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How I'm Releasing the Ghosts of My Past as a Bipolar Woman

I’m releasing my old ghosts as a woman with bipolar disorder. I don’t know what the proper term is (exorcise? banish? reject?), probably because I don’t believe in ghosts. What I do believe in are memories—people and situations that haunt you, follow you, and inhabit your dreams.

I’ve had my share, especially of the dreams sort.

When I first got out of a truly destructive relationship, I was not yet diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I medicated with my prescriptions and self-medicated too. I was not in good shape.

For a long while, I shunned anything associated with that harrowing relationship. He liked blue spruce trees. I avoided them. He had collected cobalt blue glassware. I could barely stand to look at them. He gave me heart-shaped boxes as gifts. I threw away every one I had, even the ones that were actually pretty and useful. He shamed me for my cooking. I gave it up. I gave up things I enjoyed, things that had been part of me. And I didn’t allow myself to explore things that he once loved.

He haunted me. I would have dreams in which I was going to meet him, in which I was in a place where I knew he might show up. I dreamed I was in his house—with cheerful parties going on around me as I panicked. I would have flashbacks to cruel things he had said, like the obscene song he had written “in my honor.” Times when he said I had “betrayed his honor” for something as simple as cooking the wrong dish for a gathering. And of course, plenty of others.

Now it seems the dreams have faded. I have reclaimed parts of my life I used to enjoy. I have banished things that were only his obsessions. The flashbacks are nearly gone.

What has helped me banish these destructive ghosts?

Time, of course, though you’d be surprised how many years it took. And it was gradual. He didn’t vanish from my brain like a puff of smoke. At times I still remembered music in particular—festivals and concerts we had been to together, that obscene song. (As I write this, they come bubbling up again.) People, even those from the time when the relationship was going on, who have helped me realize that I should not have been there, that I should not have gone through what I did, that I should have left sooner. I treasure these people. They saw me at my worst, knew me as I was recovering, and are still my friends today.

Other people—friends I had from long before him—have steadfastly remained in or reappeared in my life. I may have been bipolar and undiagnosed when I knew them, but these people stood by me and put up with my mood swings and odd behaviors. They have been part of my support system. And new friends, who have no association with those times but who have had similar feelings and experiences.

Psychiatrists and therapists were also important parts of my support system for all these years. The ones who diagnosed my illness and medicated me properly so that I could deal with the issues that remained. The ones who helped me realize that I had some good memories from those times, that I could rebuild myself by retaining anything that I liked, that I had tools and techniques that I could develop and use to cope.

I had done bargello needlework for the man I had once been with. I switched to cross-stitch. He called the kind of music I liked “shit.” I delved even further into it, reveled in it. And because I developed a love of cats when I lived with him, I’ve never been without one again.

I found love. One of the people I met during the next-to-last weekend of my time with my past partner is now my husband. He has been with me through the dreams, the flashbacks, and the memories and has been the mainstay of my support system. And there are other people I love too—and they love me back.

It seems strange that I was with this haunting man only a little over a year, and yet it has taken me decades to arrive at a point where the memories have faded, the ghosts no longer haunt me. It all seems simply like a bad time that has receded into if not oblivion, at least a clog that has slowly been removed from my psychological plumbing.

Now I know the right word for what I experienced: ghosts. It’s time to flush those ghosts that plug up my mental and emotional systems.

Getty image by Westend61.