Midlife crisis, bipolar, drug reaction, or something else?

Eighteen months ago, my husband abruptly moved out of our home with no warning, telling me he had wanted to leave me for years. He went in a span of six weeks from being apparently loving to erratic, hostile, and angry, alternatively treating me either like an enemy or a buddy, spending money irresponsibly, and acting tuned out to the trauma and impact on those around him.

He immediately took up with a woman I later learned had connections to a possible tantric prostitution ring and a background as a stripper. I was shocked when I really learned her identity.  I found out later that he had openly socialized with her even before I knew he was leaving me. He expressed no shame and no empathy, even though we share a young son. He blamed me for the affair. 

It took me several months before I realized that his behavior had not just changed toward me. He lost interest in our dog and all of our mutual friends. His eyes had an odd appearance and he appeared to age rapidly. People we both knew commented that he looked weird or like he was on drugs and reported odd encounters with him.

Six months prior to the onset of this radical change, he began taking an SSRI, in addition to a benzodiazepine. I begged him to see a psychiatrist to have his medications checked but he refused, often lashing out on me when I did.

His behavior became worse and worse, but the lawyer I hired said he has not done anything that can help me gain more than 50-50 custody. This has been extremely traumatic to my son and me, as I must now coparenting with someone who appears to have the opposite personality of the person I married.

He now has an unplanned child with the girlfriend, conceived eight months into the relationship and while they had broken up. His decisions are erratic and we are in a stalled mediation because he changes the proposal every time. He currently divides his time between two furnished rentals he shares with the girlfriend and the girlfriend and a roommate (who works for same suspected prostitution ring).

I know this in some ways sounds like a "midlife crisis," but a doctor I talked to said this sounds like bipolar. Others have asked me if he is on drugs. Another doctor told me that a person can become addicted to an affair in the same way they might a drug. His sister, father, grandfather, and great grandfather all suddenly abandoned the family around the same age.

Particularly devastating is that I now must share custody with him. Our son goes to a great school, which has helped him stay emotionally grounded, but the loss is prodound. I have had to stay low contact and keep communications in writing due to level of harassments, including long rants and accusations and overt cruelty. He recently took up an interest in hunting meaning he is keeping firearms in the house.

I wonder almost daily if I was married to a sociopath and didn't know it, or if he is sick. And if he does have a mental health issue, am I doing enough to protect our son? Despite the guns, sex worker connections, erratic behavior, and personality change my attorney said there is nothing we can do. My therapist takes the stance that unless he lost his job we can't assume he is mentally ill, although a doctor I talked to said this is not the case. We have a coparenting counselor who my attorney said ideally will make the recommendation himself.

Has anyone had a similar experience? Was there a diagnosis? 

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Hi There,

I could have written your posting. To this day, I don't know for sure what came over my husband. He had a loose diagnosis of bipolar, but in the end, he seems to be a run-of-the-mill alcoholic. Vodka addiction. He went to 5 or 6 month-long or longer treatment centers without breaking free of addiction. Not until we are divorcing and I have attached emotionally to another man did he stop. He too, spent profligately. Had multiple affairs, with other addicts, alcohol and meth... He even brought the meth addict into our house and tried to have sex with her.

It was absolutely crazy.  Now he's 4 months sober, living 3,000 miles away on the East coast and back to normal... So to answer your question: I think for my ex it was a midlife crisis (his father had died) and he realized that all his life he'd been working to be successful and rich to impress other people, especially his DAD, and when that didn't happen, he collapsed and the worst in him oozed out: sex, booze, general Trumpyism.

When I had given up hope altogether that he'd get back to normal, he recovered. Just like that. But there has been so much damage to our relationship that neither of us ever talks about staying together...

What you need to do: go to Alanon meetings. Read Codependent No More. Get a therapist for yourself. I did all the above and it's helped so much. If you want to talk and share, I'd be glad to talk to you. Been in Hell and back.

What you describe has MANY of the features of bi-polar illness. It's often triggered by anti-depressants (like SSRIs), but it can also happen out of nowhere, and yes, there's a family connection. 

Of course, there could be other causes; a third-hand diagnosis isn't worth much, so you need more information and better guidance.  There's no single test. Plus different people manifest the symptoms differently. If it is bi-polar illness, I have some advice and insights for you.  Here is what I have observed-

-- a manic person can seem almost demonically possessed and vengeful. They may even look and smell different and give off a jittery energy, and they are erratic, destructive, and full of spite and contempt. The lengthy phone diatribes are classic.

--Even "experts" (doctors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists) may fail to spot or misdiagnose mania.  Often police are much better at spotting it.

--They are reckless with money, so check and protect your credit score (for loans, new credit cards, etc.) and your bank account and open up new ones in your name only.  Bankruptcy is not uncommon, so protect your financial autonomy.

--"My therapist takes the stance that unless he lost his job we can't assume he is mentally ill" -- Oh, dear. So not true. Your therapist is astonishingly misinformed and has little experience with bi-polar illness; if you need advice and insight into dealing with your husband, you've gone to the wrong place.  Someone in the manic phase may have astonishing powers of productivity and masking ability.

I suggest you contact NAMI (National Association for the Mentally Ill) to see what support and information they can offer, and to get an idea if indeed your husband is bi-polar.  They have local chapters.  Almost certainly someone there has also has trouble with co-parenting and divorcing a manic spouse, and they are your best guides. Perhaps they can suggest a path to supervised visits with your spouse or full custody of your child. You may need an attorney more experienced with family law, divorce, and mental illness.

Secondarily, contact your county mental health board and your city to see what resources they can offer (this may be a waste of time, but you won't know if you don't try).  Speak with the local police re your concerns for your child.  You can request a welfare check on days your husband's behavior seems extreme.  The police can't interfere without reason, but you can set the stage so they know what is going on and will be alert if they see reckless behavior.

See if your son can get some counseling and support at school or elsewhere.  He must be in terrible distress at the change of personality and the chaos in your family.

Take very, very good care of yourself.  This can annihilate your inner resources and exhaust you. Feel no guilt if (right now) you hate this new person, it's not your real spouse.  And do not blame yourself for not spotting whatever it is, this illness is as powerful and destructive as an earthquake and harder to predict.

My heart goes out to you and I wish you stamina, strength, fortitude and luck.  You can survive this.

Find a better lawyer.

Maybe a psychotic break. 

I'm so sorry. This sounds terrible. 

He needs to see a doctor. I haven't had this happen, but do know someone who went through a period recently where her 50-something husband started acting erratically, calling prostitutes on his work trips, screaming at her in front of the children - all very uncharacteristic behavior. After several months of increasingly worse behavior, she got him to see a doctor, and there was an unusual sudden-onset problem with his brain chemistry. I think they had to do blood panels and an MRI to diagnose. I'm sorry I don't have more details on what exactly the diagnosis was and what he's taking now that seems to have stabilized him; this is someone I "know" through a message board, not in real life. I don't know that there's a way you can compel someone who's already gone so far off the deep end to see a doctor and get bloodwork done, but ruling out a medical issue seems necessary.

Also you need a different lawyer who is willing to be more aggressive. You didn't say how old your son is, but is he old enough to testify in court about where he'd like to live and how much contact he wants with his dad?