20s, *Emily and Sean have lived together for over two years; the engaged couple shares their positive journey with Sean’s bipolar:
EMILY: What does caregiving in your household look like?
Caring for Sean has never been a burden for me. For a while, Sean had trouble keeping a job, just because there are several days people with bipolar disorder don’t feel good. And many jobs don’t just allow you to miss a day without a doctor’s note. So for a big part of our relationship, I worked a lot, but again it was never a bad thing. Of course, there are times I have to calm Sean down from a panic attack or reassure him that things will be okay. Thankfully, Sean is really helpful whenever I need help as well. He’s been very supportive with my studies (I’m in my last year of college and working and Sean is also working full time now as well) and encourages me to stick with my major because he knows how passionate I am about mental health awareness. I wouldn’t say that I just take care of Sean, but he also takes care of me.
EMILY: When did learn about Sean’s bipolar diagnosis and what kind of impact did this have on you?
Sean told me pretty soon after we began dating. I was pretty much like, “Oh okay” and knew it wasn’t going to be a negative impact in our life. I knew a little about bipolar since I study psychology at college, but after I found out, I began my research process. Since then I’ve read a lot of journals, peer reviews, and studies relating to him. Even though I knew bipolar was a serious thing, it never changed the way I viewed Sean. I knew it would only make us stronger.
SEAN: What are the main symptoms that you deal with and what has helped?
Sometimes I don’t really recognize the symptoms, but I do have days where I wake up feeling like I’m not really myself. I experience mania here and there, an extreme feeling of energy and this feeling like you are on top of the world. And then there are the extreme lows, where I feel almost helpless or like I can’t really get through it. It leaves me with this feeling like I will always be sad or “trapped” that way and it’s not true, everyone can get through it and pick back up.
What has helped me the most though is having Emily there to support me and understand me. The meds I take do help, but what I want people to understand is you have to want to work on it. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of time and patience. But if you can accept that you need some help and really want to work on it, it goes a long way towards feeling better.
SEAN: What works for you two as a couple?
Emily: Staying positive. It can be the hardest thing to do but it has been the biggest help. The more I research and educate myself on the diagnosis it helps me to better understand what it is going on. I can also explain it to Sean and it can ease his mind. Sean is one of the strongest and bravest people I have ever met. There have been many obstacles in our life thus far, but each time he faces them with a brave attitude. He is kind, funny, and compassionate.
Sean: Definitely staying positive and understanding that it’s just how my brain is wired. I never really looked into how bipolar disorder affects those with it before I met Emily because, in some ways, I didn’t want to understand it. I didn’t want people to know I had it or how it affected me because I didn’t want to really accept it. I just floated through life and I burned a lot of bridges because of it. But now I accept that I do have bipolar disorder but that I can still live a normal life.
Emily is the most caring and loving person and she has always tried to help me in any way she can. By being there no matter what and by actually learning about bipolar disorder and ways to help with my treatment and by understanding it’s not something I can always control.
EMILY: How has this journey affected you personally?
Seeing someone you love with a mood disorder like this really changes your world view. It makes me really grateful for each day we have together and it’s helped me become humble and less judgmental of others as well. There are also a lot of positive things. It’s definitely pushed me to advocate for mental health awareness more because there are so many that can’t speak up. It’s showed me how to love hard, even when times are tough. I am grateful for all the little things, and it’s given me a lot of patience.
SEAN: Have you had to deal with stigma as a couple?
Emily: There are some people that judge our situation just because they don’t understand bipolar disorder. But I don’t let that bother me because their opinion doesn’t matter. We are thankful to have a few friends that really understand Sean’s bipolar and are a big help. I think that’s all that really matters and it makes you appreciate your real friends.
Sean: I’ve had a lot of people think I just make it up, that things I have been through are not “bad enough” or that it’s all in my head. But everyone is different and how we experience things and react to situations is different. What may be a small problem to some can be overwhelming to others. But having friends, genuinely good people, that will actually listen and be there for me has helped me a lot.
SEAN: How do you deal with emotional episodes; for instance walking on eggshells?
Emily: Sometimes it can be hard, but not always. Of course, I never want to say something that would trigger anxiety, but thankfully Sean is good about expressing his feelings to me and I’m able to catch if he is acting like something bothers him.
Sean: I have said things out of anger that I later regret. It sometimes just comes with the burden of switching moods. But I always try to realize I made a mistake and talk to Emily to understand her feelings and situation, not just my own.
SEAN: What message of hope and inspiration can you both share?
Emily: The biggest message I want to get out there is that there is hope. It always won’t be scary or bad. But it takes time and it’s not easy. It’s been amazing watching Sean grow into the person he is today. And I’ve loved getting to stand by his side, help fight his demons, and inspire him to do the things he loves.
Sean: Just take things one step at a time. It will not always be bad, but it won’t always be good either. That’s just life. But there are things you can do to help ease the bad times and understanding that it’s just something many people go through does help. Talking to others who also have bipolar disorder has shed some light on the ways I sometimes feel and lets me know I am not alone in my experiences.
*both names have been changed
Emily shares her happy and busy life with her fiancé Sean and their cat in Southern United States. She says even though things are “not always perfect,” she is grateful for every moment and to share a life with someone loving and compassionate. She continues to fight for the awareness of both mental health challenges and bipolar disorder.