Posted by: shelliejelly | October 7, 2009

The More You Know

In the beginning, when I wanted nothing more than to blame O. for everything, I didn’t want to listen about his diagnosis, going so far as to pretend, on some level, that it wasn’t real. I can remember telling his friends I wasn’t sure the diagnosis was accurate, and they’d usually respond, “Really? So many things make so much more sense to me now.”

And all I could usually muster was a Really? right back, as nothing made any sense to me.

More recently, I’ve started to read a little bit about bipolar, dipping my toes in the giant pool of information, pulling them out and drying them off when I get too overwhelmed. Sometimes, tears edge my eyes when I read a feeling or thought I believed was mine alone:

“The past four years have been so very hard on both of us. My husband has been in and out of treatment for years … compliant and noncompliant, working and not working, depressed and manic, as well as self-medicated and dealing with addictions.”

All of the opposing forces in this sentence serve up memories to me, some of which I willing accept, turning them over and over in my mind; others I push away furiously, closing my eyes and batting blindly at the thought. Tender turned angry, soft becoming hard, relaxed to agitated, employed to unemployed—all so familiar I have to stop myself from cataloging them under “Things to expect from your significant other.”

From the inside of our brief marriage, however, I fought misunderstanding with my own brand of outrage. Every time O. would do something impulsive I would lash out, perhaps under the spell of confusion. I couldn’t answer any of my questions with anything other than anger. “Why would you miss a day of work when you know you are in jeopardy of losing your job?” was answered in my own mind with hateful adjectives like “lazy” and “stupid” and “ridiculous.” I could never hear his response because I’d already had the conversation myself. The case, as they say, was closed.

The murky, muddy truth of the matter is, though, that I learned to answer these questions for myself because O. didn’t answer them, or answered them in ways that only added to the confusion. Typically, O. could never track the direct results of his actions back to himself; in other words, he was never accountable. His answer to “Why would you take a day off when you know your job is in jeopardy?” usually comprised disparate elements like “they treat me badly” and “I do so much and am never recognized.” I’d get lost in his logic, trying to find the connection between his own irresponsible behavior and his victimhood. Deeper and deeper into the dark I’d march, anger sparking off of me, lighting my way.

Now, when I read this from Dr. David A. Karp, professor of sociology at Boston College, I feel, what?, justified in my unwillingness to silently accept his answers, if not in my anger:

“As much as it’s a biomedical condition, people with mental illnesses can’t be let completely off the hook. Of course, we can’t expect them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they’re acutely ill, but during periods of wellness they owe it to their spouses to do whatever is in their power to help themselves.”

Being vindicated for being a bitch to my husband while we were married isn’t the point, really. I know I didn’t treat O. well, partly because he was undiagnosed and I blamed him for behavior that I thought was just insensitive and illogical and unreasonable. I looked at him during some of these times and saw nothing more than someone I couldn’t trust to be a partner, someone I had to take care of and clean up after when the consequences of his actions came crashing down on both of us.

And now I know that’s not all that was going on. Mental illness was, in part, at play in his ability to deal with work, our relationship and, on a bigger scale, life. But I can’t chalk everything up to illness; I can’t look beyond the hurt and the betrayal and say, “That really wasn’t you, O., that was your mental illness.” Bipolar doesn’t live alongside him, and though he isn’t just his diagnosis, his diagnosis is all him. Does that make sense?

So now, when I try to untangle the past and weave together the parts I can while discarding others I don’t want or need anymore, one necessary thread is accountability. O. still has a tendency to lay every action that doesn’t fit our relationship as it is today at bipolar’s doorstep, as though his mental illness were capable of acting alone.

An unwillingness to accept his part, to start more sentences with the first person singular pronoun—I—just won’t do any longer. That much, I know, as clearly as I know my own role, my own need to acknowledge the illness. “Hello, bipolar.”



  1. […] diagnosis didn’t scare me. Like I’ve said and said and said, I was pretty much in denial for the first, what has it been?, year. But scared? No. O., as a person, didn’t change. I […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: