Dear Future Boyfriend, From a Girl With Bipolar Disorder
Dear future boyfriend,
There’s only so many times I can sneakily take pills in front of you without you noticing. At brunch when our friends are taking selfies, or at dinner when you’ve gotten up to go to the bathroom.
Or what about when someone asks me to take a shot of vodka with them? I don’t want to say, “No, because my antidepressants mixed with booze will make me black out.”
Or when you spend the night with me for the first time, and I desperately try to hide all of my medications under my bed in hopes you don’t see them.
I don’t know how to tell you that I was diagnosed with bipolar II, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder at 23. I was away at school, and never felt more alone than I did in that moment sitting in my car out side of the psychiatrist office, looking down at a looming list of prescriptions with funny names, to treat an illness I had only ever heard bad things about.
A million questions — like, when do you tell a significant other about it? Do my friends find me exhausting? Are my parents embarrassed? Are people afraid of me? Will anyone ever accept me for what I am? — have paraded endlessly through my mind since. All I’ve craved is acceptance. But how could I ask for acceptance when I’m so afraid to admit I have mental illness? So I’ve lied to my bosses about doctor appointments, lied to my friends when I lose weight, faked illnesses like the flu when I’m actually so depressed I can’t even get out of bed.
By nature I’m energetic and outgoing, but I can rarely keep this facade going for longer than a week before I get pulled down by my illness. Sometimes I just want to be alone, and other times I need so much encouragement and reassurance from my friends as I fall apart. In the same week, I can love my life with my whole heart, and then wish it was over.
Let’s pretend you meet me in a local restaurant, and you ask me out. What am I supposed to do? Say, “Just so you know, I have bipolar type II — can you pass the butter?” as we sit down for our first date? Is there really ever an ideal way to drop news like that? My illness does not define who I am, but it does matter to some people.
But this is me, take it or leave it. If you do decide to continue this relationship with me, I have a couple requests:
1. If I’m having a really rough week at work, know what brightens my mood. Buy my sunflowers and take me for a hike. Since I can’t really go out and drink the working gal blues away, I need you to be my drink.
2. If I’m having trouble getting out of bed, understand this is my depression. Don’t let me isolate — make me breakfast and eat it in bed with me.
3. If I wake you up in the middle of the night from tossing and turning and crying out because of nightmares, don’t tell me to wake up and stop. Just hold me a little bit tighter.
4. If I’m grumpy or saying hurtful things to you for no apparent reason, tell me I’m being hurtful and let me apologize.
5. If I’m losing too much weight, tell me I look beautiful no matter what size I am.
6. When I question my existence in this life, show me how life would be if I wasn’t here. Tell me I should stay.
7. Cheer for the little victories. Make a big deal out of them.
8. Never give up on me.
If you don’t understand mental illness, just know it’s not our fault. I’ve tirelessly fought through my recovery, and I’ve done it alone because even though it’s so hard, I know I’m worth it. Being rejected because of a chemical imbalance is quite possibly the most humiliating experience. Dealing with nightmares, night sweats, reactions to medication, numerous doctors, therapists, while maintaining a full-time job, is actually pretty damn hard, and we are doing the best we can.
Just know that rooting for me, supporting me when I’m broken and loving me when I’m unlovable is the best gift I could ever receive.
P.S. To the people with mental illness: You are not alone. I know how scary it is to sit in the psychiatric unit alone, wondering what someone you knew would think if they saw you there. But you don’t have to go through this journey alone. We are stronger together.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.