Being in love with someone with bipolar disorder is no easy feat — at least, that’s what I think in my head when I think about how difficult it must be for my partner to love me. The fact of the matter is, I don’t know whether he believes it is a challenge to love me, a person living with bipolar disorder. The negative self-perceptions are my own, they are the creations of a mind that often runs amok, usually towards the negative. Yet, I can’t help but surmise that there are times he struggles and has struggled to love me because of a down mood, a negative mindset or my inability to find traction in life despite having a Ph.D. I realize I am my own harshest judge, but there was a time my disorder directly affected our love.
Loving me when I struggle with my “gloominess” is something that gets in the way of my partner’s love for me. I learned this in couples counseling only last week. I imagine it is particularly challenging for him when I am experiencing a depressive mood at the same time he is happy, has done something nice for me or is looking forward to enjoying special time together. You see, when my depression kicks in, I “negativize” everything in life. This negativity directly affected our relationship in ways I often regret but have learned to be grateful for. As I reflect upon the one time in particular, I realize I was in the grips of a depressive mood, and I ruined what could have been one of the happiest days of our lives.
It was Christmas Day of 2016. We were headed down the Jersey shore to spend time together at one of our favorite places, Ocean Palace. On the ride down the Parkway, I said something to the effect of: “If we never find a house and get married, I’ll get over it like I have other things in the past.” We had been trying to purchase a home for over a year, and the process was frustrating me, particularly because he wanted the home before proposing. I felt like everything was working against us and thought I had to steel myself for spending the rest of my life alone. Yes, my mind took me there. Instead of clearly communicating my feelings by saying, “I am afraid we will never find a home, I can’t stand not being husband and wife another day longer, and I love you more than I have ever loved anyone in my life,” I just presumed I had to gird myself for the worst-case scenario. The reason my comment matters is that he was going to propose to me while we were away. The irony is my negativity kept me from the one thing I want more than anything – for us to be a family, husband and wife. Furthermore, I’d suspected he was going to propose while we were away. I was so sure of it; I had even done my nails after having spent weeks biting them down to nubs. Yet, my negative mood changed the outcome of that trip.
Several stressors and my negativity led us to break up on New Year’s Eve. The breakup, although brief, consisted of the most painful nine days of my life. I spent most of the time recalling what had happened, missing his presence in my life, and lamenting what I had said and done. Yet, I found the strength to go to work, to socialize, and to work on myself. On the ninth day, he texted me that he had made the biggest mistake of his life and called me to tell me he wanted to get back together. We were both sick that week, so our contact was limited to texting and phone calls, which, in retrospect was a good thing — it gave us both extra time to think, to work on ourselves, and to process what life was like without the other. When we met in person and reconciled, we had a new perspective on the relationship, where we were going, and who we are as individuals and as a couple. I learned I could not allow my moods or my projections about what he might be thinking or feeling to have an impact on the relationship. I learned my negativity created a self-fulfilling prophesy and I would not allow that to happen again. Finally, I learned that his greatest act of loving me was to let me go. As counterintuitive as that might seem, it taught us both the value we bring to one another’s lives and just how much harder we have to work as individuals who each live, and often struggle with, mental health disorders while deeply in love with another struggling being.
Today, we are happy and working on our relationship in couples counseling. We are not engaged yet, nor do we have a home together, but we are working on getting there by ensuring we effectively communicate with one another during the easy times and when either one of us is struggling with our individual disorders. We make sure to spend quality time together, to have date nights, and to learn new things together. We’re both following through on promises and giving one another slack. Now, when my mood sours, I recognize it for what it is, my mood. I don’t project it on to him. Instead I reach out to him to make sure he is OK and let him know I love him. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I know I have faith in him, in us, and most importantly, in myself.
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Photo by Toa Heftiba, via Unsplash