In 2011, I had a major manic episode which resulted in a series of affairs; mostly with strangers. My wife busted me with text messages, and rather than sticking it out with her, which she was willing to do, I moved out. The effect on my wife and kids was devastating. My wife’s deepest fear, even more than infidelity, is abandonment. She was abandoned by her mother as a child. She was abandoned by the most important adult in her childhood, her grandfather, to death; at least that’s the way it felt to her. And then me. My son was crushed, and my daughter was void of emotion altogether, but it may have started her on the path to bipolar, suicide attempts, and drug/alcohol abuse.
I developed pneumonia which ultimately may have kicked me out of my mania. A miracle occurred which I will share another time. My wife found me and brought me to the doctor to be treated. I was on the verge of hospitalization for pneumonia. Each breath crackled in my lungs. She put me in our bed and cared for me. She believed in our vow “in sickness and in health”. Her friend, a psychologist had told her that I most likely had bipolar disorder. I took an online quiz and scored extraordinarily high so I agreed to see a psychiatrist and a psychologist. They confirmed a diagnosis of Bipolar I. And that’s where the healing began.
Many of her family and friends urged her to leave me. I had sent out raving emails and messages and Facebook posts which disgraced both of us. Very few were eager to forgive me despite of the diagnosis which seemed like a very convenient excuse for my cheating to some. But she knew that I was very sick and that my behavior was very uncharacteristic. I somehow averted physical retribution from male members of her family.
She took me back on several conditions all of which I agreed to:
- I would go into treatment and do everything the professionals prescribed.
- I would not have any private/personal/non-essential relationships with women via messages, phone calls, or visits.
- I would live a transparent life with her. She would have full access to my emails, text messages, or phone logs.
- I would be nice to her.
- I would never commit adultery of any kind again. No second chances.
In the first night back together, despite her pain we made very intense love. She could not explain that urge and it did not quell her pain. We’ve never had a great love life, but in my hypersexual mania leading up the separation, we had developed a very strong pattern; however, soon after the reconciliation it diminished. We’ve only had sex half-a-dozen times since then (2011).
It’s not just her, it’s me. After having a full throttle sexual experience with multiple partners, I shut down sexually. The best I can figure is that I don’t ever want this kind of thing to happen again so I closed the door. She’s not all that interested in it, and honestly, I’m ok with that. We have teens and paper walls and a squeaky bed. It can wait.
My treatment went very well and so my wife was willing to be close with me. In fact, we’ve never been closer despite our lack of lovemaking. For the first time in our marriage, I am honest. I am kind. I take care of her. I do whatever it takes to keep her with me. But there is so much more work to do.
Our children have both struggled with mental illness and suicide. My wife is surrounded with bipolar, depression, and suffering. This year, she reached some sort of limit. She had been stuffing her pain for the sake of taking care of us. But now that the kids are becoming adults, she’s taking steps. She got a therapist. She’s had one session. The therapist diagnosed her with PTSD and asked her to start taking her first steps toward true personal healing.
She’s scared, and I’m a little anxious about it. I know what this means. I know that all of the pain and anger she put away in order to reconcile and care for me and our children will rise to the surface. This, however, is a chance for me to support her for a change. I’m preparing myself, girding my loins as the men of old used to say, for the approaching struggle. I will need to love her through this and show her that no matter what, I will not abandon her again.
My theory is that as she becomes in touch with her emotions, she may also become in touch with her sexuality again, and I hope to do the same. It’s not that I’m not sexual, I’m very much so, but sex with someone who is emotionally pint up is not easy. I’ve given up on that for now. It’s more of a…ahem…solo job at this point?
I’ve written about making amends. My amends to her is a lifetime process; a living amends. And so may be our healing. I’m prepared for that. I, with the help of my illness, after all, created this hurt. I need to be willing to do whatever necessary to help heal this broken relationship.
But there is more healing to be done besides between her and me. It extends to children and brothers and sisters and parents. I’ve been welcomed back, and folks have expressed amazement in my recovery and my faithfulness. Some thought it impossible. And when I became sober, I took even more steps toward healing. I come to the gatherings sober. I help out. I have a presence. I’m respectful and affectionate.
Finally, there’s me. We think of healing for spouses, for relationships, and families, but what about for the cheater? When you have bipolar and you “wake up” to your destruction, you hurt as well. Cheating hurts the cheater, I have no doubt. But bipolar infidelity may even be worse. I did not truly want to cheat. The desire originated in a brain malfunction. When the dust settled, I was left holding the smoking gun and wondering how I came to possess it. There is a toll for that. Once you’ve cheated, you’re never really the same. You’ve changed something in your psyche that cannot be changed back. I’m not even close to healed from this. I still haven’t felt the full weight of my actions. I worry that the worst is ahead of me. I have not truly felt remorse, yet. Perhaps I won’t. I feel that I should, but I can’t make myself feel that way. What happened happened. I didn’t want it to happen, but I’ve never been a huge believer in regrets. After all, my marriage is so much better than it was before. And the thing is, even though I was profoundly ill when it happened, I bear the full blame for it. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it works. There’s no getting around it. I did something that was so hurtful, and no one else can take the blame. Perhaps that’s what hurts the most for me. That’s something I have to bear alone. No one feels sympathy for the bipolar cheater. It’s not like I can talk about it with my wife. Some pots are better left unstirred.
One of the first people I called was a spiritual teacher of mine. I told him what happened. He asked to meet with me. We met in a Catholic chapel and we meditated together. He called upon God and spiritual energy to cleanse me and make me innocent again. I began to feel like myself after that. Quiet, reserved, Mr. Rogers-esque, and spiritual. I retreated from the world for awhile to begin my own healing.
I suspect there are limits to healing. Healed wounds leave scars. Some things will never be the same with my wife and family. But some things are better, and I’m so very grateful for that.