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Julie Fast and John Preston, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder.  Oakland: New Harbinger, 2004.

DeeDee was crazy when I met her. She knew it, and I knew it, even if no one really knew it. It was part of the attraction–a feature, not a bug. She was simply more interesting, more challenging, and more fun than other girls. Her mood swings made me work to keep up with what she was thinking and to know how to respond. Then we discovered why: she isn’t just crazy, she’s bipolar. I’d been doing well for years with her mood swings, but this was serious.

Treat bipolar first. This refrain echoes through Loving Someone, because unless the disorder is treated, there is eventually no one to love, only bipolar disorder where someone ought to be. Fortunately, this book is intended to provide a comprehensive, holistic program (in conjunction with medication) for doing just that.

The first step is to make note of all of the states the bipolar loved one exhibits: (hypo)mania, depression, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations… then the various symptoms of each state, so both partners can identify when a bipolar attack is in progress. Next, compile a list of what works to address the symptoms, then begin examining the various triggers that set off an attack–so in future, noticing and treating a trigger might stave off further symptoms and escalation into a bipolar episode.

This is going to take a while. The authors provide examples to help get started, but also make clear that there are many lists to compile, discuss, and revise throughout the relationship. All of these are also part of the medical bipolar treatment process, so they should be familiar to someone who has already been diagnosed with the disorder, but Loving Someone is for the partner, who may not get this information from a doctor directly, or may even be exploring a potential problem before seeking diagnosis.

The rest of the book provides an example of one couple developing a treatment plan, then addresses other questions someone with a bipolar partner might have: the discussion about getting treatment, sex, work and money, and the “well” partner’s needs. It mostly seems like common sense to me, but it is a nice introduction to the disorder which makes the illness, and what maintaining a healthy relationship in spite of it requires, understandable for someone who is just starting to grapple with a partner’s disorder.