Reflecting as I pen my thoughts, I am still uncertain as to whether I am comfortable with the word “burden” as I think it certainly does not describe our (my life partner and I) bipolar disorder/mental illness. Burden to me implies that there is one person doing all the work in a relationship with a weighty imbalance of disproportion. It also implies negativity, resentment and regret on one person’s behalf.
It never crossed my mind when my husband was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder a few years ago that he together with his newly found diagnosis was or could possibly be considered a “burden”. Certainly, I was the full time income earner who in the beginning was still breastfeeding our little girl for the first five months of her life on a 24 hour rotation and working the next day to ensure our financial security. I know that amongst my extended family there was much criticism with regards to the notion of “house husband” and who should be working and therefore holding the balance of power. I was certainly made aware of my father’s disapproval of the circumstances at the notion of “the man” staying at home to help raise the children was to be baulked. Did I not have enough responsibility to look after two children under the age of two and not have to worry about providing an income as well? What was wrong with him? (as it turns out, my life partner was undiagnosed Bipolar at the time). It was a question that was continually asked for many years and in the end we finally closed the door to many people who did not have our best interests.
Their opinions were not always beneficial or positive, nor did they serve any purpose other than to blow hot air around their sense of self importance. They were acerbic, abrasive, and very judgemental. I couldn’t tell you exactly the rationale or purpose behind such negative outbursts, it is not as though they could make me love my husband any less. How absurd and yes, please forgive my uncouthness and brashness when I say this; You don’t know me, you don’t know us so shove your judgemental opinions up your ill conceived arse and don’t fuck with me or my little family because I will take your sorry state and bury you”., was the sentiment at the time.
Anger should be illegal! It is ridiculous at how it consumes and destroys your inner spirit and has you chasing your tail, round and round in circles to no avail! My mistake is that I cared and invested precious energy into pointless and undeserving situations. I cared about what other people whose value was almost inconsequential thought of me, of us. I cared about their judgements and what they said about me as though it was a reflection on who we were and on who I was as a person.
I measured myself against other people’s opinions of me. I threw away my self esteem and gave them permission to tear it to shreds. I allowed it to happen. It was that life changing moment, that realisation that I decided that I had to change my path. I could no longer afford to worry about what other people thought of us. I also came to the realisation that you simply cannot change what other people thought of you, nor should you try – it s their decision to make through their life experiences and their own filters, moreover, not everyone is going to like you!!! That is more than okay. I am not afraid to pull back the dusty, heavy, secretive curtains to let in the sunlight and say that there are family members on my side who don’t like my husband because they perceive him to be weak and in some respects taking advantage of my generosity and not upholding his familial “manly” duties, regardless of his disability. It is what it is and they are who they are. It has also come to light that they no longer wish to have me be a part of their lives anymore because I too carry the diagnosis of bipolar disorder as though my mental illness is somewhat contagious and moreover, reflects badly on their social standing in playing happy families. Good luck to them, they are no long part of our lives because they are not worth our headspace, its precious, my life is precious, who I am is precious, my life partner and children are precious. This paragraph is as much as I will concentrate on them, give them a second thought, maybe even half a thought.
But for ours, it is acknowledged and respected that it’s a special relationship. Depression and mania are our constant companions within our disorder and it is within these experiences that we learn to take turns in carrying each other and being each other’s carer, one step at a time. The carer becomes the cared for and vice versa.
How do two people with a socially and formally recognised disability help each other? Quite easily. We forgive each other’s shortcomings and embrace each other’s qualities. We pull our weight equally where possible and appreciate each other as individuals with a disability rather than disabled individuals. We both carry the challenge of bipolar, the luxury of caretaking needs to be found within each others strength and not to take advantage of each other’s generosity but to nourish, nurture and embrace it. It’s a learning curve and we are still learning, I am still learning. But I have learned to still the mind, with the helpful thanks of medication, to give thanks and to trust in my own abilities. I am able, many times, without the “dis” as a precursor. What people may or may not think of me and my fight is no longer something for me to worry about and as far as my beautiful life partner goes; he ain’t heavy, he’s my husband.
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