Anyone who has ever known someone who is bi-polar, or manic-depressive, can only imagine what it is like living with someone with this mental illness. It is not an easy thing. I say this out of experience, not as one who has had to pattern my life around someone else’s behavior, but as someone who has themselves been diagnosed.
As with most people, I have been in many relationships with many people. Some of those relationships were intimate, some were not. My experience has shown me, that most often, it’s not the label people put on a relationship that matters, but the structure of the relationship itself. In short, it can be just as difficult maintaining friendships as it is a marriage.
If you have found yourself in a relationship with someone that is bi-polar, and you are choosing to live with them, in whatever capacity, it’s best to recognize that people with a mental illness don’t generally think the same was as you. It’s just a fact you need to accept if you are to going to have any hope of peaceful coexistence. The reason this is crucial is because when conflicts arise, most people resort to reacting in emotional ways. This is also true of most people who are bi-polar. The problem is, the bi-polar person is almost always incapable of empathizing with the others point of view. And this one single problem is more than most people are willing to endure.
My suggestion for you, if you truly want to live with this other person, is to first look at your own needs and desires. Can you accept the real possibility that this person you want to live with, will almost certainly lie to you at some point? Can you accept the probability that this person will do things you may never know about? These are not abstract questions. If you choose to cohabitate with someone who is mentally ill, you need to first know what you will and will not abide. In fact, it’s almost foolhardy to even try to live with someone who is bi-polar if you don’t. You have to know your own boundaries. Are you willing to put up with physical violence if it only happens when this other person is “out of his head.” Are you willing to put up with ugly words flung at you when this person goes on a rampage? Or, are you willing to climb out of bed at 4am on a Wednesday, when you have to be at work at eight, and the phone rings and you have to get in your car to fetch your loved one from another mess they’ve made?
Are you willing to believe this person does not do these things to hurt you?
Clearly not every person with a bi-polar disorder behaves the same. Not everyone who suffers from this illness is effected in the same ways or comes from the same sort of background. But the facts remain. Almost all people with this disorder live rather chaotic lives. It’s the nature of the disease.
But, having said all this, it is not impossible to live with someone who is bi-polar. Just as it’s not impossible to live with a wolf, or a feral cat. It’s all a matter of how much you, the person that has chosen to live with them, is willing to put into being with this person.
In my experience, the only way to live peacefully with someone who is bi-polar, is to just love them, no matter what they do. This might sound like you’re setting yourself up for a lot of abuse, but, it’s not. While it’s true that some people with a bi-polar disorder will abuse you, it is certainly not true of the vast majority. As with the general population, abuse comes from a different place. Abuse is about anger, not illness. If the person in your life is abusive, there is very little chance of your living a peaceful life with them. If on the other hand, the person you wish to live with is simply overcome by mood swings, hallucinations or feelings of paranoia, that is something beyond their control. You might look at their behavior as one would any other person with a physical illness, i.e. as someone who needs to be cared for when the symptoms arise.
This is not to say that you need to live the life of a door-mat. This is why it’s critical to decide for yourself what you will and will not abide. You have to make up your mind, and make it clear to the person you wish to live with, that should things go beyond your boundaries, you will leave. And it will be final. No exceptions. It’s very important that both of you know and understand what is acceptable and what isn’t. Bi-polar people might be mentally ill, but they are not usually stupid. And for the most part, despite some claims to the contrary, most people with this illness are able to control those urges that they know will take away something that they truly want. And if you being in their life is something they want; no matter what, then you can be reasonably sure they won’t violate whatever thing it is that might cause you to leave.
To live with a person who is bi-polar, you have to have the patience of a saint. You have to be kind, sweet and generous. You have to be willing to put another’s needs ahead of your own more often than they will ever put yours ahead of theirs. You have to be willing to forget what has gone on in the past; to forgive what is in the present and to understand, always, that the reason you are there, is because you love them, and they you.