To get the inside scoop on what it’s really like to be in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder, we caught up with Tara Bufton and Dean Mance. They opened up about their journey together with bipolar disorder and the things they do to keep their connection strong. Tara was diagnosed over twenty years ago and is now involved in mental health activism via her YouTube channel, along with creating a scripted series called CrazyLove that takes a lighter look at life with a mental health condition.

They both were open and courageous in sharing their story with us—here’s their story.

When and where did the two of you meet?

Tara: Dan had been divorced for about five years when we met, I had been divorced for about 18 months. We had a mutual friend who introduced us. We went on one date. And then just kept going on them. We have been together now for six and a half years. We both had had long marriages before we got together—I had a 23-year relationship, and Dan was in one for over 20 years. I have two sons, Jo and Henry. Jo is studying Psychology at University, and Henry still lives with us. He’s 21 and works as a support worker for people with disabilities.

Dean: I have two daughters, Laura and Molly. Laura works in a hotel doing event management, and Molly is studying building design.

Tell me about how you started dating.

Tara: We had a sweet getting-to-know-you—going out for walks, eating together in cafés, and restaurants. It was a really nice courtship. Peaceful. We had been dating for about a month or so before I mentioned that I had bipolar. I thought that Dean would know anyway; I’d assumed that our mutual friend might have told him. Was that right?

Dean: No, she didn’t tell me, but she did say you were a bit crazy (big laugh).

Tara: She’s a bit crazy herself! (laughter)

How was it for you to disclose that you were bipolar to Dean? 

Tara: There’s no point starting a relationship with me and pretending that I don’t have bipolar. At some stage they’re going to find out. I didn’t want to be rejected, but I also had a realist approach: this just has to be said before it goes too far.

And what was your reaction?

Dean: I’d known another girl who was bipolar and had not seen anything too dramatic or scary form her, so I didn’t think it was much of an issue.

Tara: Dean is a very steady person in his approach to life; he likes to think things through; he’s into doing spreadsheets, working things out. And I think that’s a really helpful aspect of his personality that helps me level out a little bit. Although in the beginning, his perception was that it wasn’t a huge thing, I think that some of the experiences of going through mania together have probably been pretty tough.

Dean: Yeah, definitely.

When were you diagnosed, Tara?

Tara: I was diagnosed when I was 20.

What was circumstance around your getting diagnosed?

Tara: The stress of the break-up triggered an episode; my dad took me to our family GP, who referred us to a psychiatrist who misdiagnosed me with schizophrenia—specifically marijuana-induced schizophrenia.

Sometimes it takes a couple of different doctors to finally get the correct diagnosis of bipolar and then get the treatment that is useful for that.

What happened from there?

Tara: I was on some pretty intense medication for schizophrenia. I was well for a while. But then stress brought on another episode of mania. That’s around the time I was re-diagnosed by a different psychiatrist with bipolar, which led to new medication; it was more treatable. It made sense because there’s a history of bipolar in my family on my mother’s side. It’s pretty common with bipolar that there’s a genetic connection.

What kind of medication are you on? What kind of impact does it have on you?

Tara: I’m on Seroquel and lithium. Lithium is my main stabilizer, and Seroquel is my anti-psychotic. I’m on a steady dose of lithium that stays the same, and with Seroquel, I do what’s called titrating. We bring it up and down according to my health, mood, and sleep.

Are there any specific tools you use to help keep things on track?

Tara: Absolutely. Meditation is a pretty major one for me. Learning to think about things differently, to approach my thoughts differently, is very instrumental to me keeping my mental health on track.

What kind of work do you each do?

Dean: I have a team of electricians, with my brother—we are electrical contractors.

Tara: I have been a high school teacher for 23 years, but recently I’ve been doing filmmaking and writing.

I’ve got a few things I am working on—a YouTube channel called Talking Bipolar with Tara Bufton. The idea is to connect and create a sense of community—it’s been a great process for me.

From that, I’ve put something together called Talking Mental Health, where I’m doing presentations on living well with mental health conditions in schools, so that young people can see that you can have a pretty good life even if you have a mental health condition.

I’m happy that the way people with mental health conditions are being portrayed in the media is changing—Claire Danes’ character in Homeland is a great example (she has bipolar). But I wanted to create something to show the lighter side of living with a mental health condition, so I’ve put together a couple of comedy films with several Tasmanian filmmakers about two young people living with mental health challenges.

I’ve also created CrazyLove, a comedic series about different couples, from different demographics, who are living with mental health challenges. I haven’t done anything with it yet but am excited because Australia’s ABC Television has shown some potential interest. I have an upcoming interview with their development team to discuss producing CrazyLove as a series.

How has Tara’s condition impacted your relationship?

Dean: It has had fairly strong negative effects short term, at times.

Tara:  He gets a lot of good sex! (laughs)

Dean:  When Tara’s having an episode, it’s quite difficult—it’s the nature of the illness. If you had a broken leg, you do what everyone recommends to fix your broken leg, but if you’re having an episode, you’re not interested in listening to other people’s suggestions—which makes it pretty hard. Also, after a manic episode, it can take a while to get back to what I call “the usual or normal state.”

Tara: It’s never boring. (laughs)

What type of episodes are you referring to—manic or depressive?

Dean: Manic, definitely. Some signs of a manic episode coming on include sleep disruption and shifts in the way she speaks. Tara’s pattern of speaking becomes very forceful and emphatic. Here ideas become very definite, and she’s not so willing to have discussions about things at that time.

What about depressive episodes?

Dean: Well, they’re easier to handle for me. Not sure for Tara. I don’t think there’s too much of that, is there?

Tara: No, I don’t experience a lot of it. My depression is probably a result of coming out of a manic episode and feeling that I’ve messed up my life—messed up things with friends, messed up things at work. And I feel bad.

Anything else that you’d like to share with others who find themselves in the same situation?

Dean: For me, it’s an assessment of the good times outweighing the bad. I would not expect to have any sort of relationship at all where there were only good times and no bad.

Tara: Making as many good times as possible is good! Doing all that stuff that makes good times keep coming.

Dean: Probably, everyone should try and manufacture as much of the good stuff as possible. Also, getting help from professional people, getting advice, and learning as you go—knowing that you don’t have to do it all on your own.

Tara: I want people to know that you can have a good relationship—there might be tough times—but you definitely can!

Last Updated: Dec 10, 2020