Why I’ll Never Forget My Then-Boyfriend’s Response to Learning I Have Bipolar Disorder

I’m not sure about you, but having to tell a new boyfriend you have bipolar disorder isn’t up there on my top 100 list of favorite things to do. As a matter of fact, I avoided it like the plague. I know, I know… I’m supposed to want to tell the world. And while I’m much more vocal about my life now, then… yeah, not so much!

Several years back, I had been dating this guy for about four or five months, and he was awesomesauce. I even told several friends that this guy could “be the one.” I didn’t want to lose him. So, on one hand, I knew not telling him wasn’t an option, but the fear of telling him was almost mind-numbing. For weeks, I’d start to say something, stop mid-sentence and change the subject. I was terrified that, if he knew this part of me, he’d leave. And while I knew he was a great guy, there was a huge part of me that kept repeating the constant line (we all know it): “If he finds this out about you, he’ll leave you. No one wants someone with this type of problem.”

Anyway, I’ll never forget the day I actually blurted everything out, and then his response. We had decided to take a walk (just because, not because we needed to “talk”) and ended up sitting down on a side of a wall. Just sitting on that wall, I could barely breathe. The words in my mind were like a seesaw: “Tell him/he’s going to leave you; tell him/you don’t have a ride home; tell him/why are you screwing up something so wonderful…” You get the gist. It was horrific, to say the least!

I looked at my boyfriend and said (yes, I stumbled terribly through this) that I really loved him, but it was only fair that he knew exactly what he was getting into. And that, while I was OK right then, I was bipolar and with that came challenges. I know I rambled on (talking way too fast, I’m sure) for another couple of minutes explaining a bit about my history; you get the idea!

After I finished, I remember we both sat, looking straight ahead, next to each other in utter silence. And we sat… and we sat… and we sat. By this point, I had convinced myself he was trying to figure out how to get out of our relationship. I was sure he wanted to leave me right there, but was at least trying to figure out how I could get home without him; he had driven, after all. I was just grateful we hadn’t eaten before our walk. If we had, I most certainly would have thrown up.

Instead, in what seemed like a million hours (probably five minutes), my boyfriend did the most interesting thing…

He took off his glasses, pointed to sign about 100 feet away, and asked me what it said. I remember thinking to myself: I’ve just spilled my guts out to you and you’re asking me about a sign? What the what?

Anyway, I told him. He asked me again, “just to be sure” what it said. I restated the name on the sign (undoubtedly in an exasperated voice).

He got quiet again for a solid hour; OK, not really, it was maybe 30 seconds, but it felt like an eternity and truthfully I was rather confused/frustrated and close to tears by this point.

Then, he very calmly looked at me and said — this I can quote because I will never forget this statement as long as I live — “without my glasses, I can barely tell there is a sign over there, let alone tell you what it says. Should you love me less because I can’t read it unless I wear my glasses?”

I think my heart stopped for a moment. Such a simple statement, yet so much truth behind it. He had equated my bipolar to his wearing glasses. To him, it was that simple. They were both beyond our control, and they both shouldn’t prevent us from loving each other any less. My bipolar didn’t make me a pariah; it was just a part of me. It was what made me… well, me. It was a complete change of perspective. While I’m usually good with descriptions, I can’t describe what I felt in that moment. Relief, love, shock, amazement, joy — yet those don’t even begin to summarize what I felt in the moments after. We just sat there on that wall for a good 30 minutes, not talking. It may have been the longest I’d gone without talking, ever! It was in that moment my life completely changed. I knew this guy was different than all the rest.

He asked me to marry him in that exact spot just a few months later. And we’ll be married 14 years this May. It’s been a rough road at times. My illness has put a real strain on our life, but he has always been there. Just like my husband can’t change the fact he must wear glasses (and he’s as blind as a bat without them!), I can’t change the fact I’m bipolar. We love each other not “in spite” of those things but including everything.

Just a few months ago, at a marriage retreat, I was brave enough to tell him my biggest fear: If he knew back in May 2004 how his life was going to play out, he would have chosen not to marry me. If he knew how hard my illness was going to impact our lives, he would have given me a kiss and walked away. Sure, we take our vows seriously, and I know he’s not going to leave now. But there was a huge (massive) part of me that worried he had a lot of regrets marrying me. My husband, the man who is of very few words, looked up at me and said “Hillary… your ‘bipolar’ is part of your personality, and it is your personality that I fell in love with. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Yep, I’m one lucky girl!

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Josiah Weiss on Unsplash

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