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Her Bipolar Husband Goes Manic in the Middle of the Pandemic

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Kathryn W,

“Fortunately, this time -- sometimes it's not so easy -- we were able to convince him to check in to the hospital. Covid has a way of being a blessing in disguise. We just kept saying you should check yourself for Covid. You've been out and about, so he would go to the medical ER, but then somehow we would manage to get him over to the psych ER.”

Kathryn’s husband is bipolar, and because of his condition, he’s not able to hold down a job. Still, she’s always tried to make it work with him. They’ve been married for eight years and they have a four-year-old daughter. In July of 2019, though, she had enough of his antics. She found out that he had been lying to her for the past three months, and she decided it would be best to be officially separated.

She found a place of her own in a new city, about 20 miles away. It was closer to her in-laws, who were her daughter’s daycare when she was at work. Her husband could come over and help out, but she didn’t have to rely on him 24/7. By moving, Kathryn would also be able to have the time and space to focus more on her job and her daughter rather than her husband’s issues. She had just gotten a new job as an office coordinator for an oncology doctor’s office, and she was struggling with it.

When 2020 came, Kathryn was trying to give one hundred percent to both work life and home life. Work was still a struggle, but she was putting in the extra work to try and get herself where she needed. Between the support of her in-laws and her husband, when he could, her daughter was also being taken care of. The year was unfolding in a kind of a blur. Covid came, and she lost her balance.

Everything seemed to hit her in mid-March all at once. Her in-laws went out of town for a couple weeks on vacation. She was already heavily stressed from having to trust her bipolar husband with being the caretaker while she was at work, and she was also dealing with all the changes at her oncology center due to Covid. She felt as if she was just managing to stay afloat, and then her in-laws came back from Hawaii sick with fevers. Even though her in-laws weren’t displaying shortness of breath or coughing, because they had left the continental U.S. and were showing some symptoms, her job told her to isolate. 

It was chaotic. Between doing the cards, schedules, emails, and phone calls, and updating last-minute Covid-19 changes, there were so many things she was supposed to do that she just couldn’t manage to complete at home. To go back, though, she needed to go through the rigmarole of answering screening questions and trying to follow new requirements for possible Covid-19 exposure. She kept on getting stepped away.

On top of this, it was springtime. Her husband always goes manic with the change of seasons and he stops taking his pills. In the past, her in-laws and she were able to intervene and convince him to rest and take his medicine. But he couldn’t come to the house because they were quarantined and he definitely was not being safe. At this time, they didn’t even know where he was most of the time. 

“So on top of the stress at work, Covid, now we’re having to isolate from my in-laws who are helping take care of my daughter. And I didn’t want my husband around because he was manic and probably going out and about unmasked everywhere when things were starting to shut down… The breaking point was when my daughter got the flu.”

Her doctor assumed that her daughter just had the old-fashioned flu, but it didn’t matter to her job. Just when she was about to go back in, another red flag was being raised. The chaos was bringing an overwhelming feeling of failure. She was failing at her job and she was failing at her home life.

“That’s when I decided to actually take a leave of absence with work because I could not pull myself in every single one of those directions and even remotely think that anything could stay afloat.”

In hindsight, she is not completely convinced that it was solely the flu because of the non-flu-like symptoms.

“She wasn’t herself – nausea, vomiting, diarrhea – ten days… She’s fully potty trained. I had to put her back in pull ups. Just so lethargic, that was the big concern. When she’s gotten sick before, ten minutes later she’s bouncing on the bed. So for her to be literally in bed all day, one day, and I had gotten sick as well. I only had really one bout of vomiting, but I was the same lethargic. Her and I were literally in bed all day one day. That’s very rare for her.”

To this day, Kathryn doesn’t know if they just had the flu or actually had Covid. She wasn’t able to take the test at that time because the criteria for taking the test were so strict.

At the end of March, she found out her husband was staying with his cousin, which was a big concern. His aunt has major health issues, as does his cousin. Being up and about so often, he was definitely going through a manic episode. Normally, her husband would be able to get extra help with her or her parents, but because they were in quarantine, that wasn’t possible.

“Fortunately, this time — sometimes it’s not so easy — we were able to convince him to check in to the hospital. Covid has a way of being a blessing in disguise. We just kept saying you should check yourself for Covid. You’ve been out and about, so he would go to the medical ER, but then somehow we would manage to get him over to the psych ER. And that’s kind of how it got started to where he ended up being hospitalized for about a week.”

Her husband’s going to the hospital was often his way of reaching out for extra help. He would go to the hospital playing off that there was something wrong with him physically. Then the conversation would evolve until he got psychiatric help. Kathryn was thankful that her husband was able to recognize his state of mind sooner than he normally did.

Her husband was hospitalized for only a week. During the week, there were no visitors. All she could do was send clothes. Her father-in-law picked him up. She wonders about the treatment. Mental health facility programs had to be struggling. Normally, there are a lot of group socialization programs, but they were probably cut. The doctors were probably relying on medication rather than other therapies.

After his hospitalization, her husband agreed to go back to his cousin’s. He had always had a special connection to his daughter, and it must have been hard for him to not be able to go to their home to see his daughter. Fortunately, the weather was breaking, and they were able to arrange for him to see her outside.

“It was just a weird thing that we couldn’t provide that extra support that he usually needs at the time. Thankfully, we had technology on our side where he would either Skype us or Facetime us or whatever every single time he had to take his medication so we could physically see it. So he was pretty compliant with that. And he had been for quite a long time. Really all we could do at that point was just to kind of take every day as it came.”

They had a couple of phone conversations with the therapist back in April and May. Her husband wanted to reconcile. She wasn’t hopeful.

“Because once he’s come down off the mania — usually it’s after hospitalization — is when he is most motivated to change. It’s kind of like somebody starts a new diet. They go like hardcore, go to the gym five days a week eating nothing but fruits and vegetables. They know that they can’t sustain that. So that’s kind of how he is. He’s just so motivated. He wants to do the change. It just doesn’t stick. That’s when he kind of self-sabotages.”

The weeks passed. She didn’t know when she was going back to work. Everybody at home was getting healthy, and her husband was safe. They had healed from whatever they had. The risk of going back to work and exposing herself to whatever was there and bringing it back home weighed on her mind. She had always had a history of anxiety, and thinking about going back into the stressful situation at work felt overwhelming again. She was a big ball of fear.

Fortunately, she had just gotten her 2019 tax returns, plus the stimulus. So, financially she was stable. She ended up taking a full 12 weeks of absence. Then on the day she was ready to go back to work, they laid her off.

She tries not to be bitter. She knows that she was struggling, and her boss knew that as well. Technically, she was a middle man in the leadership. The company was growing and decided to restructure the leadership program to save money. She had the least seniority. Her position was eliminated, and she got a severance package that paid her biweekly and was good through the summer. In a way, it felt like another blessing in disguise. If she had quit and tried to find a job at that point, she would not have been able to get unemployment, which she eventually received.

She did start looking for another job. She has high expectations for herself because of where she was in her career. However, options are limited. The healthcare industry has had a hiring freeze since March. She has experience in hospitality as well, but hotels have been hugely impacted by the pandemic. There are a lot of part-time jobs and temporary jobs that are being advertised, and there are a lot of minimum-wage jobs. But she can’t survive on those wages. She knows that if she doesn’t find anything soon, she’s going to have to reach for other options.

“I’m kind of running out of what I did have in savings, which wasn’t a whole lot because I was still a year into trying to figure out how to do the whole single household income. And so that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”

As for her husband, Kathryn has been focused on taking care of her daughter and finding a job, not really on taking care of him. It’s not her job. They don’t live together, but she does what she can to support him. She allows him the opportunity to spend time with his daughter. She feels that in some ways they are actually getting along better now that they are not living together, and she’s happy about that. Whatever happens, it will be better for when they co-parent their child in the future.

“Treatment is kind of at a standstill right now is the best way to describe it. For the longest time he was really compliant, taking his medications over Facetime with us or in person if he was here. We were able to get in a couple good, really good sessions with the therapist over the phone. And then we were able to have some really good conversations, one on one in person that I kind of felt we were going in the right direction. And now it’s just where we’re at.”

Kathryn feels that her husband is at a turning point. Either he can keep up the momentum and get some things done or he could do what he always has done, which is start sliding back and stop being compliant with his medication.

“This is an important point where we need to make sure that kind of kick in the ass.”

It’s a very confusing time for both him and Kathryn. The love is still there. She’s considering getting a divorce, but she doesn’t want to give up on the relationship. Yet, to be the healthiest that she can be, getting a divorce may be the best.

“But again, I’m dragging my feet because it’s like I need to find a job first before I even think about hiring an attorney or whatever needs to happen. So I keep finding excuses. But we did have the conversation on Saturday, like getting into some more therapy. So if we’re not going to do anything legally, we can at least try and better the situation or at least try and get our feelings more to the surface.”

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