I credit much of my mental health success to those who have lovingly walked by my side throughout my rocky bipolar road. Part I of “My Safety Net” outlined my family’s influence on who I’ve become today. How I choose, or accept, my friendships was described in Part II. For this final piece about support, I interviewed my closest ally – my love and my truest best friend – my husband Christopher.
Seeing myself through his objective eyes, I’ve become more confident. We think about how to manage “bipolar Kate” together and only when the time is appropriate. I am able to brush that evil demon off my shoulder without thought, knowing the person that I love and live with has my back – all the way. With a tear in my eye, I listened to Chris as he told me, “You can’t help but be thankful to the good Lord for giving us this life together”.
Of course no relationship and family is without its challenges. Chris said he worried once that I might be slipping over the bipolar cliff.
Chris and I met and married while working at a large university in Providence, RI. I worked in the University Events Office and Chris served as Production Manager for the Theatre Department. Albeit challenging, we were financially stable and comfortable in our roles. Soon after our son was born, we were both laid off. We still struggle, as many in this economy do, but we’ve held our lives together quite manageably and with great strength.
I offer this story because soon after my departure from my 12-year-tenure in Providence, I accepted a position in the events office at a far smaller institution of higher education. It was – as they say – “a bad fit”. But I was determined and headstrong. Chris said I’d come home sobbing after work. He worried I was depressed. Immediately after leaving, he knew the situation – not my health – had been the problem as tears fell only occasionally and for good reason there after. “They’re healthy tears that ease the tension for you”, he said. He said he sees this pattern in keeping with his wife – not a diagnoses that needs to be obsessively managed. “You cry about once a month”, he said. I laughed acknowledging to myself that he actually keeps track. His awareness of my day-to-day routine is impressive.
Hearing examples of how Chris watches out for me, I learned more about myself during our interview. He recognizes, for example, that late in the afternoon – daily, I get very snippy and uncharacteristically needy. He said he knows this behavior as a characteristic of the person he loves and doesn’t define this trait as a problem or frustrating. He said “I accept you for who you are; isn’t that what a good partnership is all about?” He explained that by supporting me, he helps enable my true nature and doesn’t “blame your personality on being bipolar”.
I’ve learned through this exercise that my safety net is well knit and secure. With this awareness, the anxiety of a relapse is distant. Having supporters who understand me and witness my behavior without judgment – just by being in my life – enables me to take stock of the “blips” on the screen or simply better understand who the person behind my diagnoses has grown to become. Through my family’s perspective, I better understand the core of my very being. Knowing who will always be there in a pinch has helped me understand the sibling-like nature of true friendship. And knowing I have a husband who loves and respects me for myself has enabled me to fully trust our relationship.
Better understanding the nature and importance of my safety net has given me the power to rebuild those once clipped wings and fly far more freely.