I’ve had a sad bear on Facebook this week and we got to talking about bipolar disorder and relationships. One of the regulars on the page is still reeling after the end of her relationship, not helped by the fact her ex is blaming everything on her bipolar.
When I first spoke to her about this a few weeks ago she was very much in the mindset that she was, in some way, un-loveable, because of her condition. She felt he was quite justified in both leaving her when the going got tough, and blaming the end of their relationship on her difficult behaviour.
I had to set her straight on this.
I used to think exactly the same way, and it took a long time for me to understand that, while bipolar may make a person difficult to live with at times, and quite definitely puts a strain on a relationship, it is not the only thing to consider.
I used to believe that bipolar disorder and relationships were like oil and water, vodka and good decision making: They just didn’t mix.
I’ve had three serious relationships in my life. Two of them ended, in part, because I was undiagnosed and my behaviour was unfathomable. They also ended, in part, because the people I was with were selfish/cheats/liars/immature/didn’t love me enough.
The first was honest enough to say he loved me but couldn’t deal with me anymore.
The second was TRUFFLE MAN. It had more to do with the different directions each of our lives were taking than anything else (including my condition).
My third relationship was very different. He didn’t find my condition difficult, so much as useful. I was diagnosed while we were together, and freely admit we only ended up together in the first place because I was in such a hole of depression and just needed…someone. Anyone. This was, perhaps, unfair to him. I certainly never loved him. I didn’t even like him. But because I needed him and because I’m obsessive and generally paranoid, jealous and possessive, we had a tumultuous relationship regardless of my true feelings for him. In many ways he had me convinced nobody else would have me, and thus the desire to stay with him was even stronger – I not only needed him, it was impossible to believe that leaving him would mean anything other than a life alone.
At the time, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being alone with my own mind.
As a result I was very easy to manipulate. Whenever I grew suspicious he cited my condition. I was paranoid. I was crazy.
In my first two relationship this was true. With him, it wasn’t. He was a lying, cheating, manipulative bastard. But because of my history, because of my condition, and because of my fear of being alone, I believed what he told me.
It wasn’t him, it was me. Everything was me. Everything was my fault. And if he did something upsetting it was all part of the ‘learning curve’ that came with dealing with my condition. Nothing was ever his fault. It was either me or bipolar.
Relationships aren’t supposed to work like this, not even if you’re bipolar. As I said to a friend of mine the other day, the best relationships work when you place your partner’s well being above your own. When you are selfless. But both people in the relationship must do this, both people must be selfless, otherwise both end up caring for one person. One ends up alone, with nobody looking out for them, and the other ends up with an inflated sense of their own importance.
One gives, the other takes.
Relationships shouldn’t work like this – ANY relationship, regardless of the health (mental or physical) of those involved.
The thing with bipolar disorder and relationships is that bipolar bears are often incapable of taking care of ourselves, let alone anyone else. When we’re ill, we need our partners to look after us, but we’re unable to look after them.
We’re unable to look after them while they’re going through the stress and strain of not only worrying for, but being responsible for, the emotional and physical well being of a bipolar bear.
This isn’t easy on anyone. If you place this burden on the wrong person, a person who is all take and no give, they will break, and the relationship will break with them.
Not because you’re bipolar.
Not because you’re a terrible person.
Not because you’re doomed to be alone forever.
But because they aren’t strong enough, or capable enough, of dealing with the reality of your situation.
I’ve found that when you love someone enough, even if you’re an all-taker, rather than an all-giver, you can learn to deal with the situation. You can adapt. You can muddle through as best you can.
My first relationship was like this: he loved me. Whatever his faults, he truly loved me. And it got us through a lot, far more than most people would stick around for, especially considering he had no idea I was ill. He had no explanation for what was wrong or why I was acting the way I was.
At times, I quite simply seemed like a crazy, angry, unpredictable bitch.
People have questioned why I stayed with him for so long when he wasn’t perfect. The answer is simple: I loved him, and I was far from perfect myself. When I was well I took care of him very well. And he did his best to take care of me. Ultimately, he couldn’t handle it any more. But that wasn’t his fault. With no diagnosis I was getting progressively worse, not better, and there was no end in sight, not hope for things being good. Add to that the fact his mother had cancer and he was dealing with all of that, and you begin to see why, at age 20, he buckled under the pressure.
I don’t blame him for that.
Having a relationship when you have bipolar is complicated. But it’s important to remember that all relationships are complicated. Your relationship isn’t complicated JUST because you have bipolar. If you didn’t have bipolar you would still fight, you would still get jealous, you would still get angry, you would still argue. There would still be days when one of you was too ill to take care of the other, or when BOTH of you were too ill to take care of anyone. There would still be blame. There would still be guilt. There would still be financial concerns, family concerns, career concerns. There would still be the potential for infidelity.
Bipolar didn’t invent any of these things, it simple exemplifies them, and while there is no doubt that any bipolar bear is challenging at times, I have a news flash for you:
EVERY SINGLE PERSON THAT EVER LIVED WAS CHALLENGING AT TIMES.
Being in a relationship when one, or even both parties, is bipolar, is not easy. But it’s not impossible. It takes commitment, love, understanding, compasion, and above all patience. It requires you to be selfless, as much as you can, whenever you can, but it also requires you to be serious about your self-care.
You can’t look after someone else if you don’t look after yourself, and nobody can be 100% responsible for someone else’s care. Being bipolar and in a relationship is not an excuse to hand over your wellbeing to your other half and simply expect them to shoulder the burden of looking after both of you. You must try the best you can, when you can, whenever you can, to do as much as you can to remain stable and healthy. And when you are stable and healthy, you must understand that your partner needs looking after, that they need a break, that caring for you is their privelage, but it is also tiring, and they need to recharge.
Look after them when you can, so they are fully charged to look after you when you need it.
Try to help them understand what you go through as much as possible, so they know what to do and say, and what not to do and say.
If they need a break occasionally, that’s okay, but they need to make it clear it’s a break, and not goodbye, and they need to do it in such a way that it won’t make you ill – a planned holiday, rather than an abrupt separataion, done while you are stable enough to cope, and ensuring you have other people around to check on you.
And if it ever comes to it, don’t let them tell you your bipolar disorder is the reason they’re walking out the door. They walk on their own feet, by their own choice. If they love you enough they will find a way to cope. And if they truly can’t cope, if being together is making you both ill, in the end you may have to love them (and yourself) enough to let them go.
I loved someone that much once, and he couldn’t cope.
I let him go.
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I don’t regret it.
It was the right thing to do.
That doesn’t mean I don’t believe there’s someone out there for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe that somewhere, waiting to meet me, is someone who will not only love me enough to stay, but love me and understand me enough to simply accept it is part of who I am, and get on with life.