David Castillo

Lifting the Veil off Mental Health: Life with a Bipolar Partner

Filed By David Castillo | July 12, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: bipolar disorder, bipolar mania, mania, mental health

Bil announced a couple of weeks ago that I was going to be blogging here about my experience living with my partner, Jim, who suffers from bipolar disorder.

Since Jim's first hospitalization, I've been on a personal journey to better understand my partner and this illness. I'm still learning and there are still trying moments when I have to do my best to remember it's Jim's bipolar talking, not him. It's a day-to-day process, but hopefully, my thoughts here will help other couples (especially the spouses who aren't bipolar), gay or straight, who are also doing their best to learn to live with this illness.

To fully appreciate how I arrived at the start of this journey to understanding, I think it's best to start from the beginning.

I knew Jim was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I met him, but I knew very little about the illness and he seemed to be in good health so it didn't deter me from wanting to date him. He was a breath of fresh air for me and I appreciated his honesty about his affliction.

Our relationship moved quickly and before long we were living together. Jim mentioned to me when we started dating that he was no longer on medication and he wasn't in therapy.

His reasons for getting off medication seemed logical to me. He couldn't afford health insurance and the university's student health center was his only available resource. Their approach, however, involved drugging the hell out of him and after a year of overmedication that resulted in lethargy, a diminished sex drive and exhaustion, Jim decided he'd rather deal with the consequences than to be a zombie. He was 20 years old by this time.

Jim loved a good party and he loved to drink. We're kindred that way, but after a few months of living together I realized his moods could be very erratic and his irrational behavior was often unbearable. Add in my stubbornness and my penchant for being argumentative and you've got the recipe for a powder keg of fights!

We had many arguments over the first two years of our relationship, but I never suspected that part of the problem could be chocked up to bipolar symptoms that were just starting to manifest themselves, as it tends to do in folks in their early 20s. Plus, I just figured that most couples had their fair share of disagreements

Things really came to a head a year ago when a fun evening of wine drinking and show tunes suddenly turned ugly. I don't even recall what sparked the anger anymore, nor does it matter, but I do know that one moment we were laughing and the next I had wine thrown in my face and there was glass shattered against the walls. Jim also got physical and my immediate instinct was to call 911 as I feared for my safety.

In the hospital ER he was sedated and we waited there through the night until a bed in the psychiatric unit opened up. The next morning, I was told that it was best for Jim to stay there for an undetermined amount of time.

I couldn't make the decision for him, but I did counsel him and told him he should probably listen and stay. Soon after the decision was made it was time for me to go home. Alone. As I got up to leave, Jim's last words to me were, "Are you happy now? You've locked me up. Thank you." I wouldn't talk to him again until the next day.

That was the moment this illness became real for me and, I suspect, for Jim as well. Over the course of the next week, I spent my nights alone with my thoughts confused about what had happened and frightened for what lay ahead for both of us. I could not talk to him on the phone and I could not sleep with him at night.

It was awful, but I took solace in the fact that he was getting help. By the end of that week, he was home and we both talked about what was going to have to happen if we wanted to stay together.

Since then, our lives have changed dramatically. He's been in therapy ever since and, with the help of his doctors, has found the medications and dosages that work for him. About six months after this ordeal, I entered therapy myself.

Jim has effectively quit drinking and made marvelous progress in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I admire him for that. And after some slow learning, I have made strides to curb my drinking in order to foster an environment in which we can both live more easily.

This brings us full circle to where we are today. My own progress has been steady and I learn something from Jim every day. I've taken an active role in talking about how he feels and I ask him for what I should be vigilant of in his behavior.

It is a responsibility that has taken me some time to accept, but I am happy to do it if it means our relationship will survive and if it makes it easier for Jim to stay healthy.

In future posts, I'll be blogging more about my current daily life with a bipolar partner and about mental health news as well. In the meantime, if you are bipolar or live with someone who is, check out these resources for more information about how to cope with this illness.


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Thanks for sharing your story David.

It's really hard to deal with any issues your partner may have. My partner is an alcoholic and I often wonder how he will ever stop drinking. He's not violent.. but he hides drinking all day long and it scares me some.

I have stopped drinking, thinking it would help.. but to no avail. I hope that one day he will be able to quit... but then I know, that if we stay together forever, I won't be able to have a drink again. Sometimes, that can be nice, you know?

I praise you for keeping it together and staying with your man. That's what relationships are all about, unconditional love. You're strong. Your story reminds me I have to be strong too.

Thank you :)

delfia c. | July 12, 2009 7:01 PM

This was very moving and I can see the love you have for Jim. Good luck on your journey together.
I will pray for you both.

Rick Elliott | July 13, 2009 12:01 AM

I too found this testimony eloquent. What bothers me is the "happily thereafter" note of the end. Even with medications and prolonged, excellent therapy, the disease can rear its irrational head again. It's then that the test of commitment will come--even the faithfulness of having to exit for one's own best interest. There comes a point sometimes when the depth of commitment doesn't help and, in the best interests of all, one needs to cut the traces. There comes a time when the sacrifices made in love are not justified in results gained.

Erich Riesenberg | July 13, 2009 8:37 AM

Congrats on calling 911, gay people should be able to depend on public support services.

It's great to hear stories like this, it's important to help clear the stigma around mental health issues. No one should have to fear seeking treatment for their mental health.

I've suffered from bipolar disorder since high school. I'm now 35 years old and in a long term relationship.

I've tried to make it clear to people who are interested in a relationship with me, or even just close friendship, that despite medication and therapy, my actions can be erratic and unpredictable at times. It's not something I like or control, but it is what it is.

Kudos for sticking by your partner, and for helping bring positive change to his life.

I've tried to make it clear to people who are interested in a relationship with me, or even just close friendship, that despite medication and therapy, my actions can be erratic and unpredictable at times. It's not something I like or control, but it is what it is.

Amen. It is what it is. It can be horrifying, exhilarating and damaging - all at the same time. But what do you do other than continue to live life as best we can?

Kudos to David for telling his story; I think it'll be interesting to see this from the other point of view.

David,

Thank you for the moving and personal post. I believe that any light / info that can be shown on mental health is drastically important, as it is overlooked so often, especially when it is such a serious issue to people's well being.

Your post is a great outlet for people not just in the LGBT community dealing with these issues within their relationships, but for the general population as well.

Thank you again, I am looking forward to reading more!

I have to say that I cried reading your post. The 800 pound bipolar gorilla in the middle of a gay relationship isn't often discussed as eloquently and candidly.

I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder and have been with my partner for 25 tumultuous years, through various hospitalizations, countless misdiagnosis, unending experimentation with psycho active medication and decades of therapy. Ours is an unsual relationship in that each of us suffer different disorders independent from one another. So even as we play emotional Twister with my medical problem, we also acknowledge and accommodate his issues as well. I sometimes joke with friends that "We take turns being crazy", but that isn't far from the truth.

I'm glad that you and your partner have found a happy ending, although I suspect that this ending probably still involves working through issues above and beyond the normal problems of any relationship. Even with the assistance of therapy and medication, I still have moments where my emotions are erratic and my thought processes are not rational. The medications that aid me for awhile suddenly don't work all that well and, after changes to my medical regimen and spilling my guts in therapy, my partner and I adjust as best we can and begin the Tango again.

I cried when I read your post because, as it was when I was twelve and I discovered I wasn't the only gay person in the world, it is similarly comforting to hear the stories of "People like us". Thank you for the peek into your journey.

There was an independent movie produced called A SUMMER IN THE CAGE by filmmaker Ben Selkow which is a feature-length documentary chronicling his friend Sam's battle with bipolar disorder. While it doesn't have an LGBT connection, it is the most illuminating picture of a person living with bipolar disorder that I have yet seen and eye opening for those that have not experienced the effects of the disorder first hand.

Thanks again for the post David.

Wow, Dave. Very well-written and moving. You two have a beautiful, HONEST relationship. Honesty with ourselves, yet alone others, is often hard to come by. Best to you and Jim. I look forward to reading more!