How to Support Your Bipolar Spouse During Coronavirus
Why coronavirus may be making things hard for you, and tips on coping.
Posted Mar 19, 2020
If you have a partner who has bipolar disorder, you will be used to the range of symptoms they exhibit, such as hyper phases — which may include spending sprees, hypersexuality, talking fast and staying up all night — and depression, which may include low mood, suicidal thoughts, and lack of motivation. However, many people will experience a much wider range of issues, including:
- Cognitive difficulty
- Engagement in risky behaviour
- Physical exhaustion
People may be diagnosed with bipolar I if they have a full-blown manic episode and usually, a major depressive episode, whereas people with bipolar II tend to experience less severe manic episodes and will have experienced one or more major depressive episodes.1
Living with a spouse with bipolar disorder can be challenging as you can very quickly be on the receiving end of anger, agitation, and paranoia and may have to deal with a partner is suffering from psychosis or the threat of suicide 20 percent.2
Many couples maintain strong and loving relationships when one of them has the condition and central to this is good communication, adherence to medication where it has been prescribed and healthy routines and interests3. It takes discipline and work to provide the support your partner with Bipolar Disorder needs.
So what happens during a time of crisis such as the current Coronavirus pandemic?
1. You might have difficulty providing your usual level of emotional support
If your partner is experiencing a depressive episode, it can be difficult for you to provide your usual level of emotional support. You’re undoubtedly worried about the state of the world, your loved ones and perhaps your job and finances. When you’re feeling threatened and down yourself, you may find it far harder than usual to be supportive.
2. You may find yourself comparing your partner’s illness to the pandemic
No matter how understanding you are about your partner’s condition, you may find yourself re-evaluating their illness compared to the vast numbers of people who are physically ill and at threat of dying which can result in you feeling less empathy towards them.
3. You may have less time to support your partner
This is a time when you probably have a whole range of new demands on your time. Perhaps you’re working from home, caring for children who are off school, and shopping for vulnerable relatives and friends, all of which can make your partner’s illness harder to deal with.
4. You might become ill
When you are responsible for caring for someone with an illness – physical or mental – the world doesn’t stop because you become ill. You may still be the primary earner, carer for kids, and in charge of making practical and financial decisions. It’s very easy to lose sight of your partner when you’re feeling sick yourself.
5. Routines go out the window
Maintaining healthy routines is important for everybody at a time like this but they are critical to maintaining good mental health when you have bipolar disorder. We’re all adapting to an unprecedented emergency situation and being thrown into disorder may well severely impact your spouse.
6. Stress triggers symptoms
Bipolar disorder symptoms may be triggered by stress and you may find yourself with a partner who is severely ill at this time.
7. You may be lacking your usual support network
When you have a partner with bipolar disorder, it is crucial to your own mental health to have a supportive network, particularly if you have been on the receiving end of anger and paranoia and dealing with your partner when their symptoms are at their worst. Whether you’re self-isolating or not, many of your friends will be and your usual social activities will be greatly curtailed.
How can you deal with the situation?
Whilst you may have gone through some difficult times with your spouse, you won’t have experienced anything quite like this before.
This is a new situation for both of you. If your partner is well enough to talk, discuss your fears and concerns. Communication really is the best medicine.
Be accepting of yourself
It’s hard when you feel your sympathy towards your loved one dwindle. You may feel guilty for experiencing any of the above impacts of Coronavirus. You’re only human. You’re allowed to feel upset, scared, and annoyed, and it’s understandable if you’re experiencing this reaction just now.
Look after yourself
It’s so important to take care of yourself when your partner isn’t well enough to look out for you. Make some time for yourself. Think of things you can do in the house and create some time in the day just for your self-care.
Create healthy routines for both of you
No matter how much your routines may have gone out the window, it’s important to try and establish new routines for yourself and your partner. You may have to be inventive! If your partner’s symptoms have worsened, you may need to remind them to eat and take their medication.
Remember – your partner hasn’t changed
The world may have changed but your partner hasn’t. You’ve probably been through this with them before, in terms of witnessing their symptoms. It may well feel different this time but it’s not really. Your partner is still your partner. If you love them and have had good times before, you will do again.
1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-V
2. Chen YW, Dilsaver SC. Lifetime rates of suicide attempts among subjects with bipolar and unipolar disorders relative to subjects with other Axis I disorders. Biol Psychiatry. 1996;39:896-899.