When Michelle Christy met her husband, Richard, she knew about his diagnosis of schizophrenia. That diagnosis was subsequently changed to bipolar disorder, but Michelle knew it was an illness and that the man she fell in love with remained the same whatever the label.
The couple married in 2013 and now have two children, a son aged 5 and a daughter aged 10 months. Michelle also has a 22 year old daughter from a previous relationship.
Here, Michelle explains how she refuses to let Richard’s illness get in the way of their marriage.
“Almost as soon as we got together, there were lots of problems that Richard had to deal with,” she explains. “He lost his Nan, who he loved dearly, and then I had a miscarriage. Richard had already been diagnosed with schizophrenia and been admitted to hospital for treatment, so I was aware of all that, and I noticed little behaviours starting to creep in. Just small things at first: he started drinking and being quite erratic, and then he went out and bought a house that he couldn’t afford. He wanted me to move in with him, but I was cautious because I had my daughter to think about and I knew he wasn’t earning enough money to afford what he’d taken on, so I said no.
He started doing work on the house, but that quickly turned into reckless projects like taking walls and ceilings out. It caused problems between us and we split for a while, but I noticed when I was passing the house that he’d put things up at the windows – clothes, radiators, things like that – and it rang alarm bells with me because I knew about similar behaviour when he’d had previous episodes. I’d also seen him in his van one day, and he had his music blasting and was shouting to himself. It really shocked me, because it was the first time I’d seen him like that. He was like a different person.
“I tried to get hold of him and he wasn’t answering calls or replying to texts, but one of his neighbours told me she could smell gas coming from the property. In a previous episode, he’d dismantled all the central heating, so I got I touch with his mum and dad.
His mum and dad called the police straight away; they’d been through it all before so they didn’t want to take any chances. I stayed with them until we got a call from the police to say he’d been taken to hospital. When we went to the house, there was water running through the bathroom ceiling and the whole place was trashed.
As soon as I had word from the hospital that he was settled and stable, I went to see him. There was never any question of me abandoning him – I knew it was an illness and that all his actions were a result of that. But when I first saw him in the hospital it was such a shock, he looked like a different person. I looked into his eyes and it was like there was someone else in there. He had a cloud over him.
Richard stayed in hospital for 4 months, and when he was ready to be released he wasn’t allowed to live on his own. I thought long and hard about letting him come to live with me as I had my daughter to think about, who was 14 at the time, but it just felt like the right thing to do. If you love someone you can’t just turn your back on them.
He was on a lot of medication when he first left hospital and quite sedated, so it took a bit of time to build him back up. When our son was born he was in the special care baby unit because he has Down’s Syndrome, so I’d be dealing with that and Richard would be asleep all the time and it was difficult to cope.
Since then, there’ve been a few hurdles but we always get through them and Richard has stayed stable. We have to watch for him not taking his medication, because he feels better and thinks he doesn’t need it, and then a few months later we’ll notice things. He’ll start emptying cupboards for no reason, or drinking, or getting agitated and restless.
But you can’t blame everything on being bipolar, because you’d never be able to get on with your life. If you live with someone who has the condition, you have to step back from it otherwise it’ll make the person that’s got bipolar more on edge. You’re constantly seeing the signs all the time, because they’re always there. One night he might wake up at 2 in the morning and go downstairs and that could be a sign, but he also might just not be able to sleep. You have to switch off from those things, but if it happens regularly you’ll start picking up on things and then ask for help.
If things get to a certain point, I’ll ask his mum and dad if they’ve noticed anything and if we all think there’s cause for concern, we’ll speak to his support worker. I just live each day as it comes.
There are ups and downs for both of us and we both work on coping strategies to get us through. Richard has his support group and I have a very close family network, and obviously there’s Richard’s mum and dad.
But the main problem with an illness like bipolar is you can’t access treatment until it’s too late. The GP won’t do anything unless the person themselves goes to see them, and the authorities can only intervene if it gets to the point where they’ve had an episode.
If it’s something you’re worried about in someone you know, I’d say speak to people around you. Ask them if they’ve noticed anything different, compare notes. That support can make all the difference – to you and to the person who’s ill – and it can help get them the treatment they need.”