There and Back Again

June 27 2014

I knew something was wrong last summer when I woke up at 3 am, and she was staring out of the window. She told me that a work buddy was picking her up. Her cadence was clipped and she couldn't explain why she needed to leave. I looked at her phone when she went to the bathroom to discover that said friend was out of town. Alexis was hallucinating.

The next day she didn't meet me like she said she would. She called me 4 hours later and struggled to figure out where she was and how to get home. Once we got to the ER, she was admitted and given a diagnosis. My wife had bipolar disorder.

When we talk the months following her hospitalization, I realize we had completely different experiences. What she went through at that time sounds hellish, and I'm not sure I'd be able to endure it. However, there's a unique and surreal kind of horror endured by a person trying to help some one through a manic episode. That's what I'm here to talk about.

Alexis was released from the hospital before her mania had fully subsided because of insurance reasons. Over the next month, she would leave the house at noon and return in the early morning, without telling me where she was going. After learning that she wasn't seeing or talking to friends and family, it became clear she was wandering the streets of New York by herself.

She accused me of robbing her of her independence and asked me for a divorce. I thought this was strange since we had always valued our independence. In fact, we decided to go to colleges in different towns (we're high school sweethearts) to preserve it. The irony is, this was a time when she was least able to exercise that independence. I did things that, although I realize were in Alexis' best interest, I still feel guilty about. I slipped the medicine she refused to take in her food and coffee. I turned GPS tracking on her phone and checked it constantly. I stole and hid her credit cards. After a month, she went to go stay with her mother in Florida. She began to take her meds and decided she wanted to return to New York – and me.

Slowly but surely, Alexis began to pick up the pieces left in the wake of her manic episode. She's thriving and feeling better every day, and we're both learning how to deal and mange her condition. Sometimes it's just as if nothing happened; other times it feels like the specter of bipolar disorder casts a pall over every conversation and decision. I think about the violations of trust I committed to try to help her and worry if I might need to do that again. I worry that I may not know her passwords if that day comes. I worry about telling her, “Smoochers, I would never keep tabs on you, but I'd really like you to tell me when you update your Gmail, in case I have to spy on you again.”

I may have not known what I was in for when we got married, but I don't regret a thing. While these trials may have complicated our relationship, they've also deepened it. I'm floored by with the strength, bravery and grace that she has handled this with. If you or a loved one are going struggling with bipolar disorder, I'm happy to share the little wisdom I have.

JP Erkelens
[email protected]
Brooklyn, NY

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