Another year and another Valentines Day have passed and anyone who knows me well will know I spent most of Sunday quietly muttering, ‘Fucking Truffles’ to myself repeatedly.
Fear not, I’ve not developed an unhealthy proclivity for truffles, quite the contrary, despite the fact I find them delicious I’ve been unable to bring myself to eat one for eight years.
Eight years on Sunday, as it happens.
Warning: Long Post Ahead!
You see, on V Day, eight long years ago, I broke up with my boyfriend.
This in itself is not an unusual event in my life, I’ve lost count of how many boyfriends and how many breakups I’ve been through, not helped by the fact I broke up with one of them about fifty times before we finally called it quits for good.
The reason this particular breakup is noteworthy is because it marks, more so than anything else, my descent into HELL.
For while there have been many men (and a fair few women) and many breakups, this one is the only one I regret.
That might sound harsh, and certainly when you take into account that the guy in question ISN’T the one I loved more than life itself, it may seem odd. But you see, breaking up with the other guy, the one I would, at the time, have given ANYTHING to be with, was, in hindsight, the best thing I could possibly do.
He wasn’t right for me.
He was, in point of fact, an unmitigated jack ass.
But Truffle Man, well, Truffle Man is another matter.
Some explanation is needed before I continue. In late 2005 I went through THE BIG BREAKUP. You know, the one that made me try to kill myself a few times. That was followed by the worst and longest period of mania I’d ever had. For the better part of 2006 I was out of control. Somehow, I still managed to graduate with a 2.1 from Manchester University and in September moved to Bangor to begin my MA. Shortly after arriving in Bangor I embarked on a long-distance, long-term relationship with TRUFFLE MAN.
I knew Truffle Man from Manchester as we’d been on the same course, although we didn’t know each other well. In what I have come to recognise as typical Hazel-Coming-Down-Hard-From-A-High fashion I decided I needed a new boyfriend.
When I say my behaviour had been out of control I’m not exaggerating. Drink. Drugs. Sex. Starvation. You name it, I’d done it that year. I lost six stone in just over 2 months and went for days, sometime well over a week without eating a thing. I exercised relentlessly. I fucked anyone I could find and I drank myself to sleep at night. I didn’t do a lot of drugs, but there was the odd incident, and I’m not proud of the fact.
When I came down from that high I was alone, sober, broke and, perhaps worst of all, still as heart-broken as I’d been the day I realised it was finally and completely over with my ex.
Mania didn’t help me get over the breakup. Mania hit pause, used up every ounce of energy I had, and then abandoned me, frail, poor, and lacking in several good friends I’d had previously.
I’d never acted in such a way before. It would be almost a decade before anyone even said the word bipolar to me, and in my exhausted and shattered opinion, the only explanation was that I didn’t have a boyfriend.
I would never have acted in such a manner if I’d still had a boyfriend.
The reality is that, while the end of my relationship kicked off that particular bout of mania, I wasn’t immune to mania while I’d been with him. In fact, the worst bout I’d had prior to that had occurred while we were together, and led to me cheating on him. He’d cheated on me previously. On balance, at the time, it seemed reasonably justified, but even so, it was out of character.
It was also the beginning of the end for us. I couldn’t forgive him for cheating (and he went on do to it some more) and he couldn’t forgive me.
I will not say that my mania broke that relationship, but it certainly didn’t help it. My depression, on the other hand, and the paranoia that comes withi both states, was simply something he couldn’t deal with.
It was ‘too much’ for him.
I was too much for him.
Even so, we were together three years and while we were together I was relatively stable.
So, when I came crashing down from the next big high and cast about looking for something to tether me to the ground, I hit upon the notion of a new boyfriend.
Not a quick fuck. An actual boyfriend.
Truffle Man would not come to be known by that moniker for some time, but in the interests of maintaining his anonymity, I will use it. He was kind, sweet, funny, and easy. By that I mean easy to be around, easy to talk to, and easy to charm.
He is without a doubt the sweetest, nicest person I’ve ever been with.
Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t perfect. He had a temper that ignited over the smallest things. He was overly sensitive, threw tantrums if he didn’t get fed every four hours and was obsessed with Richmond Skinless sausages, and cheese sandwiches.
He also liked to eat meat pies in bread rolls.
Strange eating habits aside, we got on well. But from the start the relationship was unbalanced. I was incredibly broken after my last breakup and miscarriage, still carrying a phenomenal number of secrets around with me, still not speaking to the majority of my family with any kind of ease, still protecting my father at the expense of my own sanity…
And I was still bipolar.
I didn’t know it yet, and I have no doubt that the new relationship went a long way towards stabalising me, but it didn’t do it overnight, and it didn’t do it completely. My drinking was still a problem. I actually quit completely for three months straight after Truffle Man suggested I was an alcoholic.
It wasn’t that I believed him and was worried, it was more that I was pissed off at the suggestion I was less than perfect and had to prove him wrong.
He certainly wasn’t right. At least, not entirely. But there were times I used alcohol and fags as a crutch. He despised my smoking and made it very clear he couldn’t be with me if I smoked.
Just like that.
I went from 20 a day to none overnight and I didn’t think twice about it.
I no longer needed the fags. I had a new boy to play with.
This is how my mind works when it comes to addictions. When I need something I need it. When I don’t I don’t. There has never been a long stressful period of me struggling to quit something. I smoke or I don’t. I drink or I don’t. I think perhaps he thought the ease with which I gave them up meant I had never been much of smoker to begin with.
The poor boy didn’t have a clue what he was getting into.
Added to this was the fact that I was his first, and he…
Well, he was in no way mine.
We were together for a year and a half, and I have a lot of fond memories with him.
Then it all went horribly wrong…
I think it started when I went to Austria for a month over the summer of 2007. I was excavating two sites with my mentor from Bangor, who is Austrian and also teaches at Vienna University. I wanted to go. I desperately needed to go. But my reasons for this want,.this need, were not something I could explain to Truffle Man. All he could see was that I was going to be away for a month and, due to very limited financing for the whole trip, I was limiting conversations to text messages.
I didn’t want him calling me.
I can understand why this upset him. I can understand, in hindsight, why it pissed him off.
I should perhaps have told him everything I was feeling, it might have made more sense to him. But if there was one thing I knew back then it was that he didn’t want to hear about the ex.
I say THE ex because really, despite the guys and the girls and the parties and the insanity, there was, at that point, only one.
One ex, and another man I still loved who was all but a ghost to me at that point in my life. I’d buried him so deep he might as well have been dead.
They had both broken me, but I was so overwhelmed by the last one I’d all but forgotten the first.
As it turns out, he did far more damage, but I digress.
I needed to go to Austria for several reasons. Firstly, I was an archaeologist who didn’t feel like an archaeologist. Id done some digs and a reconstruction project while I was in college, but at Uni I’d failed miserably. I’d been on one excavation at the end of my first year, right after my miscarriage, right when I was at the lowest I’d ever been at that point, and it flipped me into the aforementioned manic episode.
The one that led to me cheating on my ex.
I’d come home from that dig a failure in every respect. I was useless as a girlfriend and I couldn’t handle two weeks away doing what everyone in my chosen profession does.
I was pitiful.
I refused further digs for the rest of my undergraduate degree, but by the time I was at Bangor I was feeling better. I was in a steady relationship with a good guy, my mentor was (and is!) a wonderful teacher, and I had something to prove.
I was an archaeologist.
I could do it.
And I could be a good girlfriend.
I could be trusted to go away and behave myself.
Trying to explain any of this to Truffle Man was out of the question. So off I went, on the heels of a huge row we had right before I left. I had an absolute blast for the first two and half weeks. I made loads of friends, loved the dig, smoked myself silly every day, had a few drink each night but never too much, and behaved myself completely.
Half way through week two my mood spun around and kicked me hard in the arse. I sank into a pit of despair so fast I didn’t know what had hit me. I struggled through the remainder of my time away, started calling Truffle Man despite the extortionate call charges, and counted down the days until I got home.
My return was hardly what I’d hoped for.
I stopped smoking the day I left, but he knew I’d been smoking while I was gone. We argued as soon as I got back, partly about the smoking, partly because I was complaining about how annoying one of the guys on the dig had been, and partly because he was just pissed off I’d gone in the first place.
We went to New York very shortly after and the trip was a disaster. I had friends out there I had promised to go and see, and their return to the UK was suddenly happening a lot sooner than expected. We went on very short notice and he lent me the money for my half of the trip. I thought nothing of it at the time as the University owed me a cheque for my tuition fees which, due to me working in the library and teaching, they were waiving. This amounted to nearly £2K so paying him back wasn’t a problem, it was just unfortunate we left a week before the cheque arrived.
The trouble was, I was still depressed. I didn’t enjoy the experience at all. I hated America – it was too hot, too busy, there were too many people, and I was so fucking tired.
I dragged my arse around trying desperately to stay awake and, half the time, failed miserably.
He was, I think, disappointing by the experience, especially considering how expensive it had been. Things got worse when we got back and I found the cheque I’d been waiting for had been sent to my father, who had cashed it himself and decided to keep it.
This left me with no way of paying him back.
I mentioned some Truffle Man’s flaws earlier, one I neglected to list was his miserly attitude when it came to money. He hated spending money on anything, and even before I owed him anything, he got pissy with me if I spent any. I do now recognise that my occasional bursts of mania while we were together led to overspending he was right to be concerned by. But the majority of the time I wasn’t manic or over-spending, I was simply doing the normal things I was used to doing on a daily basis. He didn’t like going to Costa while we were out and getting a coffee, it was a waste of money. He didn’t like stopping in a nice cafe or pub for lunch when we were of on an expedition somewhere or shopping.
And if cheese sandwiches weren’t on the menu, I was in deep, deep shit.
This attitude always pissed me off, not least because of his need to eat so regularly. It meant we either couldn’t be out of the house for more than 4 hours, or I had to feed him and put up with his moaning about the price of lunch. I took to carrying an endless supply of Yorkie bars around with me, but they only went so far.
After New York, things went down hill fast.
He resented every penny I spent. I can understand this, I really can, and looking back I should have made more of an effort to pay him back, but at the time, money just didn’t seem important. I was flipping the other way again and my depression had quickly become hypo-mania. The overspending kicked in right when I suddenly owed him several hundred pounds. By the end of the year I was fully manic. and I wouldn’t be coming back down from that high for more than a day or two at a time until the end of 2008.
I finished my MA and took a job as a site assistant down south.
That was the final nail in the coffin that had become our relationship. We were already doing long distance, Manchester-Bangor, and in fairness to him he’d done the majority of the travelling.
There were too many ghosts in Manchester for me and I didn’t like to go back at that point.
The notion of me moving all the way to Bury St Edmunds really pissed him off. I think this was partly due to the fact he’d been working part-time at Tesco since finishing his degree, while I’d done a post-grad course and then got a full-time job doing something I loved. He was, I think, frustrated by his own career (or lack there of), simultaneously pissed off I was moving so far away, and a little envious of what I was doing when I got there. It did prompt him to apply for a better position at Tesco and I’m delighted to say he’s gone from strength to strength within the company since and is now doing very well for himself.
But back then, he hated my new job. And he was growing to resent me. I owed him money, I was too far away, I was moody, depressed too much for no reason, I’d abandoned him over the summer and smoked the whole time I was away, the list was getting longer and longer and the things he’d always liked about me were vanishing in a haze of depression and mania.
In his words, he felt like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t in order to be with him.
I really didn’t understand what he meant by this at the time, but looking back, I can understand it. He felt my manic-self was the ‘real’ me. That was how I’d been before we were together, it was (in his opinion) how I’d been while I was away in Austria, and as time went on I was becoming more and more that person, my ‘real’ self, and less and less the person he’d been with all this time.
I understand why he thought I’d been pretending – or trying – to be something I wasn’t.
He didn’t know I had drastic shifts in mood, behaviour, and personality, as a result of a mental illness that was, back then, completely un-treated.
From his perspective, I was reverting to my true self and he’d been wasting his time on a fake person trying to be better than they really were.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that the paranoid I’d know in my last relationship came back with a vengeance and I was suspicious of everything he did. He worked with women, his friends were all women, and he would go to the cinema or off out somewhere with women. When a new girl started at his work (or he met her when he changed jobs, I can’t remember now) that paranoia went into overdrive. He talked about her all the time, he went out with her on his own, just the two of them, and no matter how many times I asked him not to, he just got annoyed with me.
I became convinced he was cheating on me.
In my defense, I had been through all of this before and it was my own private nightmare, back to haunt me. Whether he was or not, I have no idea, but the whole thing deteriorated rapidly. When he came to see me we did nothing but fight. When I went to see him all I wanted to was to be elsewhere. Eventually I couldn’t stand speaking to him on the phone, and the thought of going to see him made me physically sick.
It wasn’t that I’d stopped caring about him, it was simply that I was utterly convinced he was fucking another woman, and I didn’t have it in me to fight for him.
I’d fought for my last relationship and it damn near killed me.
I was tired, and pissed, in a new place with new people and mania pulling at my strings.
He wanted me to move to Manchester.
I wouldn’t have moved back there if my life depended on it, but he couldn’t see that.
I might have done it, too, but for the fact he wasn’t ready to move in with me.
I’d have been living alone in a city I’d nearly died in, a city my ex still lived in at that point, and doing some god awful job I hated.
And for what?
A guy who was cheating on me.
I wanted the open fields and the freedom of the digging life.
I wanted peace.
We eventually broke up after a week or two of skirting the issue, and it wasn’t well done. I couldn’t face the long drive to Manchester just to end another relationship and he didn’t have the balls to dump me to my face. So it happened over the phone, while I was at work, on, you guessed it, VALENTINE’S DAY.
February 14th 2008.
To say it pissed me off was an understatement. I was furious with him for his philandering ways (I had no proof this was actually happening, but I KNEW, in the manner one KNOWS things while manic, and that was enough back then), and pissed off that he wouldn’t man up and get over himself. To my mind, he was jealous of my new job and the fact I was doing exactly what I wanted to do while he was still living with his parents and working at a supermarket.
I couldn’t think of anything worse than living with my parents and working at a supermarket. I couldn’t understand how anyone could endure such an existence. But my family life was complicated and his was very simple. I had ambitions and dreams and he seemed quite content as he was at that particular point in his life.
I on the other hand, was going places, in the manner only a person in the full grips of mania can go.
And boy did I go.
You may be wondering why I call him TRUFFLE MAN.
Well, it went something like this. Very shortly after I moved – early January – I realised something was wrong. I could see the end looming on the horizon and I was TERRIFIED.
I didn’t want to lose him.
This was partly because he was a nice guy but, I think, more due to the belief that having a boyfriend kept me normal. After my last period of mania I was utterly convinced the only reason I’d acted the way I had was because I didn’t have a boyfriend. Sure enough, I got a boyfriend, and everything calmed down. The mood swings weren’t gone, but they weren’t nearly as bad, and my mania was short-lived and seldom destructive to anything save my bank balance.
On the contrary, it got me through my degree, the great bursts of energy and insight making up for the times I went weeks without doing any work.
But the end was nigh. I could feel it coming. In a burst of proactive avoidance I ordered a single red rose and a box of truffles to be delivered, by courier, to my beloved’s house on Valentines’s Day. I can’t recall what the note said specifically but it included a declaration of love.
I then promptly forgot about it.
I got so caught up in the paranoia over what he was up to and the excitement of my new life I TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT THAT FUCKING ROSE AND THOSE FUCKING TRUFFLES.
I didn’t remember until the conversation in which we broke up.
He started by thanking me for the rose.
He ended by telling me he never wanted to see me again, not even to say goodbye properly.
For the remainder of that day I could be found wandering the Fens screaming, “FUCKING TRUFFLES!” at passing pheasants, like a chocolatier suffering from a serious case of Tourette’s.
My first big breakup was followed by a long period of severe mania, the likes of which I’d never seen before. My second was followed by a bout of mania so bad the other seemed like a happy memory.
And it just didn’t end.
I lost friends. I lost my job. I lost another job. I lost my flat. And then the worst thing that could possibly happen, happened.
I was forced to move back in with my parents.
I lasted a few months, and then it all blew up in my face. The truth about my father came out, he left, my mother was distraught, my family in tatters, the thing I’d spent half my life and broken my brain trying to prevent had happened despite my best efforts.
I was a failure.
And I was utterly alone.
I fell into a pit of depression so deep it took me over six years to climb back out.
Looking back over the last eight years there are a lot of things I regret. Too many to mention. I’m happy now. I’m stable. I have a diagnosis, medication, coping mechanisms in place. I’ve been through a lot of therapy and I’ve written away my woes. I understand myself, and my condition, and I’ve come an incredibly long way from the frightened, broken little girl I was eight years ago.
I have perspective.
And I know that where the men in my life are concerned, losing them was the best thing for me.
Despite the horrible way it ended, despite the fact I’m sure he still hates me to this day for breaking his heart, and despite the fact I’m not sure I was ever actually in love with him, I do regret losing Truffle Man.
I’m not at all sure that loss was the best thing for me.
Then I consider how he handled me, and I know that while he might have been a nice guy, a good guy, which is certainly a unique occurrence in my history, he still wasn’t the guy.
I know this because of something he said to me on a regular basis. Something I have come to recognise as the plaintive cry of a person who isn’t capable of handling mental illness when it’s staring them in the face.
When it’s threatening to take away the person they profess to love.
“It’s too much. You’re too much.”
One of my lovely bears was telling me about her recent breakup the other day over on The Bipolar Bear’s Facebook page. She said it had ended because of her illness, because he couldn’t cope, because it was too much, she was too much.
She said she knew he was right, it was all her fault, she was too much for anyone to cope with, nobody could possibly put up with her.
It made me so sad.
Sad, and angry. Not at her, but for her.
I remember thinking this way. I remember feeling this way. I remember the conviction that I was far ‘too much’ to deal with and the belief that anyone who was willing to put up with me must be a saint.
That belief led me right into my next relationship with a man who was so utterly dysfunctional he made me look like saint, and yet everything was always my fault.
Because I was too much.
I told my bear on Facebook how backwards this view is and I wanted to share it here too. I understand why Truffle Man felt this way – I was un-diagnosed, untreated, and totally out of control.
And he had no idea I was ill.
Feeling my behaviour was ‘too much’ is understandable in those circumstances. Perhaps a better man, or at least a more experienced man, would have realised there was something wrong and got me some help, rather than getting annoyed and abandoning me, but he was who he was. He was young, and inexperienced, and for him, back then, I was entirely too much to handle.
That doesn’t mean I’m too much for everyone. It doesn’t mean I’m a burden. It doesn’t mean I should count myself lucky if someone is willing to put with me and settle for that person simply because they will endure my faults.
Love means looking after people when they fall, not kicking them when they’re down.
Love means loving the entirety of a person, faults and all, not limiting yourself to loving them when they are well.
For better or worse, in sickness and in health.
There’s a reason they put it in the fucking vows.
So, the next time someone blames you for everything that is wrong with a relationship and tells you, “You’re too much!” do please direct them to this post.
If they feel that way it’s because you’re not getting the help you need. That isn’t your fault. That is their fault. As a bipolar bear we are not always capable of recognising when we are ill, when we most need help. We are not always capable of asking for it, finding it, or accepting it.
We need the people who love us to help us recognise we need help, help us find it, help us ask for it, and most importantly help us do the work and stick to the treatment.
Because that’s hard.
It’s the hardest thing about this illness.
And when you love someone, you help them through the bad shit so you can enjoy the good shit together.