That’s a joke. But as K. is fond of saying, “all jokes are half true.”

I’d always been aware that my husband suffered serious depressive episodes: he wanted to be asleep all the time. Things were better early on, when he had a day job and ate at least two meals a day, and worst in the last year, when he started working long, erratic hours in bars, eating poorly, drinking more, smoking again, and never exercising. It had always been hard to get out of bed for him, by which I mean that he described it as physical pain and would often take hours to apparently gain consciousness, or would go back to sleep (occasionally even when in charge of the children) and be dead to the world until I dragged him up again.

That’s what it felt like: dragging a drowned man out of the water. Dead weight. When I finally got him upright, he’d go sit in a chair or on the couch with his eyes closed and the heater going full blast on him, even if it was warm. When he finally became semi-conscious, he’d be withdrawn, napping into his coffee, not wanting to say or do much. All last fall, he stayed with Thing Two, our one-year-old, in the mornings while I took Thing One to school and went to work. Typically, I would come home and he’d still be in his bathrobe, or would have just showered recently. I can count the times he took Thing Two out of our house on one hand (and this despite my urging park, story time at the library, etc.)

Not a morning person, I thought. Needs an antidepressant, maybe. Needs to eat better. I don’t have a lot of experience with mood disorders and I don’t tend to spend time diagnosing people. I’m an English prof. I diagnose sentences. They’re much easier to understand than people.

But there were always these other periods, too. Periods where for a few days K. would stay up late (in our house, until recently; this fall, when he started the job at Swank Wine Bar Filled with Twentysomethings Looking to Hang Out, out in bars until closing, then smoking on our front porch) and get up with comparatively little fuss. Periods where he’d be authoritative, irritable, fidgety, and social. Periods where he’d go off, saying he was going to have a cigar and would be back in an hour, and disappear until the wee hours of the morning when, when I finally got through to him by phone, he’d tell me where he was (“I’m on a park bench,” “I’m on 19th Avenue,” etc.) but not why he had apparently forgotten to come home or call.

Alcohol was always involved.  He’d get really social with strangers. He needs to quit drinking, I thought. He needs to cut down. Maybe he can’t control his actions after a critical blood alcohol level is reached. He’s lonely (he never had many friends) and this is how it comes out.

I never thought he was bipolar, simply because I’m not inclined to. And I don’t think he ever told me he’d been diagnosed, but if he did, it was early on in our relationship when I was inclined to think he was being dramatic about his Serious Emotional Problems (and you know, I was looking at him going: huh? you’re a middle-class white male living off your parents, with an intact family and a bottomless college fund, never been abused, never been assaulted, you got problems?) and I forgot about it. And he never talked about it again. He took my suggestion to go on Wellbutrin for the hypersomnia, and that was that. The Wellbutrin seemed to help for a while, but then it tapered off, this fall we had several episodes of him shoving me around when I’d wake him after he’d been drinking, and some people told me that Wellbutrin interacts badly with alcohol, and after one particularly bad one that involved him shoving and screaming obscenities at me in front of both children, I asked him to either cut down on drinking or change antidepressants, so he went off the drug. Cold turkey. With no medical supervision.

That was Nov. 12. It may or may not be a coincidence that he told me “Baby, I want to get a divorce” three weeks later. It seems worth mentioning.

In the aftermath of the divorce announcement, I was talking to my friend “Veronica,” who had a mentally ill father and lived with a bipolar woman and who is very attuned to these things, and she kept saying “I think he’s bipolar.” And I would laugh ruefully, thinking that she was just trying to give me an explanation that would make me feel less rejected and despondent.

When he moved out, I finally called my in-laws. My in-laws are good people. We haven’t had the best relationship in the past, largely (I now think) because K. never wanted them to visit, so I had to insist on it out of a sense of filial duty that was uncomfortable for me because I thought they hated me, and because K. rejected his mother when he married me). But I didn’t feel right having him move out, even temporarily, and them not know.

So I told them the whole story. And I told them that Veronica kept saying she thought he was bipolar.

“Well, he is bipolar,” said K.’s mother. “Bipolar II. He was diagnosed when he was twenty.”

Huh, I said.

And in fact, when we began with the new couples counselor a week or two later (to help us get divorced, he said), he filled out “depression” and “bipolar II” on the intake form. The counselor asked him about it, and he said that he had been very troubled in his early twenties, but “that’s gone now.”

Huh, the counselor said.

I’m still not comfortable armchair diagnosing. But I considered the history as I knew it, and the present as I know it, which includes a lot of impulse control and anger with the kids and a lot of withdrawal from the kids, and I decided I needed a plan. So I asked K. to meet with me and the counselor and I told him that, for this to move forward, for the sake of his parenting (which he does insist is a priority, even now, and even though he never asks to see the kids but just asks when I want him to come), he needed to do two things: take parenting classes, and see a shrink.

I described the patterns and the behaviors and the order as I’d reconstructed it from old blog entries and calendars.

And he sat there looking stricken. Finally, he said, “I guess I’m not over it.”

I was surprised that he acknowledged and made that connection so easily. He seemed to decide, based on my information, that yes, he was still suffering from bipolar II. And that yes, it was impacting his relationship with the children. And that he needed to manage it. But here is what he said:

“I’ll go running. I’m not going to see a psychiatrist. There’s no context for me to do that. They want to talk and they want you to take drugs, and I’m not going to talk and I won’t take drugs.”

So that’s where we are now. I was glad that he acknowledged the impact of the condition. And that he made the leap to considering it was still affecting it himself. But the elephant in the room for me was this: my understanding is that bipolar II can impair judgment, even more than depression. And I didn’t talk about this, because I didn’t want to make our “parenting meeting” about us, but I’m not sure how you can acknowledge that you have bipolar II and that it’s affecting your ability to parent without considering that perhaps it’s also contributed to your ability to make decisions about whether you should stay married.

But that’s just me.