. . .I see a wifey looking at me! Are people with bipolar forgetful? Does a polar bear poop ice cubes? Sometimes living with a bipolar husband is like having Groundhog Day, the Butterfly Effect and Black Mirror being a part of your life at the same time.
People with bipolar have complained of memory impairment during their mood cycles and at times in between. With my husband, he was in constant disbelief that his memory was not dependable so for years it caused a lot of marital stress. He is already a skeptical person by nature and having someone tell him he was saying and doing things he did not remember felt like gaslighting to him.
After almost 20 years of marriage he finally will admit that his memory is spotty and mostly believe me when I remind him of things. I have come to understand how scary it is to not be sure of your own memories. I watched my father forget during the course of his cancer symptoms. It is a dibilitating feeling I am sure. Everyone has trouble at one time or another retrieving a memory but people with bipolar sometimes remember things entirely differently and in the case of my husband he has replaced entire memories.
The most poignant example is our visit to Stone Mountain. While we were living in Georgia, USA we got a membership to a tourist attraction called Stone Mountain assuming everyone that visited us would want to go there. They didn’t. LOL We did go there a couple of times although it was nothing exciting. In fact it was more uncomfortable than anything but that is for another post. One day, years after we had moved back to North Carolina we were reliving our past and my husband very clearly remembered taking my mother to Stone Mountain.
THAT.NEVER.HAPPENED. The memory was so clear and so real in his bipolar brain that he spent YEARS looking for photos as evidence. He even directly asked my mother who said, “Sammy-ya I barely can walk – how I climb that big mountain?” So that was a no from the source. He could retell my mother’s reactions, pushing her in a wheelchair, riding a sky ride with her, listening to her complain, taking photos with her so vividly – it was fascinating. It must have been very unsettling for him to finally realize none of that ever happened. He can now finally joke about it but it was a sore spot for a very long time.
People with bipolar disorder CYCLE. How often and how fast they cycle really depends on the person. It can also be triggered by insufficient sleep (which hubby suffers from constantly), altercations with people they care about (fighting with friends, family, wife, kids), alcohol and drug “misuse” or overuse, hormonal changes (yes men too), change in seasons and even the very medication they take to help control other symptoms.
It’s during these cycles that sometimes the brain tricks itself or forgets or fabricates memories. These “mood swings” can last hours, days, weeks or even months. My husband tends to rapid cycle so it is sometimes hard to figure out which cycle he is in. Some people may only experience one or two cycles a year but I have seen him cycle several times PER MONTH when stress is high.
You can imagine what all this does to a brain. It is no wonder that he forgets. I have had to become very educated about his illness so that I understand many of his habits were disease driven and not because he’s an A-hole. Yes, he can still be one like all spouses but it has helped our marriage a lot for me to understand what bipolar cycles look like.
Luckily, he is open to treatment now and he takes medication, sees a psychiatrist, talks to a therapist, has done a little bit of cognitive-behavioral therapy and dabbles in self management techniques and meditation. I would love to see him do more of the latter but I’ve learned over the years I can not wish or push him into anything. I try to be a great cheerleader and when I have to, I become that tough coach in the locker room getting on my soapbox and reminding him of what is important.
Overall, try to understand that it is scary to forget. The bipolar person feels helpless and sometimes very vulnerable when he can’t even trust his own memories. If you love a bipolar bear try to live in his paws once in awhile so you can have empathy. Then, maybe then after nearly 20 years of marriage you too can laugh about that time he thought he took your crazy mom to Stone Mountain. You might as well laugh about it!