The Most 'Embarrassing' Part of My Bipolar Disorder


In 2008, I was living in Seattle and trying my hand at online dating. I was also in the midst of bipolar disorder type II. I was taking medications, but they didn’t seem to be working. I found myself often insensitive to others, irritable and depressed. Bipolar disorder also has a bad tendency to cause one to turn inward, away from caring about others, despite our best attempts.

I met Abbie* through an online dating website. She was very sweet and cute. We went out for a few months—going out to eat, spending the night at one another’s apartments, and talking about music, movies and life.

Yet I began to have doubts. Abbie was much more affectionate toward me than I toward her. She latched on and complimented me to no end about my intelligence, looks, how I was caring and my sense of humor. It got to the point where I began to wonder if she was talking about me or someone else. My self-esteem was not skyrocketing all the time and it was difficult, if not impossible to believe her when she said such things to me.

After dating for a few months, my doubts overwhelmed any sense of affection I may have had for her. Additionally, as a fairly organized person, I had grown irritable with the clutter and messiness at her apartment as well as the disarray in her personal life.

“So, we need to talk,” I said to her in a serious tone.

“Uh, sure. What’s up?” she asked. Her voice acknowledged that my tone had meant business. Her normal upbeat energy was lost.

“I’m not really feeling as though this is working out with us. I like you but I’m not at a place where I can be in a relationship. I thought I was, but it took me some time to realize that I’m not. I’ve got too many issues to work through.”

She began to tear up. “What kind of issues?”

“Ah, you know. I’m depressed a lot and anxious.”

“I don’t care. I’m willing to be there for you when you feel that way.”

“Yeah, I dunno. I just don’t feel like this is working out.” She was crying now. I began to feel my stomach rise in my gut. I hate to make people cry, especially people I am dating.

“Why are you just telling me all this now? You never open up to me!” She was getting angry and I recoiled inside. I didn’t want a confrontation. I wanted a quick tear of the bandage — right off — and have it over.

“Uh, I feel like I opened up to you quite a bit. I shared with you some pretty personal things.” I started getting defensive. Any sense of empathy or kindness I had toward her was quickly dissolving.

“No, I mean how you’re feeling now. You never tell me what you’re feeling.”

“Well, I’m telling you how I feel now,” I said, angrily.

“No, you don’t. It’s so frustrating how you keep so much inside. I never know what you’re thinking.” She did have a point. Openness wasn’t always my strongest suit. My therapist and journals got an earful but I was cautious with what I told partners and friends. I suppose I didn’t want to overburden anyone with my life’s complaints. Still, I felt I had been open with Abbie — more than I’d been with anyone in a long time.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Abbie. I feel like I was being open.” I was petulant and uncaring by this point. I wanted out.

We spoke a few times afterward and got a meal or two together, and then went our own ways. A few months later, I moved across the country but never spoke with her again.

Recently, in going through some old emails, I realized how much pain my irritability and frustration with her caused. I reread something I had forgotten: Abbie grew up with abuse and homelessness. It’s possible she didn’t have the best examples of love and relationships. She had experienced a lot of hurt and pain in her childhood.

I didn’t do a great job treating her with kindness and empathy. My depression and crabbiness often cause me to be a self-centered, hurtful jerk. I can be insensitive to everything but my own concerns. Abbie didn’t need my few months of acting like I cared, only to have me pull the rug out under her. She needed love and respect and appreciation. I tried to give her some of that but I wasn’t the right person to do so.

I don’t know how I would’ve gotten out of the situation without hurting her to some degree. From my perspective, it was inevitable. Hindsight shows me that all she was looking for was love, and I did a poor job communicating with her. I may have kept too much to myself. But I feel pretty bad about how I treated someone who grew up in homeless shelters and at the hands of abusive family members. There could’ve been more sensitivity on my part.

My bipolar disorder, though, has a tendency to crush that sensitivity. It causes me to focus on myself and grow cantankerous at things that aren’t exactly how I want them. It’s one of the least flattering parts of my personality — the thing that, when it occurs, embarrasses me the most

* Name has been changed for privacy.

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Getty Images photo via Vasyl Dolmatov


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