This article is Part II of “Planning a Life with Bipolar Disorder.” You can read Part I by clicking here.
With bipolar disorder, everything is a little bit more complicated. Along with following medication regimens, keeping a regular, low-stress schedule is key to lengthening time between episodes. Making big decisions or going through a life-changing event can easily trigger depression or mania.
LaRae LaBouff lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. She’s an amateur photographer and enjoys traveling, reading, writing and roller derby.Due to personal experience with Bipolar Disorder, she delved into the literature and research of the human mind. She currently writes of her own life experiences both with Psych Central and on her personal site.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
In addition to money management and choosing a career, here are two more life events that need careful consideration when dealing with bipolar disorder.
Family, marriage, dating and friendships are all relationships. Bipolar disorder affects everyone in a relationship, so it’s important to view it as a family condition.
Mania significantly increases the chance for risky behavior. This is not limited to spending sprees that could break a family financially. It also includes sexual infidelity, gambling, substance abuse and any number of symptoms an individual experiences. Each of these affects the entire relationship.
Depression can also negatively affect relationships. When a person enters this phase of the disorder, they can become listless and isolate themselves. Pushing away from social ties causes tension on both sides. Loss of energy and interest can lead to the patient not completing tasks like chores or proper child care. Arguments, guilt and shame over these missteps can trigger worsening symptoms, creating a cycle.
There are three main areas people with or without bipolar disorder can work on to help maintain and strengthen relationships.
The more people understand what bipolar disorder entails, the easier it is to recognize behavior influenced by the disorder. It can then be viewed as a symptom and not a character flaw. Patients function better and have longer periods between mood cycles when all parties of the relationship undergo psychoeducation.
Building vocabulary to express feelings about situations or having the ability to say “I’m not in a place where I can deal with this” can help guide both parties through difficult times.
Having an action plan for various scenarios a patient experiences, like overspending or becoming aggravated, can help ease the burden.
Sometimes the burden of bipolar disorder is too much for a relationship. All parties need know there is an option to walk away.
Society is still at the point where women are expected to want and have children (compared to being childfree) even when illness is a factor. However, those with bipolar disorder have to put more thought into the decision than the average couple. There are at least three reasons why this is the case.
- Bipolar disorder is genetic.
There is about a 10% chance of a child developing bipolar disorder if one parent has it. That rate increases if both parents have mental illness. This is about the same rate of some forms of breast cancer and almost twice as likely as type 1 diabetes. However, even if a child’s genes are coded for bipolar disorder, environmental factors have to come into play before it will develop fully.
- Pregnancy and childbirth can trigger mood episodes.
Many medications currently used to treat bipolar disorder are not safe for pregnancy, so it becomes necessary to wean off of the drugs that are helping to some that may not do the job as well. Forty-five percent of women relapse during pregnancy.
Postpartum episodes are also common. Childbirth itself can trigger latent bipolar disorder. Twenty percent of women who test positive for postpartum depression go on to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
- Being a parent with bipolar disorder.
Parenting is hard, even when well. The stress of raising children, of terrible two’s and teenage attitude, can trigger mood episodes. These episodes can have a negative impact on a child’s well-being.
In addition to the symptoms of impulsive and erratic behavior, mania often emerges with agitation. There’s a chance of lashing out at children verbally and physically during this period. Psychosis is also a possibility. If mania is euphoric, a patient may take kids out of school for an impromptu vacation, for example. If depressed, people with bipolar disorder may not have the energy to care for their children, or they may begin to use the children as a crutch.
If a person with bipolar disorder chooses to have children, it’s important to have long-term and short-term contingency plans in place should they become too ill to care for for their kids. On a positive note, becoming a parent gives some people with bipolar disorder more motivation to stick to treatment.
There are many more life decisions where bipolar disorder needs to be considered. The best way to handle it is to be educated and plan ahead. Should any problems arise, contact a physician or therapist.