“I have bipolar disorder.” My pulse increased with each beat as I confessed my fate to my current boyfriend. It was our first date. Our first time meeting and here we were baring our souls to one another. Although my mental health condition was no secret, writing about it on my blog and discussing it in person were two completely different things. As our conversation progressed, I went into depth about what my episodes entail. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by severe mood swings. These mood swings, also known as episodes, are categorized as “highs” and “lows”. The highs, mania. The lows, depression. These episodes are more than the everyday ups and downs. It’s crucial to understand what bipolar is… and what it isn’t.
I’ve craved love since a young age, I’ve also struggled with depression for the same amount of time. Having bipolar and being in a relationship is the equivalent to getting on a never-ending rollercoaster ride. That being said, I remain hopeful that it’s not impossible to find balance between the two. I believe in being as transparent as possible and while I’ve surpassed the stage of airing my relationship business, those struggling with mental illness or involved with someone who has a mental health condition, should have helpful resources.
As with most cases, things started off great between me and my significant other. There was an instant connection and while I played hard to get, he was eventually able to break down the brick wall I spent years ensuring no one could tackle. With time came issues. Some of which were on me and vice versa. Having bipolar disorder makes my relationship more difficult in several ways. First, there are the mood swings associated with the illness. I experience destructive anger, intense depression, dissociation, and mania which has caused troubles to flare between my boyfriend and me. More understanding than most, he’s stood by my side, supporting me to the best of his ability. For me depression has multiple faces. Some episodes look like staying in bed, crying, suicidal thoughts, isolation, and feeling trapped. Others, not showering or brushing my teeth, and feeling stuck in a dark hole. All come with the dismal cloud hovering above my head. During mania, I experience elevated energy, creativity (resulting in me starting projects I never complete), excessive talking, rapid thoughts, hypersexuality, irritability, the desire to argue and push others away, and feeling as though I’m above everyone else. Mania also comes with impulsive decision making, which in my case becomes very messy. While anger may not be one of the primary episodes of bipolar, it’s certainly connected. Next, the misunderstanding associated with the illness means I’m constantly explaining things to my s/o which is extremely frustrating. I often remind myself that those who don’t live with bipolar will never fully comprehend my struggles. Lastly, everything is intensified. I don’t have to be having an episode and I’ll experience things on an entirely different level than most. On the sensitivity scale, I exceed 10. I’m also easily triggered. This has made it a struggle for my boyfriend to be completely honest as he doesn’t want to feel like he’s contributing to an increase in my stress levels.
It goes without saying that when I have an episode I need as much support as possible but it’s not always easy for people to support an individual with bipolar disorder. So, what are some ways to manage a relationship where one partner lives with bipolar disorder?
For the person living with bipolar disorder:
- Communication! It’s crucial that there’s communication on both ends. While it’s not always easy for me to be open with my boyfriend, it allows him room to help me when needed. He’s also working on not feeling like he can’t be honest out of fear of upsetting me.
- Ask for help. This goes along with communication. I’ve grown to realize that people are not mind readers. They won’t know that I need assistance if I don’t tell them. I also find it’s helpful to let people know exactly how they can help.
- Continue with your treatment plan. If you take medication and/or you’re in therapy, stick with it! Before you can handle a relationship, you have to manage your condition. This means seeking treatment.
- Self-care! Do things that bring you joy and make you feel good, don’t neglect yourself. Encourage your s/o to practice self-care as well.
- Have a safety plan and share it with your partner. As someone who has a history of self-harm and suicide attempts, during episodes it’s important there are safety precautions set in place.
For the person loving someone with bipolar disorder:
1. Listen. When your partner comes to you, listen without judgment. You might not agree with or like some of the things they tell you, but they trust you enough to confide in you. Be supportive and understanding.
2. Be aware. What medications are they on? Is there a specific time they need to take it? Do they have any upcoming appointments? What are their triggers? What helps them cope? These are some of the things you should be aware of.
3. Do your research! Many people know little about what bipolar disorder truly is, do yourself a favor and research. Read articles and books, watch videos, talk to others, etc. Learn as much as you can. Having knowledge of bipolar disorder helps not only your partner but you as well.
4. Don’t blame everything on the mental disorder! Understand they can have bad days without it being directly related to bipolar.
5. Don’t take things personally! I have said and done some hurtful things when I was in the midst of an episode. Realize that your partner isn’t in his/her right mind, reassure yourself of this.
6. Take care of yourself. Trust me, it’s going to get hard. Remember to make time to care for yourself. Whether it’s getting some quiet time, going for a walk, or plugging in your earphones to listen to music, you deserve self-care.
No. My relationship isn’t all smiles. Yes. My disorder has complicated things; however, we continue to support and love one another. Bipolar disorder is a severe condition, but it does not mean you’re incapable of being in a healthy relationship.