychiatric nurse and author of Dancing on Broken Glass, a book that delves into issues relating to bipolar disorder through a captivating story. Ka shares with us her thoughts on bipolar disorder in relationshipsLeave a comment to be entered into a draw to receive a signed copy of Ka’s book.

Tell us about how Dancing on Broken Glass portrays bipolar disorder in relationships.

Dancing is the story of a marriage. Mickey Chandler has a history of bipolar disorder and a family history of mental illness. In his mind, he is his diagnosis until he meets Lucy, a woman who sees him as so much more.

Mickey Chandler has his self-worth wrapped up in his diagnosis, do you think this commonly happens in people with bipolar disorder?

by Ka Hancock

I don’t want to make that assumption or generalization. Human beings are very complex creatures and each comes with his own set of beliefs and self-concepts. People perceive their self-worth based on a variety of factors. My character grew up with a mentally ill mother and a father who did his best to deal with her but was frequently missing in action. So Mickey’s childhood was rife with a lot of angst and chaos. His mom committed suicide when he was not even 12 years old. If you just stop there, it would go far to explain Mickey’s self-concept. Add in the fact that he too has a serious and challenging mental illness which rather terrifies him, one can understand how he might see himself as damaged and unworthy or simply incapable of what he supposes to be a normal life. What he did not fully believe until Lucy came into his life was that he was much more than this.

How does this impact relationships?

The impact of mental illness can be huge on a relationship. As readers of Natasha’s fine blog know, bipolar disorder does not always play by the rules. A person can do everything right—meds, therapy, journaling, mood and behavior self-monitoring, etc. and still fall off the rails. The results can be devastating. Getting involved with anyone—mentally ill or not—is a choice that should be made carefully. And understanding the complexity of bipolar disorder seems like a no-brainer if you’re going to be involved with someone who suffers from it. Same goes for the person suffering from this disorder. The relationships that survive this particular challenge have developed great insight, they don’t get lost in denial, and they have reasonable expectations of themselves and their partner.

What experiences did you draw on to write the relationship in the book? What has this taught you about relationships and bipolar disorder?

I am a psychiatric nurse. I do not suffer from bipolar disorder so I drew from the examples of others. It’s very humbling in a therapeutic setting to witness the enduring love between two people, one of whom is having an exacerbation of mental illness. By the same token, it’s heartbreaking to watch families and relationships be destroyed by this illness. The truth is every relationship is unique and what might wreak havoc in one, in another it deepens the determination to succeed at very difficult challenges.

If a person with bipolar is wrapped up in their diagnosis, what can a loved one do to help them?

Recognize the level of danger and act in accordance despite angry objections—in other words don’t doubt your instincts. Be actively involved in your loved-one’s therapy and utilize that resource when needed. Be patient through crises and supportive through depressive episodes. Medication should be non-negotiable. Substance abuse should not be tolerated—I don’t need to tell anyone that frequents this blog that bipolar disorder coupled with chemical dependency is a wicked combination.

Do you think a happy and healthy relationships is possible when one person has bipolar disorder?

The short answer is yes.

The longer answer is; it depends on the underlying character of the individuals involved as well as their level of commitment. Nobody gets a pass here, both parties must bring their best selves to the relationship. The one diagnosed must be motivated and treatment oriented. The significant other must have understanding, patience and a great capacity to forgive. Most importantly, they need to know what they’re dealing with. Episodes of mood instability can be overwhelming not just for the one diagnosed, but for the loved-ones as well. It’s important to have support and outlets. A mentally ill person need not beget a mentally ill relationship.

Bipolar and Relationships

Author’s Bio

Ka Hancock is a psychiatric nurse still working 20 hours a week who lives and loves in Utah. She married her high school sweetie and has four grown kids with families of their own. Ka has been writing since she could read. A few years she get serious about it and the result is Dancing on Broken Glass. Ka thinks the most interesting people are the complicated ones.

Ka has graciously agreed to give away two copies of her book to Bipolar Burble readers. Leave a comment below to be entered into a draw to win one!

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  1. Relationships are difficult for anyone, yes. Who doesn’t have some sort of issue, though?

    Keep communication lines open, always be honest. The problem goes away.

    I have to say at least six of my love interests in my life have had bipolar disorder and I’ve had it for the past 12 years. At a certain point it just becomes normal and an endearing part of them.

  2. Was recently diagnosed with Bipolar 1. Not wanting to wear a “label” but somewhat relieved at least it makes sense as to why my entire life has been a chaotic rollercoaster of highs and lows mixed but mostly lows. Some of the highs have affected me negatively in the form of ruined finances and also three failed marriages. I was not and still am not the easiest person to live with or around.
    I would like to be in the drawing for Ka’s book, Dancing on Broken Glass.
    As a 56 yr old woman who is trying to start over, it is difficult at times even to work part time. I am determined to get my meds managed and look forward to living the best I can with this disorder that makes me feel like am a waste of air at times.
    Thanks for listening.

  3. I have just recently been diagnosed as bipolar II. I’m scared to pieces that I’ve been stamped as a reject. Feels like a death sentence. I’m having a hard time finding anything positive out there to read. I’ve started a couple of books but they got thrown in the recycling box. All gloom and doom. I need to be encouraged that a decent life is still possible! I don’t have the highs…just the lows. I pray I can overcome this stigma of we’re all crazy. Honestly, I haven’t told but one person. I tried to a couple of other times and got cut off. (No I’m not going to blow anything up or hurt anyone! Gee!) So….. It’s still soon for me to be comfortable talking about. Just too new.

    Would love a copy of you’re Dancing on Broken Glass but right now it will have to go on my wish list.
    Been off work since October 1st and went 3 months without an income. Thank God I was smart enough to buy into a disability plan! Already in the process of the Social Security process. So much to absorb too fast!

  4. I am married to a now…high-functioning person with bipolar. My story isn’t very different from others…but what do you do when your loved one posts articles on FB about BPD that are targeted towards you, the spouse? Our latest upheaval started when I tried to voice a concern over one small incident…waiting several hours to bring it up…and then did so cautiously….it began like this…”My feelings were hurt when you said…..” What transpired after that was and still is 2 days of anger and hurt , yelling, sleepless nights….and comparisons to how he has been hurt by me and how I have not really been there intimately for him during his darkest decades of BPD… and everything my husband has been through as a person suffering from BPD. One comment and a need to be heard and understood resulted in us talking divorce and sleeping in separate rooms. Yes, there is much more…intimacy on my part is lacking because I don’t feel I have a “safe place to land”….We have been married for 25 years. Are there any books from the spouse’s point of view? My husband is now actually doing very well….I think….it is always hard to tell though. You of course understand when I say that I fear a relapse. He stopped taking all meds…does not see his psychiatrist….has lost 40 pounds, exercises regularly, has gone from vegetarian to vegan…. is thriving at work…..years ago he went through 22 ECT treatments and has been hospitalized and on every med cocktail conceivable…..There have been times I was told that I am to blame….I finally said that being BP is not a “free card”……I am very tired….debilitated.

  5. I’ve been married 20 years and the last six have been tumultuous. Before i share my thought, a little background may be helpful. I’m 50, the president of a very successful advertising agency and haven’t had a break in employment since the age of 11. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am. I’m what you call “high functioning” but the diagnosis is legit and I got it when I was 29. My Dad is BP and was institutionalized twice, my uncle (his older brother) drank himself to death at 54, and their uncle, my great uncle, blew his head off with a shotgun in his late 40s. I could go on with the family history, but it’s typical.

    I have serious mood swings, regular suicidal thoughts and all the rest of the crap that goes along with this awful disorder. My problem is that the state of my marriage is not good. We fight. We don’t communicate well. I know I love my wife, but things have changed over our 20 year marriage. We have two great kids (one in college and one heading off to a great school in the fall). The challenge I have is that I just don’t trust my emotions. They’ve betrayed me far too many times. I don’t know if the problems in our marriage are all my fault (I did have an affair six years ago) , my wife’s fault (she’s had a drinking problem and suffers from depression herself). I don;t know if I’m causing our problems or what to do about it if I am. God knows I try to manage this and I think I do a decent job – I stay on my medication, see a P-Doc and all that, but still things are not good. If our marriage breaks up I’m certain I’ll swallow the end of a nine. No doubt in my mind. Unfortunately. I’m afraid it’s heading that way. I just wish I could tell what the BP contributes to this and what’s “normal” in a marriage that’s 20 years old. God help me I have no clue where my mental illness ends and normal relationship struggles begin. I may never get my answer.

  6. my wife and i are experiencing intimacy issues. is it me. our sex relations decreased after our marriage and are now minimal. i the bipolar would like our marriage to function in all aspects and be whole. can it ever be?

  7. my wife and i are having intimacy problems. she and i have both seen them not form as our marital sex relations have decreased or become non existent since we were married. prior to being married we were in lust as i call it. i ,being the bipolar individual, have always longed for intimacy but never experienced it. i didn’t even know what it was or felt like, but i wanted a true closeness with a woman who would feel the same. this seems me the true ideal of marriage. am i capable of experiencing it and making my wife feel the same? this lacking my wife feels we are becoming nothing more than room mates. is it possible for us to grow together? i have had my medication moderated to increase my libido with no ill effects. still my wife is very unhappy and in turn am i. i go to counseling and a psychiatrist but this is an issue which seemingly will not resolve. what can i do? i feel the responsibility lies with me. i want to experience intimacy with the woman i love so much.

  8. “Medication should be non negotiable”…

    As someone with Bipolar 2, who doesn’t take Lithium, or Pharma Meds. of any kind, I cannot help but find this offensive… Not to mention patronising… I am, in the words of my Psychiatrist at the “lower end of High functioning”, and I certainly do not require toxic drugs, or toxic Lithium, in order to behave in a reasonable manner!

    Joe

  9. I have type II pretty treatment resistant and i cant have full does of anything because my body doesn’t tolerate them. I’ve been happily married almost 7 years. I have occasional hyper sexuality days, but i never ever EVER can imagine myself cheating my partner , i think there is so many ways to satisfy that urge with him, and even use it as a way to keep sex life interesting. I feel i have a responsibility to take care of myself, taking my meds to keep me as stable as possible etc. If nothing else, i do it for him. i also really made clear that if i am depressed or sometimes grumpy etc, its nothing to do with him, he doesn’t cause my moods ( of course i’,m a human and i also have a right to feel if someone hurts my feelings etc.) If i’m upset he always asks whats wrong, but i answer just : you know me, nothings wrong, then he knows that its just my mood swing and it goes past ( i’m rapid cycling) but he helps me a lot trying to distract me, finding something fun to do etc. Our relationship is also being best friends . Actually funny that so many of our friends relationships are so much worse than ours, we rarely even argue about anything, but they fight fight and fight unable to fix the problems, break up, get back together and the same roulette starts again,cheating each other and generally they are unhappy. they don’t go to places together , some of them have even different friends. We pretty much don’t even like to go anywhere alone. I’m truly blessed to have him and that also motivates me to keep myself in best condition i can be. So my opinion is that living with bipolar partner isn’t easy, but its also what you make of it, i’m sad that many uses bipolar as an excuse for their bad behavior so it doesn’t help to clear the stigma when ppl have a bad habit to connect one persons behavior to everyone who has an illness. of course i understand that it is a different situation if you are fully manic and many things like anxiety are really hard to cope with.But with bipolar you can also live in a great fulfilling relationship.

  10. I’m a little late to the party, but I just came across this discussion and I’m hooked.

    Relationships and intimacy can be difficult for all of us – let alone the baggage that Mickey must carry with him. What a daring move for an author to make with this character. I can’t wait to read the book.

  11. divorced by-Polar wife after 3 children and a 9 year marriage . I know excitement seeking is a big part of mania , but being a pro liar destroyed the life we had together and the future of our childrens lives . some cases are worse than others and some people are more intelligent . One affair is forgivable , Maybe 2 affairs , or even possibly 3 . but what is not forgiveable is to turn out to be a liar in order to have wild hard sex with another man . when women quit giving normal sex to their husband , and give it to their lover whom contributes nothing to the house or to the well being of the chilren and does everything possible to conceal the truth ., then it is time to vacate he marriage in order for normal men or women to keep their sanity . they must want council and want to change . when we divorce them , then they can have all the sex they want with many men and therefore be so happy . so the crazy witch can have her boyfriends and raise the children by herself

  12. Thanks for the discussion Judy and Marie. I think I have broadened my opinion a little as a result, and it’s good to get out what I really feel about things sometimes too. Best of luck Marie with your hunt for information and your husband.

  13. Thanks to everyone for the amazing comments. The winners of the free books have been selected:

    Deb
    Marshall
    EJ
    Rob Fisher

    Ka will be contacting the winners directly to personalize the books for each person because yes, she just is that great.

    Thanks all and thanks to Ka for her generosity.

    – Natasha Tracy

    • Thank you Natasha for letting me drop by! You have a great audience and I appreciate all of their heartfelt comments! Best of luck to you all.

      Ka Hancock

  14. For Marie,
    You sound like a wonderful soul which I why I don’t want to write this post:

    Go and look at the DSM-V criteria for a manic episode. This is the source, the diganostic manual for psychiatrists.
    What you will find is that during manic or hypomanic episodes, the person with bipolar disorder has a high libido.

    That’s all, just a high libido. Infidelity is a choice that we all have. Someone may be under more pressure during a manic episode, but they still have a choice.

    A cheater will cheat more during mania, but an honest man will find his own personal outlet. A dishonest man will blame his mania for his behaviour.

    There may be another diagnosis called sex addiction which can account for uncontrolled infidelity. I don’t know much about that personally.

    • Hi Sarah, Thank you for your reply, which I do appreciate. I’m not sure it’s this simple, though. In fact, I know that it isn’t. I’ve heard from others with bipolar in various forums that they do things at times that they can’t explain — and usually the most-regretted things are infidelities. I once read a very anquished post from a woman describing things she had done that involved being unfaithful to her husband, and she couldn’t understand even WHILE she was doing these things why she was doing them. And her regret seemed deep and sincere, as my husband’s does also. I think there is a boundary issue involved — since I’ve observed that my husband does not tend to initiate contact with women re sex — he will seek them out to talk to them, and then often what happens (and I confirmed this with one woman who called me later — several times I’ve wound up talking to the women in question later), is they suggest romantic involvement and he feels like he can’t say no! As if he was Ado Annie in Oklahoma. Which sounds just absurd and like a big excuse — except this isn’t coming from him, it’s what I have pieced together from hearing accounts from various people. So, I really feel that this is a very complicated issue. Maybe it’s not the bipolar per se but something else that interact with it, I don’t know — I do know that when you read what men who are not bipolar say about infidelity, they often say, “it wasn’t about the sex,” and though no one ever believes them, I am starting to. It’s like this deep hunger for a connection — and then once there is an emotional connection with a member of the opposite sex, it’s like there is an expectation that it will become sexual. So again, inability to draw boundaries. And I see that again and again with my husband in other areas of his life as well — for example, he’s self-employed and will never charge anyone who can’t afford to pay him. But he can’t say no to them either! even when finances are very tight.

      So maybe this is indeed a non-bipolar related emotional issue — yet, I just don’t think so. Because it is so rife within the bipolar community. Anyway, it CAN be worked through, I am coming to believe, because I think we’ve found our way to that place where the infidelities aren’t happening any more. And oddly — and here’s another thing that makes me connect this with bipolar — I notice a physical difference in how my husband looks now as opposed to when he was having major problems with this. His face was longer and more drawn in those days and he almost never smiled. Infidelity certainly was not making him happy! And there was what I’ve sometimes seen called a “flat affect.” Expressionlessness. Now his face has become expressive, he smiles quite often, and he looks SANE. And I’m not seeing signs of infidelity any more either, though I may always wonder given the past. I can’t be sure of the future, but what I can be sure of is that we’ve somehow made some major breakthroughs despite the fact that no one seems to know why this even happened in the first place.

      Anyway, sorry for the lengthy comment! And thank you for your reply. And Ka, as well, thank you for your comment too. I have gone to some lengths to take care of myself and made some good progress there, too. Thanks.

      • Hi Marie,
        Well it is your life I suppose. You have a great capacity for forgiveness in your heart. I just hope this husband of yours realises it and takes steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

        I’m not sure what makes me so angry thinking of cases like yours. I guess it’s because the lack of responsibility of so many people to keep their illnesses under control. In some cases yes it’s too hard and impossible. But it’s not that hard. And I guess I don’t like to be tainted with something like infidelity when it is not in my character, even when manic.

        • I agree with Marie that it isn’t so cut and dry, and she should be commended for even bothering to find out more about it.

          The DSM-IV listed the following as part of their criteria for mania and BP:

          * Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation.

          * Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments).

          Imagine if you will: high energy, impaired judgement, flight of ideas, a feeling of invincibility – anything can happen with this combination. For some reason, we can accept that this leads to unrestrained spending and foolish business enterprises – but hypersexuality? Forget it. It has to be a question of character. End of discussion.

          Quite frankly, there are so many factors to consider that I don’t think it’s fair to divide BP sufferers by those who are responsible versus those who aren’t. For instance, there are people who do not know or understand that they suffer from BP (fact: many people can go for YEARS without the proper diagnosis). Being responsible in this respect means knowing what you are dealing with in the first place, and what to do about it – and this is not something they teach you in school (sarcasm)! To illustrate, I read a very sad post from a woman who is deeply religious and wholeheartedly believes in the sanctity of marriage, and she experienced hypersexuality and infidelity. Did this disturb her to no end? You bet it did. Is it fair to judge her moral character? I don’t think so, but you can bet a lot of folks would – even if they do not personally know her! Such is the treatment of sex in our society…but that’s a different issue.

          BPHope magazine had an article regarding hypersexuality, and it stated that there isn’t much research available on it, but Kay Redfield Jamison places that roughly 57% of BP patients have had issues with this feature. Moreover, many therapists/pdocs don’t even bother asking about this (for whatever reason) so in all likelihood, there is probably a lot of under reporting going on. Then, there is the possibility that the patients themselves don’t want to talk about it. Why? Sex is an uncomfortable topic, it is taboo, and it is a topic that seriously offends – but it is REALITY, and whether you’ve experienced or not is NOT a gauge to determine it as such. Otherwise, why list it in the DSM? Obviously, it is there for a reason!

          The truth is we don’t know, and can never know what Marie – or anyone else – is dealing with in their relationship, and it really isn’t anyone’s business. It is between them (and maybe the therapist/pdoc). We can only opine from our separate and distant vantage point, but that’s all it is – an opinion from your vantage point.

          But if you really want to ask her some useful questions that might help, how about, “what is his baseline?”, “is his hypersexuality normally out of character for him and only occurs when he is manic – or not?”, “is he engaging in things like buying porn or racking up thousands of dollars in phone sex charges suddenly?”, “what other changes are you noticing (activity level, sleeping changes)?”, etc. She then has a few things to think about, and from there she can decide what to do for the best.

          Please don’t let your anger and outrage lead you to judge. You have no idea how this issue affects other people – and I’ve heard of too many stories of remorse and confusion to know it truly is not that cut and dry. If it could happen to someone who truly loves her family and God, then it could have been YOU.

          But to be fair, yes, we do have a responsibility to try and keep symptoms under control. This means being RIDICULOUSLY aware of your own prodromal symptoms (and I say ridiculous because the changes can be subtle at first – like I’ve never noticed changes in my sleep pattern much, but in hindsight, can recall not sleeping much for an entire summer!) – BEFORE it escalates into something that is out of control.

          • Despite my cut and dry stance, I don’t really disagree with anything Judy has said. What I’m trying to point out is along the lines of – the guy in the wheelchair isn’t always a nice guy. Infidelity hurts, no matter who does it and under what circumstances. And to blame misbehaviour on the illness is disempowering to people who want to get themselves together and lead a normal life. It’s harder not to misbehave, especially at the beginning of the illness. But it IS possible to control oneself and be responsible, if you are prepared to take full responsibility.

            A guy recently killed another with an axe, and had his charges dropped back to manslaughter because of his bipolar. The judge reckoned he’d suffered enough. But getting away with something like that must eat at your soul, surely?

            And yes I want to agree with Judy that Marie sounds like a very good person, someone to really look into the situation before judging. Best of luck with your marriage.

          • Hi Judy and Sarah,

            Wow, I didn’t mean to incite such a debate. But having done so, will just add a couple of points:

            -My husband has BP II, not BP I — if that makes a difference — and he doesn’t have classic mania, but rather a sort of manic anxiety. I think he’s rapid-cycling, but in the old days, when this was at its worst, he was cycling so fast that I could never predict when — as in from hour to hour — he’d be flat on the couch depressed and when he’d be up all the time/doing several things at once. But the up all the time was not so much flying as it was anxious activity. Now that things are better, I don’t see the rapidity of cycling that he had before. For example, he gets regular/semi-regular sleep now. So that’s just…a bit of empirical evidence for me that I’m not just deluding myself and that something real and quantifiable has changed. (In addition to the disappearance of the flat affect that he had before.)

            -What changed things wasn’t medication. He’s still taking basically the same medication as he was back then (with some tweaking). In my opinion, love and forgiveness changed him. That’s not as crazy as it sounds: being in a stable relationship with someone who persistently loves you and takes care of you has a biochemical effect on the brain: it changes what hormones different glands release and in what quantity. I believe infidelity is fundamentally connected with anxiety and as we eased his relationship anxiety, I believe that changes occurred in his basic experience of bipolar.

            -That said, we also added a multivitamin and omega-3s that he wasn’t taking before and got him eating regularly/semi-regularly.

            -Finally, just to note, yes, I’m a very forgiving and loving person, but this relationship is not one-sided. Anyone who’s been involved with a bipolar person knows that they have a lot to offer! In my husband’s case, he is a warm, loving, supportive person who has always believed in me, including believing in my professional and business-related choices that might have looked crazy to anyone else. And when I communicate to him that something is bothering me, he works as hard as he can to fix it. More than that, he notices when something is wrong before I get around to being ready to talk about it. He’s also an incredibly over-the-top generous person who would do anything for anyone. Like I said above, there’s a connection between that and his difficulty with setting boundaries, but there’s a positive and a negative to that, and the positive side is his incredibly generous nature and his warm-heartedness. Like most bipolar people I’ve met, he’s also intelligent and funny, but that’s not why I married him: it was his warmth and presence and the fact that even if we go through tough times, I’d rather be with him through those times than not be with him — tough times with him are much better than easy times with anyone else.

            What I’m trying to say is, for those people out there who love someone who is bipolar, working through this stuff is so totally worth it.

        • Fair enough. Sarah, I just wanted to say that this is not an attack on your opinion…

          Infidelity does hurt, and in regards to BP and hypersexuality, sucks for everyone involved.

          OK – maybe not everyone. Maybe there is that person who revels in serial infidelity and draws the bipolar excuse quicker than Annie Oakley drawing her gun, but what I wanted to point out is for that one person who does use their illness as an excuse, there are probably 12 who DO NOT and would not choose to cheat – BUT they became manic and infidelity happened! And, furthermore, just because they brought up the word “bipolar”, instantly got accused of using it as an excuse.

          I don’t think it is fair to group people under the neat and convenient categories of “responsible” and “irresponsible” without considering many other factors. Unfortunately, when it comes to sex, people’s beliefs, values, and emotions causes them to react so strongly that they draw the “character defect” explanation so fast, it’s a wonder that BP and hypersexuality ever gets discussed at all! What of those people who became manic for the first time after years of depression? Or people whose medication stopped working, they became manic, and – yup, you guessed it – infidelity happened!

          To illustrate this point, I will diverge a bit, but I think I should before it inflames anyone.

          There was a story in the news about a man who left his baby in his car and the baby died from heat exposure. Immediately, the public was outraged and much name calling followed: he is a bad father, he is selfish and left the baby on purpose, he is “irresponsible”. Nevermind that his job consistently required him to work extensive overtime. That his wife usually takes the baby to daycare because it just made sense given his work schedule, but just couldn’t on that day. That he put the baby in the car with the intention of taking him to daycare, but in his exhaustion simply forgot and drove straight to work. Forget that he was so overcome with guilt and grief and what the whole incident did to his family – and couldn’t really say anything to make sense of it all except to tell them the truth – that he simply was exhausted and forgot. More outrage followed…as it naturally would because a baby was involved, stirring up emotions and our personal values about protecting the young and innocent.

          But then an article in Time magazine followed shortly thereafter addressing sleep deprivation in america.

          And dialogue and debate followed. In short, it got the wheels regarding exhaustion turning, and that it could lead to such unfortunate outcomes.

          Why doesn’t this happen with hypersexuality and bipolar? Why isn’t it discussed even among professionals in the industry – even though it is suggested in the DSM that this kind of stuff happens? Why are people in the BP community pretending that it only happens if you’re “irresponsible” – and it has more to do with “their fucked up character, but not mine”?

          I get it. Some people do use it as an excuse – but not all. And just like the exhausted man who lost his baby, the guilt and remorse probably kills them more than words can say.

          • I think there is a place for compassion and forgiveness for some infidelity – whether the person is bipolar, or not.

            I’m simply saying bipolar is no excuse. We might split hairs and say, oh they haven’t been diagnosed yet, or the change of meds didn’t work, but in general, I feel that a person with bipolar needs to be held accountable for their actions all of the time. Otherwise what are we?

          • What are we? If we knew with utmost certainty, would we need to do research? Would we need religion? Would we need a system of philosophy? There are sects within a religion who argue about what it means to believe and be one of the faithful, a practitioner, a monk. What is it that makes us human? Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” It could simply mean that man exist by merely acknowledging that he is around to think! Some would even extend that and say man is capable of reasoning so therefore he is human.

            What makes one man think that he is in the right? Because large groups of people believe him? Well, Hitler managed to do the same thing, but would you say he is in the right?

            Psychology debates about nature vs. nuture all the time. Are we a pile of synapses and chemicals that happen to think, talk and feel, or were we somehow warped and conditioned to “BE” by our environment?

            Freewill vs Determinism: is man’s life dictated strictly by his choices, or does the fate we endure form the future choices we make? Did Ted Bundy become a serial killer strictly by making fully aware and cognizant choices? Or did his abusive upbringing stir a hatred and rage towards society (and apparently women) that formed his choices and plans to kill.

            Oh, man! This sounds sorta like nature versus nuture…but I’ll ponder philosophy and not that fake science psychiatry!

            I am seriously joking. My point is WHO THE HELL KNOWS?

            I have yet to meet the man who does, but have been warned that if such a being does come forth in the form of man, he is probably the anti-christ!

            In regards to hypersexuality, quite possibly the truth is this: If a man cannot control his episodes, do you know what he is? He is a man who cannot control his episodes, even if he takes meds – but may in the future. Do you know who you are if you can? You are a person who takes meds that are working for you and does not have issues with hypersexuality. Do you know who the religious woman is who did have issues with hypersexuality? She is a woman who is confronting an illness that skewed her judgement so radically that she engaged in a tryst that is against her morals and values. What about the 63 year old grandmother who became manic, was ticketed because she was speeding, and sexually propositioned her neighbor who is half her age? I would call her spunky, but she probably would never, in a million years, use the word “spunky” to describe herself.

            As far as splitting hairs go – not asking you or anyone to agree or disagree with me. Just saying we should suspend judgement.

  15. I am not one of tall tales about my life. I am what I am. I have ability to think very, very big and very very small… simultaneously. I am an emotional empath who can stand in another’s shoes — although I’m learning to not stand there too long. I’ve also learned I must experience this reality in my own way, not as others want me to experience it. The trick is to get my particular message out. We learn much more from our differences, not so much through similarity. For me, Art, Science, Yoga and writing enable me to channel the energy out of my body and into this 3D, where it belongs. I see my abilities, not disabilities. Even though the world may categorize it that way. The world does not know me; I know the Multiverses. Having said all that; yes, intimacy is very difficult for me. I tend to be a serial relationship-ogomist. I have loved many great and numerous times. But I must move with the flow when love get’s too close to that thin line. Then we both learn. And we still love. It’s the only answer. “The Microcosm IS AS the Macrocosm” CL Pridemore

  16. Hello! I will def read your book! I am bipolar, 31 yrs old. I have been diagnosed since i was 20 yrs old. I fear at this point in my life i will never have a meaningful relationship. Although im not doing well right now, this is a belief i have even when im well! My back is hurt badly now too. I have made the decision because of being bipolar not to have children. So i feel as though physicallyi will not be the same again either. So, to me, all my hard work with tberapy and meds, also other things i do to better myself. Will always be only that. For myself. I do not see how someone could accept me being bipolar. Ive tried. They say they do understand. Yet leave at first sign of a symptom. I am ok alone. But having someone to love, and love me back, would be the best thing. I really just feel that its not going to happen. I think reading your book might atleast bring some hope back! Thank you!

  17. Bipolar 2, married 22 years … I know my wife is strong, but I don’t feel comfortable letting her have total access to everything in my head during depressive moods. I try to take care of the messy parts of my life so she doesn’t have to deal with it all the time. I don’t want her to become my caretaker, and I don’t want her to become too overwhelmed with being around my moods. Our relationship is not as good as I wish it was, and I know my bipolar has caused her much stress.

    • 22 years! Wow! Congrats and hang in there. Obviously something is working and I’m sure you know that you have the power to make it work better. When the messy parts get too messy have you considered taking her with you to your therapy appointments?

  18. 16 years last May is a resounding yes for me/us. Though she just got treated to my worse mani attack ever. Before she would talk to my therapist, I wanted her to hear from a professional about my Bipolar. She didn’t, and in early June, the day before a family BBQ I had a panic attack, it turned into a manic, worse one in 16 years. Sometime education is brutal. We had only moved in with her brother and sister in law, and I only talked about ny BP with her s.i.l. It wasn’t how I wanted people to know, but it is what it is and there wasn’t a damned thing I could do. I was hoping to get to know them and them me better. I felt lost, my partner didn’t know what was going on, she kept getting angry with me, the hospital nor mental health hospital would admit me because I wasn’t suicidal or homicidal lmao. No I just kept trying to escape myself through reckless behavior. People, educate those around you so you will be safe, have a plan in place. The regular hospital finally admitted me for the night (I don’t remember) so my family could sleep, and I could be given a medication to sleep myself. I hate the memory loses, this episdoe lasted for a few weeks. I just knew I didn’t want to go to the BBQ and scare the kids.

    • Kendal, you are so right: “People, educate those around you so you will be safe, have a plan in place.” I think it’s so important to be open with the people in your life. You owe it to them and your relationship to be honest and, you know, bring your best self to the game…

  19. I think we can all learn more about bipolar whether the story is fictional or not. The situations can all be so different, but it is definitely a walk on broken glass loving people with this disorder. Sometimes we just need to keep our shoes on and keep trying. No matter what mental illness a person has they deserve to be loved and cared for just like anyone else with any other kind of illness maybe even more! Thanks for writing this book! I will definitely be reading it!

    • Hi Nadine, your use of words has just given me goose bumps, what a lovely use of words to describe what it’s like for you to love a bipolar partner. He is a lucky guy :)

  20. My beloved has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder although I’d been saying it for years.
    He is going through a bad time right now and it’s been really hard, especially as he is now in the ‘system’.
    One thing I know for sure, I will fight for him, stand by him, support him and love him forever.
    His illness does define him as the man I adore and no matter what rubbish comes our way, we will face it together.
    My life has been changed beyond belief but I know he’s in there, in the big black hole that has enveloped him at this moment.
    I want to be the hand to help him out of this dark place so we’ll face the sunshine again.
    I want him to know he is not alone.
    I want him to know he is loved.

  21. I have bipolar disorder. It most likely began in my teens & remained undiagnosed until my late 30s. Through that time the one person who was hung in there & who kept saying something was not right was my mother. As a result our relationship is an intensely close one but it’s very hard for both of us to have clear adult boundaries.

    I have had 4 children (one of my twin sons was stillborn). My husband has been part of my life since before my diagnoses. Our relationship has survived a stillbirth, a miscarriage, multiple pregnancies (always tricky with BPD) & one month long hospitalisation.

    I have worked very hard to make sure my Bipolar Disorder is not the focus of our relationship. When I have been unwell we reach out for help to minimise the upset to our children & our relationship. Sometimes this has meant that I go away for a weekend break.

    He has been a very loyal & loving husband & father.

    Without the support of him, my mother & my father (in recent times), my life would be a very empty place.

    • The most important thing in any relationship is to bring your best self to it–looks like you know that better than many. I so appreciate your struggle and what you (and your hubs) do to get through the rough patches. Well done! Perhaps you should right a book:)

  22. First I have to say, thank you so much for writing this book. We who have bipolar know the struggles with daily life, and adding a loved one to that mix can be a big fat mess if we don’t work at it. Just like every relationship, it’s hard work sometimes. With bipolar, a loved one needs a bit more patience and really big shoulders. I was abused as a child, went undiagnosed until my late 20’s and just this year at the age of 46 I have finally found the right combination of medications. It’s a whole new world!

    Having a loved one, brother, significant other, whoever, can make our world brighter and better or can result in misery for both. After decades of suffering I have found that in my second husband. I wish that for all of us. It’s a hard enough road to travel. Having someone beside you on that long stretch can make a huge difference.

    God bless nurses who care and share what they have learned! Thank you again, for writing this book.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! You have certainly had a rough journey and I am so very happy that you have found a great hubs. Continued good luck to you!

  23. Thank you so much for doing an article on this important subject. I have lived with depression for close to 30 years and relationships are always a challenge. It’s even more of a challenge to keep them going. It takes dedication, hard work, commitment and a great deal of understanding and caring on both sides for the relationship to work. Thank you again for this and for all of the great comments posted. I love this blog.

    • Alex, I too, love this blog! I have not found a better source of information and support. And you are right about relationships–they are always challenging and it does take tremendous effort and dedication. Good luck to you!

  24. Hi..iv only recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I am just out of hospital where I was for 2 weeks due to being in a mixed affective state. It has been a very scary time for me but I did learn a lot about myself in the 2 weeks. I have been placed on a coctail of meds one of them being lithium. I am being readmitted back into hospital next week for more bloods etc. I just wish to say that thro all this, I have had the unrelenting support of my patner who iv been with for 1 and half yrs. He has supported me so much. Relationships and me never used to work out but now I really think it can. I found my gold star . So they can work .im early in my journey but im going to give it my best shot. Thank you for reading this and for writing your book. Which I hope to read.

  25. I have a mental health issue which was once described as Bipolar Disorder by an Occupational nurse although no other doctor will really give me a true diagnosis. I have been with my partner for nearly 10 years now and married 4.5 years. He thinks that I’m just like any other temperamental woman (I am good at taking my meds). I know that I have been awful to him at times and I am really lucky to have found him. His parents thought he had a mental health problem as a child, so he can really understand where I’m coming from a lot of the time though his diagnosis was just eccentricity. Before I met my husband I had numerous failed relationships the majority of which were quite short lived. But it is possible to find good love.

    • Linda, I too am a temperamental woman. LOL. There are many of us. It sounds like you found a nice guy who is doing is best to understand you. If you’ve been awful to him and he has hung in there with you… be grateful. You are living proof that it’s possible to find good love. Well done!

  26. I also have bipolar, was diagnosed approx. 3 years ago, was misdiagnosed for over 20 years. I managed to stay married for over 17 years and I have two wonderful daughters. Unfortunately my marriage broke down when I had a breakdown before I was diagnosed, this is what lead me to seek help. I am now divorced and in a new relationship, but being bipolar and all that accompanies it together with a relationship is seriously hard work, coupled with the fact that my partner is a widow…….yep I have my work cut out to say the least. Meds aren’t great but I will try anything to try to retain some kind of normality and I will not give up on anything without a fight. so the long and short of this waffle is relationships and bipolar take a lot of hard work and patience. wish everyone luck :)

    • You are absolutely right; relationships and bipolar take tons of hard work and lots of patience. Hang in there!

  27. To me, as the spouse of a bipolar person, the biggest relationship challenge is dealing with repeated infidelity. And a related challenge is trying to find decent information about bipolar infidelity. It seems like about one third of sources say that it’s part of being bipolar, one third say that it isn’t part of being bipolar or that medication should control it (as far as I can tell it doesn’t), and the remaining third refuse to discuss it at all!

    One thing that I have managed to figure out is that infidelity and anxiety are somehow connected–and when you can keep anxiety down, or at least keep relationship-related anxiety down, infidelity begins to disappear. However, infidelity itself can cause relationship-related anxiety, even in or maybe especially in the partner who’s being unfaithful, because infidelity tends to bring with it drama. So it can become a spiral that gets worse and worse.

    This is a really difficult challenge, and is one of the reasons that I think that spouses/partners of people with bipolar have to be a very special blend of love, tolerance, forgiveness, resourcefulness, and groundedness, and have to be willing to take good care of themselves as well as their partners, because repeated infidelities can tear apart your self esteem and trigger major depression. And it becomes a secret that you can’t tell anyone about if you want to stay with your partner, because almost everyone will advise you to leave an unfaithful partner (and sometimes spouses can’t confide in friends/family about bipolar issues because of respect for the bipolar partner’s medical privacy). So then, as a spouse or partner, you can end up walking around with this giant secret inside you that is making you suicidal. And you end up needing psychiatric help yourself. The good news is that it is possible to work with this issue so that the spiral becomes, over time, fewer and fewer infidelities, rather than more and more of them — but for that to happen, you have to be a person who is willing to work with your partner through future infidelities for the sake of reaching a point in time that you don’t know for sure will ever arrive, when trust is such that the relationship is a totally faithful one. It’s a very unusual person who can handle that.

    Frankly, I really wish there was more information about this available on the Internet (or anywhere!). Even my husband’s psychiatrist could tell me very little about it.

    • Marie–I am so sorry for your struggles; they break my heart. I wish I had magic, but sadly, I agree with Sarah’s words of wisdom, and I appreciate her candor. Repeated infidelity is very much an issue of character, as is blaming it on a mental illness. That you have been able to hang in there for as long as you have, and still have hope in a brighter future is beyond impressive. But in this process, do not forget to take care of yourself. Being able to talk to someone about your situation may be beneficial.

  28. Hello, I am bipolar and on long-term disability and was married for 31 years. In the last 10 years our marriage it started to fail because it had unintentionally become a caregiver/patient relationship rather than a true intimate marriage. The process started very slowly and eventually she basically forgot about me because she was too busy with her aging parents, our children and grand children. I am not blaming her but this is the way I felt and remember it takes two people and hard work to have and maintain a relationship. I am currently separated and in a new relationship where each of us considers our relationship a priority. Truly a sad ending to a 31 year marriage.

  29. My husband has been with me before and after diagnosis. It was the almost breaking of our marriage that made me seek professional help and got the somewhat surprising diagnosis of bipolar II. Now on meds, my life is on a much more even keel and has even allowed me to go back to school successfully. I am now finishing up my first year of college, a feat I have never been able to accomplish since leaving high school 20 years ago. I have to admit though, I do still see my bipolar as a defect in me, that it makes me “less than” a ‘normal’ person. Sad, but true and I don’t see this changing.

    • Hi Sarah,

      I just wanted to say, we’re not _less_than_ – we’re _more_than_ normal. Not better than, per se, just with a bit extra thrown in. And some people can see that in us.

      – Natasha Tracy

  30. I have been in three long-term relationships that all end because of something to do with me being bipolar. It’s like every single day is a fight to act normal, and the people I’m closest to are the ones who are going to see through the facade.

    This book sounds like it’s the reinforcement I need to start believing again that I am more than my disease and I can find someone who will look past my symptoms and see me for who I am.

    • Jake, if you read DOBG you will have to let me know what you think. I so hope it will help you believe that people truly are more than their disease–But you have to believe that yourself before you can make others believe it. I haven’t met anyone in my long life unworthy of love… Good luck to you…

  31. For the last nine years I was first an Advocate to a youth in Foster Care, then I fell in love with him Maternally. He had a “break down” 2 years after I knew him. I knew that something was wrong, however could find no-one who would support me or provide him help because ‘he may be labeled.’ His biological mother was bi-polar, it made sense to me that he too along with all the trauma he had gone through may be as well. I knew I was in for a Dance, but dancing on broken glass? My husband and I adopted him after he: graduated from high school, was homeless, been conserved, homeless, used various and a lot of drugs, drank alcohol until he passed out. He lived with us for 2.5 years. He was compliant with taking the prescribed medicine and I did my best to work with the Dr.’s to decrease the lithium, we all took our medicine at the same time, and he could not use when he lived here. He left after 2.5 years. He went off his medicine and immediately started to drink and then smoke weed, then meth., – he would call. I would help him out with certain things – e.g.. getting a bus pass, but not jump when he wanted me to, the price and toll on me for those calls became too much. I was letting myself go. I slept for 3 months after he left, I gained weight while he lost weight where I normally loose weight. My self esteem declined – how could I do more and what could I do? Finally, I realized I could do no more. I had to say good-bye and that was and will be the most difficult decision I have/will make. I couldn’t take the irrational rants of the wrongs I imposed onto him. (none of which were true) still this took a toll on me. One day when I refused to jump and have coffee with him, he screamed goodbye on the phone and hung up. It was not tit for tat however it was then I realized I had to say the same to him. What more could I do. I had seen him in all the places he had been in the last nine years; psych wards, jail, rooms that he destroyed, and in my home; to therapists, the best psychiatrists, and still I was the his mother who he hated and loved and could never really be. I watched his posts of smoking meth on twitter, I was dancing yes -on broken glass and it hurt too much. I had to say good-bye. It took me a long time. I don’t recommend it. It’s very difficult. I will always love him. He will always be my son. I don’t want him to die, still his self destructive behavior and rants towards me left me no choice other than to say goodbye. The reader is probably getting tired at this point of me stating how difficult this is, well it’s because I still and will cry for a very long time, I will miss him and me with him, I miss me though and my feet I finally learned would not fit shoes if I continued to dance on broken glass. It is a lose to both of us, a son and his other mother, OM. I weep because I miss him so much and because I love him so much and there is nothing I can do, perhaps someone else can. Thank you with all my heart.

    • Anna, you are one of those angel women with a lot of love to share. Bless you for loving this boy–he was very fortunate to have crossed your path. It’s heartbreaking indeed to find ourselves powerless against another’s mental illness, especially one made so much worse by substance abuse.

  32. My wonderful husband understands me better than I do myself. Since meeting him I’ve had the glow that comes with a happy and loving relationship. This glow has persisted through a couple of hospitalisations and out the other side. As a partner of someone with bipolar disorder, you really need to understand the complexity of the personality and the disease. More important, though, is a never-say-die approach to love. You need love, and lots of it, for a happy relationship.

  33. As the adult child of a mother who suffered from bipolar disorder, I recently read ‘Dancing on Broken Glass’ and found it really inspiring. Clearly, the author has a deep understanding of both mental illness and human nature in general. The book is heartfelt and incredibly moving.

  34. Thank you, Ka, for pointing out the difficulties and triumphs of a relationship that includes bipolar disorder. I’ve been married 16 years, diagnosed for 3, but been living with bipolar for over 20 years. We are at a crossroads. We need to figure out how to be partners and not only caregivers or patients to each other. I think we can work it out.

  35. This looks to be an interesting read, through the eyes of someone who has seen many, many sick people at their worst.

  36. wow! i really want to read this book now. i have bpd as well, and have been surprised that my husband has been there for me even though i have been quite nasty towards him during manias. thank you Ka for writing about this and thanks Natasha for blogging about it.

  37. Nice to know there is Hope out there. I am Happy for you. Thankfully there are people who will stand by there spouse and understand what we are going through and work together. That is True Love.

    \Never give up!

    Steve

  38. I have been diagnosed with having severe depression but have often wondered if I should have been diagnosed with Bipolar instead. My daughter and son-in-law are both convinced that I have Bipolar Disorder and I am currently looking at more information on line. Luckily, my husband is very supportive and always tries very hard to understand me. He is also very protective of me and stands up for me whenever necessary. I am so very lucky to have found my soul mate and that he is so caring of me.

  39. Just when I was once again giving up hope of ever finding a healthy, love relationship with a man, I am given hope by Ka’s words :)
    I am 59 and single for 12 years…..sometimes my bipolarism seems like a monumental challenge to overcome in terms of finding someone. So I appreciate it so much when someone encourages me to hope :)
    Thanks Ka and thanks Natasha :)

    • I wish you much good luck in your search. You’re looking for a special guy and he’s out there somewhere, but in the meantime, don’t miss the opportunity to nurture friendships and enjoy your life.

  40. This post speaks a lot to me because last year I entered into a relationship with my current partner, who suffers from Bipolar 1. I never understood the diagnosis before I met her, and I had to do quite a bit of research through books and the Internet. We’ve been through a lot together and I love her with all my heart, and I’m learning new ways to help her every day.

  41. I think the biggest fear about relationships is letting people into your little world. For me the stigma issue is still so fragile that I struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Bipolar has made me feel like I’m scared to be happy; how far will the next manic hospital stay be? I can’t imagine putting someone through that experience when they are not equipped. Thanks for writing the book. We need more books based on real stories. Thanks for the great blog.

  42. I am bi-polar. I don’t have a problem with that. Relationships are difficult for any human being, so being human and having any physical or mental challenge adds to the height of each hurdle. The important thing is that we make heartfelt attempts to help each other “clear” the hurdles.