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When Bipolar Disorder Made Me Tell My Boyfriend He Could Leave Me

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When you live with a mental illness like bipolar disorder, you will encounter times when you feel like you are a burden to the ones you love — to the ones who love you. I guarantee it.

How can you not? We’ve opened ourselves up to a multitude of insecurities and uncertainty. Letting someone know you have bipolar disorder is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. For some, it can feel like a deep dark secret unveiled. For others, it is a cart full of baggage they’re entirely unsure of unloading onto someone else. And the pessimistic parts of us have convinced ourselves that to be vulnerable means to be weak. To keep secrets means to be untrue. And to have baggage, well, who wants that? We forget we all have baggage whether it is an illness, a bad situation, or emotions left like residue on a window to our past.

And for our illness, we surmise it is weak to accept help. To admit that we are sick. To let another person take care for us, or simply to care for us.

When I met my boyfriend of 11 and a half years, I remember handing him a note five months in: a cryptic piece of prose in which I described myself as baggage and in which I gave him permission to leave if things ever got too heavy for him. He had no idea what I meant when he read the note, and he had no idea that four years later, our love and our relationship would get tested when I had my second major breakdown at age 28. I fell into major depression for the first time since I was 17 and actually started having a mixed episode, experiencing both mania (with hallucinations and delusions attached) and debilitating depression at the same time. I remember being completely paranoid, thinking everywhere I went people were talking about me. I was transformed into a young woman nowhere near the girl he came to know and love the first four years of our relationship. Most men, I’m sure, would get scared and leave. One minute with me, and they’d be convinced I had lost my mind. And even if my boyfriend had suspected something had gone awry in my frantic brain, he loved me enough to stay. And he loves me still.

And for that, I am forever grateful.

But that does not prevent me from still thinking some days that he might consider the option of leaving, of bailing out, deciding my condition is too much for him to handle. And when we first started dating, I entered no contract that would obligate him to remain with me.

I wanted so desperately for him to know me, to really know me. All of me. That’s why I wrote him that cryptic piece of prose five months in, thinking surely in some poetic way he would come to understand what he was taking on and what he was getting into, and telling him I would completely get it if he chose to leave.

There are still times I feel like he would be better off without me. And the fact that he is still here doesn’t prevent me from thinking he deserves to be with a girl who won’t freak out on him. A girl who could easily give him kids. Someone with whom getting pregnant and bearing children wouldn’t be a whole complicated, premeditated ordeal.

Many days, I consider myself abnormal, and I wish I didn’t overreact or feel like I’m going to die from a panic attack. I wish I didn’t get depressed for no obvious reason. I wish I didn’t have to live in fear of having another relapse or breakdown. And while I am wishing these things for me, I am wishing it for him as well.

I don’t want to be someone else’s problem. I don’t want to need to have someone take care of me. I feel foolish and childlike when my mom pulls my boyfriend aside when I’m going through a rough patch, advising him on how to deal with me, as if I’m laying on a hospital bed, coming out of a coma.

And I hate myself when my anger is a result of the frustrations and complications of dealing with this chronic, incurable illness. Furthermore, I hate when I direct that anger towards him.

But as I write this I realize, the problem isn’t my illness. The problem is my inability to recognize myself as worthy. My inability to validate my own humanity. I can’t spend my days wishing to be some type of normal I think the world expects me to be. I have to be my own normal. Because really, what is “normal?” And the sooner I see my illness as not a flaw, an inconvenience, or baggage, the sooner I can appreciate the person I have become through the years, illness in tow. I can appreciate all I have accomplished. I can truly be grateful for all the good things I have in my life. Maybe then I will see I am worthy of the man I love. Maybe I can stop misinterpreting his frustration with my actions as a direct result of my illness and simply a reaction to an act that any person can commit. I can’t link everything to my illness, can I? And there is no need to.

Yes, there will be days when bipolar disorder requires someone to help me. Whether it be simply to sit with me and listen to what I’m going through or to talk me down. Or to pick up my prescription from the pharmacy because I can’t pull myself together and get out of bed. But what is greater than all of that, and what makes it possible, is love. And if love is enough to make him stay, then it should be enough to make me see I am more than my illness. I am worthy. I am not a burden. I’m just me.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Originally published: November 29, 2019
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