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partners of those who suffer from a psychiatric disorder
22nd-Sep-2006 04:24 pm
Music Is My Boyfriend
Hi guys, my name is Allison and my soon-to-be-exhusband is bipolar.  We have a five-year-old daughter, so even though we're splitting, he'll always be a part of my life because of our little one.  I live in Kentucky and I work in survey research (not market research), mostly with public policy type stuff.

We've got a neighbor who is also bipolar and she displays the symptoms that I always thought were the typical bipolar symptoms of laying on the couch for a week straight, then going a week completely redecorating the house.  My husband has never been like that, that I've noticed, so it's been kinda weird thinking of him as bipolar.  He just never seems to have a happy medium.  He's got a short fuse and gets frustrated and annoyed very easily and takes that out on me and my daughter (never physically).  He also use to get emotional and cry very easily too, but I haven't seen that side from him in awhile.

He's got some compulsive tendancies also.  He's a comic book collector and has something like 20k of them by now.  But he also collects Batman and Star Wars stuff, legos, pez despensers and plays lots of computer games for hours upon hours.  He's done a little less of the collecting lately, but in general he just seems to want to buy the stuff to complete the collection and not to actually enjoy the actual toy or whatever. 

I've also noticed he's been lying to me a lot the last year or so.  But it's about stupid little things that he knows would irritate me, so instead lies about it.  Like paying our car taxes (which needs to be done), that he keeps not getting to.  He'd say he paid them, but that the sticker to put on the plates he keeps leaving at work.  Then I get the credit card statement and it shows the payment as being two weeks after he said he did it.

What I've had the biggest issue with him more recently is the amount of time he plays World of Warcraft.  If you don't know what that is, it's this very complex online game where you work with other people who are playing the game to go on raids and complete missions.  That's about as well as I can explain it.  If he's not at work, he's on the computer playing this game.  He stays up to all hours of the night playing and every couple weeks has to take a sick day to just recover from the lack of sleep.  It's typical that he'd come home and be on the computer by 7pm and not log off till 2am.  As a husband and father, you can imagine all the things he was neglecting by spending this much time with the game.

Next month will be our 9th anniversary.  The first few years I saw his irritability more with his parents and family, and very rarely focused on me.  Then as it seemed to affect our relationship and I worried about his extreme emotions I suggested he talk to his doctor.  His doctor put him on depression meds.  He's been on Effexor and one other one and is now on Wellbutrin. 

This past spring we started marriage counseling and after talking to the counselor for awhile he was convinced he needed to see an actual Pychiatrist, who eventually diagnosed him as bipolar.  I'm not sure how the diagnosis process works, but it really seemed quick.  The doctor put him on Lamictal in addition to the Wellbutrin. 

Personally I think he has gotten much worse sense being on this new medication.  Not only is he still very irritable, but his anger seems to be worse.  And when I try to talk to him about this, he agrees, but still never gets around to making an appointment to talk to his doctor about it.  He basically feels like it's worthless, that he's been on four meds now and nothing is going to work.  I can't change his mind and just hope that he has a regular appointment coming up that he will finally tell his doctor the truth.

In the meantime I'm concerned about letting him spend time with our daughter by himself.  So far he hasn't had occassion to, but it will happen in the next couple months and I want to feel okay with this situation.  I've never been afraid of him, but a couple occassions lately he seems completely not himself.  Actually since he's been on Lamictal he seems like a completely different person.  I called and left a message with his psychiatrist saying I felt like he had a change in personality, but the doctor never called me back.  One of my friends suggested that it might not be ethical for the doctor to talk to me since we're separated.  But it seems to me that when someone is on a mental illness medication there should be some oversight about how the meds are working from a person who is around the patient.  Oh well.....
22nd-Sep-2006 09:36 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry. This stuff is really hard to deal with, and it's frustrating trying to figure out how to handle the health system (let alone with your ill partner).

If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend Anne Sheffield's book How You Can Survive When They're Depressed. It's a good foundation for understanding various aspects of depression and related illnesses. For me, I found it helped when I could get some outside affirmation and answers on questions I had about what behaviours are typical, what is involved in treatment, etc.

I don't think there is -- or, if there is, I haven't found -- a set answer on what's normal regarding a partner's relationship with their partner's doctors and providers. I asked my partner D.'s therapist point-blank what I should let her and his psyciatrist know about his behavior; she said it's basically a judgement call on my part. I too think it's important for those providing treatment to get feedback from those around the patient; and I've generally had that backed by others I've talked with about it -- but how that plays out in practise depends a lot on the actual doctor involved. Some welcome and encourage family involvement. Others shun it, either because of their practiscing philosophy, sheer laziness, etc. The ethical issue can be handled by the doctor asking the patient for their consent to discuss the case with certain family members. If you're still on good enough terms/involved enough with your husband, you could ask to go along on his next psychiatrist visit and speak directly with the doctor.

It sounds like the meds aren't work well for him, which is common. Depression meds seem like a black-box art. When they work, they work well, but finding the right combo for any given patient is basically throwing darts at a blackboard. I haven't heard any good advice on what to do during the 'searching for what works' period, especially if the patient is going along reluctantly.

(BTW, about the 'diagnosis seemed quick' issue -- I think that's normal. Depression and its related illnesses can often be diagnosed in only one visit. The symptoms are really identifiable. Stuff is sometimes *mis*diagnosed, but that's a different issue. Again, it would probably help to talk with the doctor about your husband's symptoms and diagnosis.)

and again: I'm really sorry. this is a lot for you and your daughter to deal with.
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