I am awake this morning without sleeping much last night … my teenage children are probably in the same boat - with tests, labs to be completed, hockey games to play, work to be done, friends to connect with … and that small little task of “just being a kid” all needing their attention. But instead, the only thing that we can think about is their mother, my wife … we constantly worry about her and are sorrowful that we have had her taken from us, in a way that none of us thought possible … she left. To be very clear, Bipolar took her away, my wife no longer lives with us in our family home and although the reasons are not completely clear to any of us, it is clear that she is trying her best to survive and at the same time, in her mind, protect us. Bipolar continues to rip at our family and with every day the family unit gets a little weaker but seemingly against the grain, I think each of us gets a little stronger as we realize that we can really survive ANYTHING.

I wanted to reach out to you today because I think it would be useful for me and possibly for my kids to be able to share their/our story. I am clear that there are a lot of people with mental illness but not very many that actually understand it. I have been absolutely shocked that as I start to talk more openly about mental illness, it has touched virtually everyone in some way at some time. The concept that it is “only the weak minded” that are susceptible is a very dangerous concept and I want to do as much as possible to clear up that mistaken concept.

My wife has always been the ultimate mother and wife, she could write a book about the success stories, the commitment, the understanding, the connections, the difference that she has made in so many peoples lives … I married the woman of my dreams. We, together, built a storybook life: four spectacular kids (plus a surrogate child), wonderful family, great home, lots of friends, a welcoming community … all filled with great experiences. Our lives were fluid and open to lots of new ideas, with shifting locations, lots of dinner parties and get-togethers, adding new people to our lives and continuing to evolve as individuals as well as a family unit. But something was “different”, my overtly social wife was wanting to not do those things and that they now caused her great stress, she worried more about the kids, got more concerned about what others thought of her, started to have more visible “cycles” of up and down. She would go 2 or 3 weeks where she really couldn’t get out of bed (for anything), we would have to bring her food in bed and she had zero actual connection to her family but then she would always “come back” and we would get our wife/mother back for a few weeks and then the down would come again. We have since added in a 3rd phase which is the high phase and although I know it is easier for her on the high than the low, it is very much the hardest part for us. This is the phase where she is either flying completely high and won’t sleep for days and/or is very antagonistic and is “picking a fight” mode. For a while we still got one day in between the 2 phases where we still got “MOM” and it was hard to not be annoyed or upset about “why can we get this now but only for one day per 6 weeks” - but never wanting to feel that because we don’t want to miss spending the one day with the woman that we remember. Going from 30 days per month of loving, connected person to 1 or 2 per 45 days, is a tough adjustment to make - for her and for us.

When she is on her low, she does not engage with anyone, will not answer the phone, return a text or talk other than yes or no answers with lots and lots and lots of tears …. but when she is on her high, I think she feels like she has to catch up with others in her life but for some reason, that we can not figure out, her kids and husband are not on that list. We’re not sure if she is embarrassed that she was “out of it” for so long that when she is feeling able, she should not show her face or if she is trying so hard to not have her friends lose faith in her that she wants to give them the face time when she is high or the more logical reason, that it is hard to remember at the time, she really doesn’t have control of what she does with her time and it “just happens.” For me, understanding the depression part is more clear than understanding the manic part. With the depression, she knows she is low. When she is on a manic phase, she doesn’t believe it to be the case, she believes she is her normal self. The hardest part, for me, is trying to understand/remember 2 issues:
1) why does she want to spend all of her “high” time away from any of us?
2) why, even in most of the lows, can she still go to work and visit her friends but yet can’t spend any time with us?
These pieces make it very difficult to not blame ourselves for creating this, creating a sense of, “she doesn’t even like us, never mind love us”, which hurts more than words can share … while in our brains, we know that this is Bipolar that has stolen our wife/mother, our hearts bleed that she is choosing to leave us alone sharing decades of perfect love.

Our life was always guided by a big set of unwritten “rules” … we had a pretty traditional set up for our family, I worked outside the house and my wife worked inside the house and took fantastic care of me and our children - not a more noble or difficult job on the planet which is a concept that both my wife and I agreed on. But as years went on and Bipolar had a stronger impact on our lives, she started thinking that this was not a noble job and that she “shouldn’t have to” take care of anyone. Her attitude went from being the most proud mom and wife in the world to feeling like a slave and that she was not appreciated, which grew into not loved, which grew into hated, which grew into - gone.

8 weeks ago, upon return from a trip with my 2 sons, my wife informed us that she had moved out of the family home and that it was not about her leaving us, but her “taking charge” of her mental health. She moved out to live in a little house that she had rented in our small community so that she did not have to deal with the stresses of her life when she lived with us. It is still difficult to think about where she must be at to have made such a decision because this is so far from the woman that I married, it is hard to connect the 2 people. She now lives in a house on her own and we live in our house on our own. When she is up, we see and hear from her but the connection continues to get weaker … none of us want that but that is what is happening.

To be very clear, we love her more than we ever have and would do literally anything to help her feel better - no matter what, we are not giving up on her or our relationship with her … that is a fact.

I don’t know if sharing our story will help us but feels very important to me that people know they are not alone and that they do not have to listen to people who tell them that living with someone who is impacted by mental illness is the same as living with anyone who has an injury or illness … it is not the same and not even close. If there is anything that I can do to help your group, please let me know.

Shawn (Winnipeg)