My Husband and Business Partner Has Bipolar Disorder. Here's How We Manage It Together.
My husband, glass sculptor and artist Dale Chihuly, has bipolar disorder. He started suffering from periods of depression as a college student in the ’60s, but he wasn’t diagnosed until he reached his early 50s. That was about the time he and I met — I worked with him on what would become a breakthrough exhibition, Chihuly Over Venice — and the time that I first witnessed his rapid shifts in mood and prolonged periods of depression or hypomania.
From that earliest creative partnership, Dale and I went on to travel the world together, have a child, and get married. Today, I’m the president and CEO of Chihuly Studio. Bipolar disorder has been a part of our conversations from the beginning, and we’ve long discussed the positive and negative aspects of this diagnosis on our personal and professional lives.
But for a long time, we chose not to discuss Dale’s disorder publicly. That changed recently, when our son reached adulthood. Now we’re comfortable openly sharing our story, and we are hoping to cut through misinformation and stigma and change the conversation around mental health. Because while Dale is an extraordinary person, his diagnosis is ordinary.
I know this well. My mother, Jo, had bipolar disorder and, sadly, took her life at the age of 76. She was not well-served by the medical establishment, and she suffered from a lack of information, treatment, and support. I knew from a young age that no one should suffer as my mother did (or as my siblings and I did). Having a conversation about bipolar disorder should be no different than speaking about diabetes, or cancer, or any other affliction. With Dale, I knew we could build a better balance.
Over the years, Dale and I have developed adaptive skills as partners, built on his trust in me as a friend and an advocate. We’ve found ways to work with the rhythms of this serious mood disorder rather than constantly pushing against it. For example, during depressive cycles that coincide with exhibition openings, business dinners, or social events, I’ve learned to step forward when Dale needs to step back — and vice versa.
When Dale is on the “upside,” as he calls it, he prefers to dive deep into new work and finds this time to be important to the development of new ideas. It’s his time to take creative risks — and entrepreneurs are, at their core, risk takers.
But the manic energy can pull him away from existing Chihuly Studio project timelines, which creates tension within our business. After all, we have deadlines to meet and clients to answer to. I’ve learned to have difficult conversations with him when necessary, and we’ve learned how to find time to make the most of Dale’s excess energy. This focus and flexibility keep our business sustainable. And it allows us to be ambitious in the balance.
Too many people suffer in silence, which is heartbreaking and just unnecessary. As humans, we all experience multicolored moods: We have blue days, gray days, and hot-pink days. The more honest we can be about that, the easier it will be for people to seek and find support when they need it. There should always be a call line, a friend, a family member, someone to turn to. Being able to say, “I need, I suffer” is the first step toward moments of peace and fulfillment.