When You're Afraid Bipolar Disorder Makes You Unloveable
When I was planning out my life as a teenager, I never thought I’d still be single at 30. I’ve tried and failed many times to find a romantic partner through the last decade. So far, I’ve just had two long-term relationships — one that lasted six months and one that lasted for four.
In the back of my mind, I’ve often wondered if my lack of relationship success had anything to do with my bipolar disorder. There were a few dates where I disclosed my diagnosis early, which led to some responses of, “No, thank you,” for the next date. Others I told on the fifth or sixth date, only to have the same reply.
Were they deciding to call it quits because they were afraid of my illness? Perhaps it’s impossible to know for sure.
Sometimes I wonder if my mental illness undermines me in other ways. On some dates my brain is a little foggy, so I come off as far less intelligent and sharp. Other times I’ve gone out when I feel depressed, and I’m sure my dinner guests have picked up on it.
This all leads to a heartbreaking question I’ve ruminated on over the years: Am I unlovable because of my mental illness? I’ve sat for hours at a time, wracking my brain for reasons why I’m still single, why my latest attempt at courtship failed and why I just might be alone forever.
If you ever fall into the trap of thinking you’re unlovable, here are a few things to consider:
Know the Territory
When it comes to dating struggles, you are not alone. Modern changes in dating — from its price tag, to the new ways in which dates can hurt us, to the serious problems that come with too many options — means dating today is more treacherous for everyone.
I have a friend from college who always used to say, “Dating is not for wimps!” I resented the remark for a while — I’ve got a fairly tender heart and used to think she was singling me out. But it does ring true, in the sense that dating is a difficult enterprise. If you take any amount of desire and pour some rejection on it, there’s going to be pain, guaranteed. And dating has lots of desire and rejection built into it.
Does that mean if you have anxiety, if you worry about dating or if you find it difficult you should stay away from it? I don’t think so. But if you walk into it with both eyes open, it’s easier to rationalize — correctly, in my opinion — that dating is hard because it’s hard, and not because of a problem inside of you.
To be sure, you may certainly still face literal discrimination because of a diagnosis. But with all of the understanding we have of mental illness, and all of the wonderful advocates bringing awareness to it, more people are accepting of it now than ever before. And if you find someone who isn’t accepting of it? I suggest you keep looking. Maybe you can convince them of the error of their ways. But more likely, you’ll end up in a bad situation, with your partner questioning your very real illness.
Here’s a radical thought I want you to take with you and hold onto forever: You are always worthy of your own self-love. Let me say it again: You are always worthy of your own self-love.
You might be wondering how you can begin to feel love for yourself when you’re so bogged down with the way you’ve been treated by others. My first suggestion is to examine your self-talk.
Self-talk, or what we say about ourselves to ourselves, is a key driver of our attitudes towards ourselves. When I’m feeling dejected, I find myself on autopilot saying things like, “I don’t deserve love,” or, “I’ll never find love.” They can range from the specific (“I am so terrible at writing. This article sucks. I can’t keep going.”) to the broad (“How could I be so silly?”).
To begin loving yourself, tackle these ideas head on. Look for them when they come out of your mouth or run across your mind, and challenge them when they do. It’s very likely they’re products of depression, anxiety or obsessive thinking, and that they are grossly untrue or misleading. And while you may not be able to stop them from coming to you, you can always choose to reject or ignore them.
Comparison to Others
Another surefire way of learning to hate yourself is comparing yourself to others, especially on social media. I’m not one of those naysayers who is always harping on social media. I think the risks are a little overblown and that these platforms can be used for tremendous good. But when it comes to your own mental health, regulating their use is essential.
I have had to unfollow and even block several celebrity’s profiles. I was spending far too much time absorbed in their digital worlds, wishing I could be them. I kept asking myself why I was so poor, so untalented and so out of shape. As soon as I cut out those profiles, I stopped beating myself up about those things.
Our online presence is almost always going to be better looking, more airbrushed and focused on our successes rather than our faults and failures. No wonder then that we can get so down when comparing our whole selves, warts and all, to someone else’s best attributes. If you feel yourself getting down on comparing yourself to your high school friends or famous people your age, cut them out of your feed or take longer breaks from social media overall. It’s remarkable how much that can affect your image of yourself.
Finally, the last way I’ve found to love myself is to get absorbed in things that I love to do. And I’m not talking about a side gig for extra cash. I’m talking about a hobby that makes you feel like you, that makes you feel alive. I recently took up playing Dungeons and Dragons online with a few friends I found on a chat board. Now, instead of lying in bed on the weekend sulking, my adrenaline is pumping on Friday because I know I’ll have two days of D&D!
When you get involved in something you love, whether it’s crocheting or competitive speed skating, you begin to build a part of yourself that mirrors what you like. Your interests can become a powerful part of your personal narrative when you need to confront those bad thoughts. “Yes I may be single, but dang I’m having fun,” is a great retort to the creeping doubts about your love life. And who knows? Maybe by engaging in things that you love, you can find someone with a mutual beloved hobby. There’s no better place to plant a relationship than the fertile soil of common ground.
Getty image via Victor_Tongdee