This is a topic floating around the blogosphere that caught my attention, it seems like a lot of folks with bipolar disorder have been sharing about their relationships and how their relationships are different because of bipolar disorder.
It seems that I have been on the receiving end of two very different relationships. I’ve had the unsupportive, even provoking sort (that was much more harmful than it was good) and now I’ve got a supportive, healthy relationship.
The first, generally terrible relationship happened after I was hospitalized the first time and around the time I was hospitalized for the second time. We fought constantly, and there was a lot of lying and a lot of cheating. When I was in that second hospital and called him to let him know I was ok, he used our relationship as a bargaining chip to get me to leave without getting any sort of treatment.
To put it bluntly, he only loved me when it was convenient for him to do so, and the constant provocation that happened made me that much more reactive and volatile when we were around each other. I’ve talked about crazy girlfriend , the mixed state that I can fall into where I am aggressive and destructive -well this relationship had me in crazy girlfriend mode the majority of the time we were together. When I wasn’t mixed, I was seriously depressed (when he’d ignore me) and grandiosely manic (when he’d pay attention). The relationship made me feel worse. It made my symptoms worse. So after breaking up a dozen times when it finally stuck, there was something of a stillness that washed over me for a minute. I almost felt grateful not to have to deal with it anymore, and for a while the mood swings subsided.
I met Corey during a hypomanic swing in Seattle, and for a long time I didn’t know if anyone so well adjusted would want to have anything to do with me. After being told so often previously that I was “broken”, how could anyone who was whole want to be around me?
The memories of that first relationship burned like bile in my stomach. I didn’t want Corey to know about what happened, or to know anything about how I’d acted, so for a long time we were friends but I never told him about any of it.
(I still haven’t told him all of it, but it is something of an overwhelming topic. He has a general outline…)
Anyway, one day we were in a small grocery store and I saw on the newspaper that researchers had found that antidepressants were causing manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. Duh, I thought. It had happened to me only five years prior.
Or, at least, I thought I had thought the word “duh”. Apparently I said it out loud, and Corey came around to look at the newspaper. When he saw, he put two and two together and said, “are you bipolar?”
I stuck my hands in my pockets, rocking on me heels and shrugged, trying to be as casual as possible.
I might be. I don’t know for sure.
And that was the end of that topic.
At the time, though, I really didn’t know. I mean, I’d seen evidence of mood swings, and I’d done a lot of wild irrational things, but from my perspective it really wasn’t effecting me that much. I mean, I hadn’t ever had a doctor tell me I was bipolar, so I wasn’t lying about that. Deep down I had the suspicion, though, and as time passed the suspicion grew.
Corey never said I was broken. He never said he didn’t want anything to do with me. He didn’t press the issue, so for about a year we dated and it didn’t seem to be a problem.
Then depression hit. I was jumping from one job to the next trying to outrun it, but it kept following me. Pretty soon Corey was coming home and I was curled up in a ball in bed crying for no apparent reason, and I could see that my symptoms were beginning to effect my relationship with him. I was mortified. After what had happened in the previous relationship (seeking help and then being coerced out of following through) I knew I needed to talk to him about the prospect of taking some medication but I didn’t want to get destroyed by his response.
When it came out in a flurry of sobbing and pillow clutching that I needed to see a psychiatrist, he said something I had never heard before.
It is your body, you are the one in charge of what goes in it. If you think that is what you need to do, I think you should do it.
If not before, I was now doubly committed to this relationship. Seeing how supportive he was, I wanted to make sure I didn’t hurt him with any volatile behavior, which meant going to see that psychiatrist and getting whatever help I could find.
To strengthen my efforts I have a self-appointed no lying policy, which can be hard in times when I’m really suffering and don’t want him to know… but when it comes to bipolar disorder I think two brains are better than one. He genuinely helps me in so many aspects of dealing with bipolar disorder (not to mention all the ways he helps me do other things -like fix my sewing machine) that I truly wouldn’t want to be without him.
After five years, I am certain that he makes me be a better person. He is one of the few reasons I’ve actually tried to seek help with bipolar disorder, and am continuing to seek help. I know I should rather say I’m doing it for myself, but being a less-bitchy level-headed girlfriend allows me to keep my relationship and I’d like to think I’m doing that for myself!
I think having both mental illness and a partner are tricky things, but the more empathetic the partner and the more respectful you can be to them the better the chances of success.