How Being in a Relationship Helped With Bipolar Disorder Recovery

In one simple metaphor, I will give you an idea of what it felt like to have bipolar disorder before I was in therapy: I was treading water, and sometimes I was drowning. Then I was lucky enough to be accepted into dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). I will let you do your own research on this type of therapy, as it is far too much to cover here. Here’s another metaphor I used, during therapy: I was swimming towards land.

At the beginning of therapy, I was lucky enough to meet my then-boyfriend. I was nervous at first to tell him my bipolar disorder type 2 diagnosis. I actually remember the words I told him when I did break the news: “I have bipolar disorder, but I’m in therapy right now. So I’m getting better.” When I said the words, “I’m getting better” to him, I didn’t realize I was also making him a promise.

As our relationship progressed, and I fell more deeply in love with him, I realized the progression paralleled my progression in therapy. Because I loved him so much, I wanted to be the best me I could be. I wanted him to be happy for me, to be proud of me and to see I was doing everything I could to live a happy life. I became better for him, and soon I realized that focusing on myself is sometimes the best thing you can do to show someone else you love them.

Don’t get me wrong; there were setbacks. There was a time when I was not serious about taking my medication, and I would miss doses. My mood spiraled one day and was stable the next. It sent him reeling; he couldn’t figure out what was wrong at first. Once he understood the root of the problem, he had a serious talk with me. “I can’t be in a relationship with the unhealthy you, because I want to be in a relationship with the healthy you.” We devised a plan to help me stay on track to take my medication. The biggest problem I have is that I hate swallowing pills, and on top of that, the medication tastes absolutely disgusting to me. We decided we would start buying really nice organic orange juice; it would be reserved for medication time, and medication time only. We would both be aware when it got low and make no excuses to go to the store and get more. On top of that, because I take my medication at night, I had a small makeup bag filled with my pill bottles at my bedside. I would fill a paper cup, take it to my nightstand, and take my medication with him there. It made me accountable. I couldn’t lie to him if he had to be the witness.

On top of taking my medication, I use other DBT skills to handle conflict, disappointment, goal setting and mindfulness. Again, you can research all about the skills that make up DBT therapy on your own time, but what to point out right now is how I actively worked to be in a relationship. I can’t just force people to save me from drowning; I have to help them by swimming as much as I can. There are, of course, exceptions to this mindset. But for the most part, being in a relationship involves two people being the best people they can be, so they are able to be there for each other.

I am happy to say that we recently became engaged, and now that we have reached this milestone, I realize I happen to have also reached metaphorical land. Sometimes I take a dip back in the water, but for the most part, I am able to keep out of it. Finding someone — whether it be a family member, a friend, a significant other or even yourself — can make life worth living. These people can be a motivator to keep fighting, to not give up. A healthy you is a healthy relationship. And no matter where you are in the ocean, in the words of Dory from “Finding Nemo,” I hope you will “just keep swimming.”

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