The ups and downs of bipolar disorder & my marriage

Bipolar depression is nobody’s playmate. It’s a complex condition and, if not understood correctly, can destroy individuals and marriages.

When Sonet Schutte was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2010, it was a big shock for her and her husband (who knew little about the disease). Before long she had to quit her job because she couldn’t concentrate and struggled with anxiety attacks.

Sonet says: “I had two relapse phases that I went through. The one is depression that sucks you into this dark pit that you start getting suicidal thoughts and ideas. I have scars on my arm where I cut and injured myself. For me it’s the only way to get rid of this heavy, pressing feeling within me. Bipolar takes over your entire brain, as well as your humanity, thoughts and actions. For me it’s the only way to gain some form of control.”

“The second relapse is rage. A rage that builds up in me when I go into this specific relapse, results in me causing great harm to my home, myself and my husband. I will say and do things to him over which he has no control. The more he tries to calm me down, the deeper I go into this relapse . . . After every relapse come the feelings of guilt, regret and remorse.

What effect does it have on a marriage?

Sonet explains that it is the worst thing ever for her to see the pain and sorrow in her husband’s eyes. “For me as a patient there is medication to keep my feelings and thoughts in check, but there is no support for him. For him it hurts to see the cuts and to sometimes have to treat them . . . to see the rage in me and feel helpless just standing and watching. He has said that it feels like he is walking on a white line because he has to be so careful what he says and does.” Their sex life (which drastically increases and then decreases again) also suffers because of the condition.

Within two years Sonet was admitted to a clinic three times for mentally unstable patients. “One’s life partner needs to have patience and be very supportive, which also means he can ask for help when needed. It’s a sickness that we both have to fight, every day, every hour and every second,” says Sonet.

Luckily she has a husband who makes an effort to understand the disease. “My husband reads as much as possible about the disease. After three years he is still doing research to understand and to know what to do when I have a relapse. He also handles my medication for me to make sure that I drink it often and as prescribed. As long as I take my medication, I can almost live a normal life. My husband gives me a lot of love, because I quickly feel unsure about myself. I also keep a journal wherein I write all my thoughts. It’s a way of healing. At times I give my husband the journal so that he can better understand the disease.”

Article by LIZE GROENEWALD