December 7, 2011

I’m going to write a  series of blogs focusing on the  "taboo" behaviours associated with differing mental health disorders. No matter whether the behavior is public or private it helps to talk. My main aim is to get things out in the open so people do not have to feel alone and experience guilt, shame and self-loathing during or after an episode of being unwell. Make no mistake these behaviours, if left in denial, can destroy lives.

Find out more about Bipolar and Cyclothymic disorder on the Mind website.

The husband's perspective

Imagine you are a married man with 2 small children. You have been with your wife for 10 years. She had suffered bouts of depression and had experienced severe post-natal depression after the birth of your first child. As a precautionary measure the doctor had advised she take an anti-depressant leading up to and after the birth of your second.

Over a few months the wife you thought you knew so well gradually starts to become a seemingly different character. She is really energetic, enthusiastic about everything, throwing caution to the wind and you are happy. Slowly though you notice whereas she used to enjoy simple pleasures, being with her children, focusing on the job she loves and being a mum she becomes bored with everything and wants to go and do what you might consider reckless activities. 

She then starts to become obsessed with going out in the evening, hanging out with a younger party crowd, going to clubs. At work there is a 19-year-old lad on work placement. You and your wife are 32. He is deeply troubled, fresh from a young offenders institution, previously in care covered in tattoos. Your wife has always maintained strong ethical professional yet starts to take it upon herself to become his best friend. She goes out wearing a sexy low-cut outfits and informs you she is taking the work placement lad out clubbing as he doesn’t know anybody to go out with in the city you live in.

The wife’s perspective

Ok, now imagine you are the wife. You are as high as a kite. The connection with this 19 year old has become like a drug, an addiction, passionate and deeply unhealthy. You believe you are madly in love. You are a woman again. You have a tremendous sex drive after not feeling any passion for years: the riskier the better. You are lying to everyone but you don’t care. He is fuelling your “out of character” forceful passion.  Even when the abuse starts it feeds your existential need to be punished. I am “bad” this is what I deserve, so you welcome it in a sick way.

You are now feeling out of control. Your friends are starting to notice. Everyone is telling you that you must be crazy. You make them lie for you so you can spend more time with your lover. You are inevitably found out. Your husband just doesn’t understand and is deeply, deeply hurt, but you can’t feel any remorse. You are whizzing along watching your actions as if in a film and are totally removed from the destruction you are causing.

My perspective

I was the wife in that story. I was experiencing my first episode of mania, which was brought on by postnatal hormonal changes and was ironically enhanced by the anti-depressants the doctor had prescribed.

Within 18 months of my daughter being born I had moved in with this 20 year old who seemed to be a who seemed to be a criminal sociopath, leaving my best friend and loved husband, my business, my home, and most tragically my much loved children.

My ex-husbands voice kept echoing round my head, “you have to be responsible for your actions, it was your choice.”

“But I couldn’t stop, “ I would be screaming inside.

Was I responsible?

Many people I know who have experienced this phenomenon of hyper sexuality describe the point in retrospect where it all starts to go horribly wrong. We end up subconsciously seeking out people who won’t judge us, but the truth is people who “don’t judge in this regard“ are normally extremely psychologically damaged themselves. Those that do judge we tend to leave behind or lie to so as to protect them.

My close friends and family didn’t know the half of it but were really worried I was being manipulated and abused by the man I was with. I thought I deserved it. By now my self-esteem was so low.

He was arrested 3 times for violent offences; I was locked up over night too as I was trying to break down a door to a room he had locked himself in, after he had cheated on me for the umpteenth time. I was locked in a spiral of destruction.

The domestic violence team started supporting me and trying to get me to throw him out. It took 6 years to get this man out of my life and, until that time, I lost my house, developed a drink problem, and became bankrupt by the age of 39. I was still not diagnosed bipolar until I was 43.

We all know and recognize how it is to feel sad, happy, high, excited, anxious, or even “horny” and in the mood for love. These moods keep us going, and in many ways protect us from certain situations, or let us know what we are feeling so we can assess aspects of our lives and ourselves. The reality is that we don’t have to act on how we feel. Feelings and moods are not there to control us.

Mood disorders

Many of us have even taken substances which alter our moods and behaviours: alcohol, tea, coffee, recreational drugs, cannabis etc. all act on our brain chemicals to make us feel different.

Hormones also have an effect on our moods. A mood disorder is simply caused by an imbalance in the brain chemistry that regulates these moods. A person who is bipolar or cyclothymiacs experiences mood swings either in long episodes or in short episodes. We can swing from low, (various degrees of depression,) to high, (hyper-mania or full blown mania.)

Classic behaviours associated with the "highs" are risky and self-destructive behaviour, which can include hyper sexuality.

Friends of mine who have also experienced the effect of hyper sexuality seem to have experienced either an intense affair with someone who fuels the mania, or they have experienced a complete change in their normal sexual behavior.

There are people who have high sex drives or enjoy being hedonistic and are perfectly healthy as it is part of their temperament or character. They make informed choices. The thing to watch out for is when someone starts to do things compulsively or totally out of character.

If my family and close friends understood how hormonal changes can affect moods, not only plunging you into low moods, but also high, would all this hurt and destruction have been avoided? Our sex-life is not something we generally discuss with our family.

If I had known what was going on would I have been far more able to ask for help? Hypersexual behaviour is far more acceptable in men, than women, and does this add to women’s self-hatred? Are we as bipolar people now lumbered with this fear of our own sexuality, not knowing who we really are in that regard?

 Many people simply concede that celibacy; no sex-drive or no consistent healthy sexuality is the price we pay to stay “balanced.”  We accept and slightly welcome that the medication we need gets rid of our sex drive. However we then feel constant guilt in our relationships, guilt at not being able to fulfill our partner’s need. However much you love your partner and understand the situation would you give up sex?

Find out more about Bipolar and Cyclothymic disorder on the Mind website.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.