If you have ever known someone who experiences bipolar mania, then you know that their mood swings can occur very quickly. My husband’s manic episodes were extreme and included severe depression, complete lapses in reality, and dissociative episodes, so I was never quite sure which “him” I was going to get. Manic episodes could last weeks or months and could include impulsiveness, inappropriate sexual acting out, extreme rage, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, euphoria, lapse from reality, grandiose beliefs, depression and delusions. In fact, the periods in between these episodes were shorter than the episodes themselves, and were the only time in which he exhibited “normal” behavior. Why then, I wondered, did nobody else seem to notice his instability? I have seen my husband sleep for 3 straight months, only to snap out of it and become social and positive for a short time. I always thought it weird that his family or his so-called friends didn’t seem to notice that he went months without interacting with them, only to go all-in with being mister party guy. I didn't realize at the time just how complex and premeditated his web of lies would be, so at the time, I could only view these bystanders as oblivious to his seemingly apparent behaviors.
Every area of our life was impacted by this mental illness. It was not uncommon for my husband to exceed 8-10 jobs in a given year. It was also not uncommon for him to spend at least half of the year out of work altogether. He would spend a few days... weeks... or months in his euphoric state, enjoying his new employment and planning all the fabulous things destined to happen in his life. He was enjoyable to be around, clear headed in conversation, and gave some thought to the responsibilities in his life…and then it would end. He became wildly impulsive, or separated from reality, or as I would later find, acted out in a dangerous sexual way. Or…He just went to bed…and stayed there for days, weeks or months. I can remember begging him to get up...calling into his job with excuses for his absence...finding additional work to make up for the missed wages I anticipated. I worried about him...I sought help for him...I thought he must be depressed...or he must have serious medical issues...No part of me, at this time, would have ever thought these behaviors were the calculated and manipulative efforts of a heartless sociopath. I sacrificed time, effort, mental energy and finances to help him. I made excuses for his behaviors to ensure he kept his job when possible, or so others wouldn't see his true selfish nature, or emotional instability...so they wouldn't abandon him at a time that he so desperately needed the support of those around him...and for self-preservation...knowing every lost job, took money that we needed to support our family.
So all of the moments I spent wondering why I was the only one who seemed to notice his complete separation from reality, or how none of his words or actions seemed to add up, I was choosing to ignore the fact that it was because of me. I was the reason it wasn’t apparent to everyone else around him. Because I constantly covered it up for him. I invested a lot of time covering for him, laughing off questionable behaviors, and talking him down from his emotional breakdowns to prevent him from walking out on jobs or destroying friendships. As it would turn out, this was his plan all along.
I thought, as his wife, it was my job to reassure him and stand by him. At least that is how I justified it. The reality of mental illness seemed to make him so depressed, that some days I covered it up for HIM as well... so that he felt more “normal”. There was something so vulnerable and naïve about him at times he was having clarity about the illness, that I felt sorry for him and wanted to protect him from it.
I realize now, that my mind was already separating him into two parts. The abusive and uncontrollably hateful him, and the confused and helpless but charming, almost pathetic him. In my mind, there was the man I married, and this other part that just tagged along. This separation was where I went wrong, and would end up being my justification for enduring years of mental and emotional abuse. I offered him excuses to treat me badly by thinking, “that is just the uncontrolled part of him, he doesn’t mean it,” I would eagerly await the return of the charming him, as though it was possible to write off his hurtful actions as those committed by someone else. Mental illness leaves people without complete control over some of their thoughts and behaviors, but understanding this is never a reason to allow yourself to be mistreated. The abusive and heartless being taking over half of his moods was not a separate entity, but was part of who he was as a person. Me choosing to ignore this, made me emotionally vulnerable to the upcoming years of guilt, shame, confusion, exhaustion and abuse. As much as I loved and longed for HALF of my husband... there is no way to have a healthy relationship, with just half of a person.