By Karina Margit Erdelyi
Living with a partner who has bipolar disorder can present some pretty unique challenges. See how this couple from Washington state has navigated the sometimes-turbulent waters.
To get the scoop on what it’s really like, we caught up with Megan and Kyle Amaya. They didn’t hold back in describing their journey with bipolar disorder. Megan was formally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I almost two years ago and has been chronicling her mental health journey and mental health activism online in both her Instagram account and YouTube channel. Here’s their story.
How did you meet?
Kyle: I was introduced to Megan while hanging out with friends and an old college teammate. We hit it off. I wanted to make a good impression, so I tried to make her laugh and show her a fun time. I suspect we may have been set up (happy laughter).
Megan: That was in 2010. We’ve been together for 10 years and married for six years. I was in cosmetology school at the time, and we were both 23 years old. I wasn’t really looking for a boyfriend. But Kyle was different from all the other guys. He was very genuine. Old fashioned. A gentleman. He’s from a tight-knit community (Mount Vernon, WA) which I think is part of it.
We have had two short break ups. The first was a year into our relationship. Then we separated again during one of my manic episodes. It wasn’t long after we separated the second time that I got diagnosed. Once Kyle understood that my behavior was not my fault, that I had a mental illness, he wanted to support me, be there for me, and we got back together.
A part of our story about my mental illness is that it played out publicly. I wrote a bunch of really embarrassing delusional posts on Facebook. And all of our social circle, our friends from childhood, middle school, college—all the people—witnessed it. And so many thought it would have been better if Kyle had just walked away from me. But he was really there for me when I later slipped into a suicidal depression. So many other people abandoned me.
Tell us more about the circumstances around finally being diagnosed with bipolar disorder?
Megan: I was diagnosed April 7, 2018 in jail. A mental health professional came to my cell and held up her phone which had my Facebook profile pulled up, and she said: “You have bipolar I disorder. We are transferring you out of jail to a mental health facility.” She had researched my past because I had a successful business, lots of friends—but had gotten arrested three times in one month (for non-violent crimes) and had never been arrested before. They were looking at me like, “This girl has no previous record, and then she gets arrested three times in a month?!” So, they started doing research on me. They called my family, got in touch with my psychiatrist, who had (mis)diagnosed me with depression, and looked through my social media.
BP is often misdiagnosed with depression—and while depression is serious, it’s very different from bipolar disorder. You can’t take the same meds for depression if you have BP. A few years earlier, I was put on an SSRI, which if you have BP can be extremely dangerous.
Two months after taking them, I had my first manic episode. It crept up slowly, but surely. I became more and more manic and my family, close friends, Kyle, no one understood why I was acting the way I was.
They did not react in a very compassionate or understanding way. In fact, people in my life reacted pretty aggressively to me, saying things like “What the hell is wrong with you?” It was coming from all angles of my life. And I was very confused. I didn’t understand I was manic. I thought that everything was fine; that I was finally feeling better after my depression. Yet, I felt attacked. I started making really terrible decisions that I had never made before.
What kinds of bad decisions were you making?
Megan: I started doing cocaine. I started hanging out with people I would never normally hang out with. Staying up all night. I started smoking cigarettes in my backyard, which I had never done. I would walk to the gas station and buy weird hats; I was dressing very strangely.
I was posting a lot on social media, which was unusual. I was being very blunt and direct and rude to people. I had no filter. I would just say the first thing on my mind. I would talk really fast and had tons of really creative ideas. I was just going a million miles an hour. In my head I felt better than ever, but everyone else was just so confused by my behavior.
And I was also drinking excessively. This is all in early 2017. I had taken a leave of absence from my business during my suicidal depression. But I’m going to back up a bit further so you can understand a bit better. In July of 2016, I stopped sleeping. And I don’t mean I had trouble sleeping, I stopped sleeping. I lost 20 lbs. I couldn’t function. Soon after, I started having suicidal ideation—and I had never had that before.
On September 7th, I made a plan to end my life. I was scared but was very serious about killing myself. The only thing that really stopped me was how it would affect my family and friends, because when I was 23, my best friend committed suicide and that really traumatized me, and I couldn’t do that to the people in my life. So, I decided to be honest with everyone, with my husband, about what I was going through.
On December 7, 2016, I was checked into my first facility. I had never been committed. I didn’t know what to expect. And it was the most terrifying experiences of my life. I went in there to get help, but instead of getting help, I was misdiagnosed with depression. I was even more suicidal when I was released from that hospital. But I knew that I never wanted to go back there. So, I basically told myself that if I was more grateful and thankful for my life that the depression would go away. I hated myself. I thought—you have a great husband, you have a successful business, you make good money, you drive a brand-new car—why do you feel this way?
But things continued to get worse and worse. When I got out of the psych facility, I stopped taking my medicine. But then I found a psychiatric nurse practitioner and she told me that I needed to get on my medication again. She said that I had to stay on it and let it work, because it takes six to eight weeks for the medication to work.
I listened to her and started taking the medication. But in my gut, I knew it was bad for me. As soon as it started kicking in eight weeks later, that’s when my behavior really changed for the worse.
Kyle, what was your take on what was going on at the time?
Kyle: I felt like I had zero control of her situation, period. When she was in that deep depression, I didn’t know she was bipolar, that was never even a thought. I encouraged her to listen to the nurse practitioner. I just figured that she’d studied this in school, that this was her profession, so I thought that this was the best option for Megan. It was really challenging watching her struggle, to not be able to really help.
Megan: I just want to add that you really did alleviate the situation, because you really stepped up during that time and did all the grocery shopping, all the laundry. He took care of our dog, he paid all the bills, he went to work. He did literally everything to step up to help me and be there for me. And he didn’t put any pressure on me at all.
Any of the times I’ve ever been depressed, he’s always been very supportive. He didn’t ask me, “What’s wrong with you.” Or “Why can’t I do this or that?” He’s been so respectful. And I’m so grateful to have a husband like that, to support me and be there for me. He doesn’t understand what depression feels like—but he’s witnessed me not being able to shower, not being able to get off the couch, being in the same clothes I’ve worn for five days in a row. And while he doesn’t know what I feel, he understands that the struggle I deal with is real. And I just really appreciate him so much, because it takes a really strong partner to be with someone who’s struggling with mental illness.
Can you share your experience with medication adherence?
Megan: I take my medication every day and I don’t mess around with it. I learned my lesson. I don’t want to live my life being stable and then unstable and stable and then unstable. I just want to continue on this good path. And a huge way that I’ve done that is by removing alcohol from my life, which is literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Kyle: I live a primarily sober lifestyle, but maybe two or three times a year, I’ll have a beer. We have a conversation about it beforehand. And I wouldn’t do it in front of her.
Megan: I just want to give him a lot of respect. I hope that his example might inspire other people. You know, it’s so important for my health that I don’t drink, and he has gone above and beyond to support me. If you want to have a healthy marriage and live with a mental illness, it’s very important to be a team and stick together and communicate.
What’s it been like staying sober?
Megan: When I got diagnosed with a mental illness, it felt like a death sentence. I knew deep down in my gut that I shouldn’t drink anymore because of this diagnosis. But there’s societal pressure everywhere to drink. I thought drinking was fun, but now I wake up every day without a hangover. I’m able to do my self-care, like exercise, and do positive things for myself. I love to clean and organize and that helps me feel good.
Are there any other mental health challenges that you deal with, aside from bipolar disorder?
Megan: I’ve also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from both some trauma I experienced in my childhood, as well as from when my best friend committed suicide when I was 23 and I never got any help. I never saw a therapist or anything. I just kind of brushed it under the rug and tried to move on with my life. I kept those feelings down so deep.
Are you two interested in starting a family?
Megan: Yes, we very much want to start a family. But we think it’s important for me to be in a stable place before we take those next steps, especially because things really started to get out of hand for me when I stopped taking birth control back in 2016, before I was diagnosed. I absolutely believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that God or the universe or the spirit wanted me to know that I have a mental illness before I became a mom. Now that I have that awareness, if I do start struggling, we can get help right away.
Have you guys spoken with someone to help manage medication and care while you are potentially pregnant?
Megan: Yes, we look at it as a team situation. I’ve talked to the reproductive doctor, and she said that she wants me to stay on my bipolar medication throughout the entire pregnancy. She said that in my case, with the mental illness that I have, the benefit of taking the medication during pregnancy outweighed not taking it.
How are you feeling right now?
Megan: I would say things are going really well, for the most part, with my health. I am one year and nine months sober, which is something I’d like to highlight. I live so much better with my mental illness being sober. When I used to drink and get hung over, I’d wake up and not really want to take my medication—and that’s pretty much a disaster for someone who has bipolar disorder. Happy to share that right now I feel pretty stable. Yes, I have my good days and my bad—but overall, the combination of extreme self-care, taking my medication, and staying away from toxic people has been the best way for me to manage things.
How has your marriage changed through this?
Megan: From my perspective, we’re doing well. We have gone through a lot of healing. It’s a journey. It’s not linear—you take a step forward, then take a couple steps backwards. I think marriage is difficult, no matter if you have a mental illness or not, but having a spouse with a mental illness does make it more challenging.
Kyle: I would say we’ve been on an upward trajectory ever since she was diagnosed. We’ve definitely had times where we have had to take a step back. But we learn from it and just keep on marching forward. The last few years have made me more sympathetic to mental health struggles. No one in my family or circle of friends was ever deeply affected.
What things do you do to help keep your relationship on track?
Kyle: We enjoy taking our dog on a walk slash run, it gives us a chance to bond together. We also make dinners and go to the gym together.
Megan: Kyle is a CrossFit coach and I always make the effort to go to his class because it’s more time that we can spend together doing something positive. Our gym community is so supportive. Back in September of 2019 we did a mental health awareness night, where I shared my story publicly and about 60 people were there. I felt myself shed layers and become my true vulnerable and honest self. Admit that I’m sober. Admit that I have bipolar. Admit that I take medication.
What would you like to share with others who find themselves in the same situation?
Kyle: Just being open and honest with your loved ones and those around you.
Megan: Devastated doesn’t even describe the despair and pain that I felt after my manic episode and my psychotic social media posts. So many people in my life at that time, in my social circle, that I trusted and thought were my closest friends abandoned me. They didn’t try to understand, be forgiving, and compassionate for me. And that was devastating. But it turns out that was actually the biggest blessing because it showed me who was a true, solid friend. It’s so important for people with mental health illnesses to have a strong support system.