The (Im)possibilities of Love With Bipolar Disorder
I should have asked for her hand in marriage but she would have just given me the finger. I inhaled the moment we met and exhaled every moment that had come before.
I live with bipolar disorder. Once, I loved with it too.
Some refer to bipolar as “touched by fire.” I prefer to call it, “I pour gasoline on everything I touch. Then, I light a match.” I survived suicide and I’m recovering from just about everything there is to recover from. Except for love — is it possible to recover from a broken heart?
Those of sane mind say that when love is not madness, it is not love. The pounding in my chest alternates between the two: Love and madness. I thought my diagnosis meant I’d never be loved, but it was love that bought a one way ticket to the rest of my life.
Most people will never see the inside of a psychiatric institution. I collected enough institutional baggage that Lynnette always felt like she was living in one. Regardless of where or who I’d been, who I was when we met or who I may have become, she moved out of her life and anchored herself to mine. A psychiatrist once asked, “What’s it been like living with Casey?” “Hell,” she said. “But mostly Heaven.”
We didn’t own a juicer. Early into our life together, she walked downstairs and found me hurling oranges at a wall demanding fresh squeezed orange juice. She called me a natural disaster. Hurricane Casey — my permission to continue destroying everything in my path.
That day, she left me for the first time. She just didn’t go anywhere. If she had, she would have made sure I was tucked in tight and my medications were laid out for the week. She was always willing to “hunker down and wait out the storm,” like my old friends in the Sunshine State liked to say.
I don’t know what it is like is to love someone with bipolar disorder. I avoided mirrors because I didn’t even want look at someone with bipolar disorder. Lynnette will be the first to tell you it takes twice as much love to love both of me.
On the days being alive was awkward, Lynnette sat bedside and held my hand while we waited for my soul to wake up and join my body.
At first, I had to explain why I swallowed a pill every time we visited a shopping mall or Walmart. Within a year she was speaking psychiatry as a second language and shouting things like, “Are you off your lithium? Because you’re acting like a real dick!” “Don’t forget to pack those pills that put you to sleep!” she said when we traveled. I smiled any time she asked when my new meds were going to kick in. I reminded her I’ve been on those “new meds” for two years.
I used to dream we were a scene cut from a movie where the beautiful and loving nurse falls in love with the addicted, mentally ill man-boy, just before he hops the fence and hightails it, escaping his fifth attempt at rehabilitation. I always woke up before the happy ending.
In my 20s, I tried to end my life. Twice. Twenty-five to 50 percent of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide. Eight to 19 percent die by suicide. With the scars left behind, I guess I fall somewhere in between. Once we fell in love, she gave me twice the life I ever tried to take away. She saved me from behaviors only she’d learned to recognize. She made me go to work on days I refused to shower and she made me write even on the days I didn’t want to.
I don’t know why she loved me, or how. But she had a way of letting me know, before she even pulled the words from her body and handed them to me. She stayed strong and held me tight the times I cried, trembling with suicidal hate and muttering things about Nazis invading our condo and admitting I was really the one who pushed the rock that killed Piggy in the climax of “Lord of the Flies.”
Sometimes, just hours after one of those dark episodes, I bounced back and we laughed together on the phone with my mom. It never got old — hearing the first woman who loved me tell the next, “Lynnette, no takebacks!”
Once a month, for reassurance, she’d search Google for something like, “Why does my bipolar boyfriend break up with me three times a week?” The assurance came somewhere around the 100th result of others’ loved ones asking the same questions.
A brain like mine can barely handle moderation. I can’t drink coffee. Even tea is touchy. If I don’t eat, I become intoxicated with anxiety or anger depending on the last thing I did consume. I can’t watch scary movies. I like dark music in dark times but Lynnette always pled with me to keep it pop.
I blamed Michael Jackson, but in the end it was the alcohol that did it. On so many nights over so many years, I became broken when broken bottles broke so many hearts. I broke so many promises over unopened big books. My worst day sober is better than my best day drinking or 100 other clichés they say in 12-step meetings I lied and said I was going to.
In the end, that was her breaking point: my drinking. If I’d have dropped a bottle, I’d have knelt and licked the floor, because the pain of chewing on glass was a better alternative to having to look her in the eyes.
She has wings in a story I like to hear more than I like to recite. I imagine her as the sparrow lying in the middle of a road with its little sparrow legs reaching up to the sky, little beads of sweat dribbling off its little sparrow brow. A warhorse comes galloping down the road and stops when he sees the sparrow. Curious and amused, he asks, “What are you doing little sparrow, laying there with your tiny legs in the air?” “I heard the sky is falling and I’m trying to hold it up” the sparrow says. Laughing drunkenly, the warhorse asks, “How do you intend to hold up the sky with those scrawny little legs?” The sparrow replies softly, “One does what one can.” I’m as unpredictable as the sky and Lynnette did what she could to hold me up. Eventually, her sky came crashing down.
I used to tell her she’d never be less than the thing I loved the most. In the end, what brought us together is what tore us apart. Once the orange has been squeezed, it never gets its juice back. Everything has an edge. Everything has a beginning and an end. Even a heart. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention to her heartbeat. Maybe she should have been listening for mine. Occasionally she’ll send me an old photo of us. Always the same one — her way of wrapping her wings around me and tucking me in for the night.
Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash