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.”

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo by Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Bipolar Disorder

How This Real-Life Example Illustrates a Hypomanic Spiral

“Aren’t you happy when you’re hypomanic?” I hear this often and of course the answer is, “no.” Sure, it feels good having that burst of energy that will last for who knows how long. However, and it’s a biggie: I have learned through experience that the roller coaster must come down, hard and fast without [...]
Woman's face flipping detailed hair

What My Mixed Bipolar Episodes Are Like

Mixed episodes can occur when someone struggling with bipolar disorder is both manic and depressed simultaneously. Words are easy to use when defining what a mixed episode is, but words are hard to find when describing what a mixed episode feels like. I don’t stay up until 4 a.m. writing the night away, nor do [...]
black and white photo of blonde woman looking regretful

The 5 Steps of My Bipolar Mania ‘Comedown’

Having bipolar disorder can feel like I’m “coming down” when mania filters out of my system. It wears off and I’m jittery, anxious, depressed, feeling worthless and needing that mania again, but I’m unable to obtain it. After my mania wears off, I have to go through my own personal version of a comedown, recovery and prevention of [...]
mother feeding young baby girl and holding rubber duck

What I Want to Say to Other Mothers With Bipolar Disorder

To another bipolar mom, We’ve never met, you and I, but I feel like I know you. We walk in the same shoes of mental turmoil day in and day out. Every day, we battle the inner demons of our moods and our minds and pray we make it through to tomorrow. We put on a smile so [...]