Love and Bipolar

By Lebohang Mojapelo

*Trigger Warning: suicidal thoughts*

Relationships with people, I’ve learned, are like the weather;
there are sunny days, and then the rainy ones too, only most of mine were either hurricanes or cyclones that could tear a man in two
or vicious heat waves that dried me of feeling much of anything at all”

– Sweet  Hurricane- Beau Taplin

Whew. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions. I have said this before in the best way possible, every feeling you experience with bipolar is extremely exaggerated. It feels normal to me, but it is about ten times as much as a normal person feels. So, you can imagine how hard it is to feel that much for someone, but also be very aware of how your feelings may not accurately define what you really feel. Working through a barrage of feelings to find the right one that describes how you really feel is a mindfuck!

An important thing to note, when you have a mental illness, is that you must maintain functional relationships with others in your life. Those around us can be triggers that lead us either to depression or to mania. Therefore, to maintain balance in your life, no dysfunction must be present. Now this is laughable considering heterosexual romantic relationships in general are a hotbed of dysfunctional behavior, especially the way women are treated or expected to carry most of the emotional labour in a partnership. All this makes it almost impossible to have anything remotely functional.

The disturbing anxiety that accompanies a relationship is still something I am not used to nor can I live with just yet. As someone whose major triggers are rejection and abandonment- any form of this or feeling of this sends me off the edge and is very difficult to deal with. So a phone call not answered sends me down a spiral. A date not honoured will have me three bottles deep in wine deep. God forbid I experience direct rejection (which a man would be entitled to) and I am well on my way to a manic episode. It tires me out.

You hold so much in.

You stay away when you do not feel predictable. You cry on your own. You show your best side. But you go over and over every single moment and conversation in your head to make sure you didn’t say the wrong thing.

Also, when is the best time to tell someone you live with a mental illness?

How do you even say it?

As someone who has been sharing my story, one would think it is an easy thing. But it is not. There is always a split second where the guy has an ‘oh you’re actually serious?’ look. One guy said to me “Oooh, so you must be on those good meds huh?”. In other times, the swiftness with which I swallow my pills with no water is enough to put the fear of God in some people.

What makes it harder is even describing the illness. You could do it scientifically, but there is also how you feel and what you go through, which is not exactly easy or PG13. I also wonder- how do you tell someone how bad it could get? That you could spend months in bed, or end up in a psych ward at some point in your life? How do you tell someone you cannot have kids because you do not know if you could survive 9 months of crazy hormones in your body off medication?

How do you call someone when you feel like dying to ask them to be there? How do you ask someone to be there for you when you’re depressed and you know it is a difficult task? But how do you keep it from them? It is a constant negotiation of these things, they are the thoughts that go through your mind continuously.

Then there is mania.

This is the most embarrassing. Because when you’re having a manic episode, literally anything can happen. And it is usually very extreme. It can be very damaging and can lead to the end of a relationship. In actual fact, it usually does. This is hard to talk about.

I have written a few times about mania and one particular episode in “Bright Green Sharpener”.

I will refer to my typical manic behaviour with a partner as the ‘trespasser’. I am terrible with boundaries when I am manic and, due to the paranoia that accompanies it, I usually believe he is holding out on me somehow when he is simply not available. So what will I do? I will show up, in the most embarrassing way, in the most demanding way and often in the most risky way. I am the ‘crazy lady’.

Living with bipolar is a daily task in control.

In measuring the way you react, speak and present yourself. In analysing every emotion just to make sure you’re fine. So mania is not only scary because of what could happen to you, but because of losing control. Losing control, while fun in the moment, has the worst aftermath. Losing control feels like weakness. It is almost as if you’re constantly sitting at the edge of a gaping hole and could freefall at any moment. Having a witness to that is horrible. Who would stay after that? How do you explain that? How do you promise it doesn’t happen often when you’re not in complete control of it?

However, I am still aware I deserve to be loved. Wholly and completely. And that I am capable of loving too. Wholly and completely. My “Disney” fantasy world never mentioned anything to do with living with mental illness, and that is alright because it said nothing about your boyfriend possibly sleeping with your best friends either- so disillusionment has occurred already. But there are a few people who seem to have found a partnership that works with their mental illness. But I cannot hold on to that as a possibility. It is not guaranteed.

What I do have though, and that I find more fulfilling and stabilising, are the friendships around me. The most poignant moment I had with two of my close friends was the one where I had to speak about my desire and plans to take my own life. In that moment, I laid bare my most vulnerable thoughts on something so difficult and for a friend to be there for me was incredible. Their response, in that moment, healed me. Their acceptance of the deep darkness of my soul that I would never have dared to share with anyone brought so much light and affirmation.

It is this kind of love that holds me. The kind of love that only requires me to just be. I have it and continue to cultivate it. It is liberating. While I hope I can experience this one day in the form of a partner, I am not holding my breath, in this horrible world we live in where the person you lie next is the one most likely to kill you, let alone visit you in the psych ward. And that is something I am learning to be okay with.

This post was first published on Lebo’s blog Exhaling Point.

We have more posts on mental health like this one about about 5 podcasts of therapists of Colour you should listen to, this one about mental health sex and intimacy , this podcast about sex and mental health and this short guide  about the ABCs of handling mental health. 

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