It was at one of our first dates when Nikki told me she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I would not call that admission a test, however I knew that the way I reacted to such an admission would determine the course of our relationship, and even if there would be another date.
When I met Nikki, I was no stranger to mental illness. I had been in a previous failed relationship with someone who was diagnosed with severe depression. Though not the only reason we broke up, her failure to follow a treatment plan was a contributing factor. In addition, one of my children had been diagnosed with, and was under treatment for, depression. Because of my experiences, I may have been more educated on mental illness than the average person when Nikki admitted her mental illness to me.
I took Nikki's hands in mine and asked her the following questions:
1. Are you in treatment?
2. Are you following your treatment plan?
3. Will you promise me that you will never stop following your treatment plan?
She answered yes to all three questions. I was not scared off by an admission of mental illness, but I may have been scared off by an untreated mental illness. Living with someone with a mental illness is no different than living with someone with any quirk or difference. For example, my aversion to legal television dramas is probably as difficult for Nikki to live with as her Bipolar Disorder is for me. All joking aside, when Nikki has a minor break through of symptoms, which research shows everyone in recovery will have, I have learned how to best help her. That may mean just holding her while she cries for no reason. It may mean putting on a Broadway Show-tune soundtrack so she can fall asleep. Sometimes even we may have to suddenly change our plans because she does not feel up to what we were going to do. For me the most important part of helping Nikki is her letting me, because love is both about giving and receiving.
Nine months after I asked those three questions, Nikki also answered yes to a question that I feel was just as important as the three I asked on that early date -- "Will you marry me?" After the first five and half years of marriage, I know Nikki's mental illness is part of who we are as a couple and always will be.
I am not one of the "one in five people in the world" who the World Health Organization states "will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives." In stating that figure, the World Health Organization uses the word "affected" to mean "has" a mental illness. While I do not have a mental illness, my life has clearly been affected by those who do. If 20% of all people in the world have a mental illness, it clearly means all of us know
and loves someone in the "one in five."
Written by Haran Rashes