Dating Someone With Mental Illness Can Be a 'Dream'
I recently published a piece where I explored why trying to date me is similar to living in a nightmare. Holstering a comorbidity of a few mental illnesses, including bipolar I disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and panic attack disorder just to name a few, I came to the conclusion that my relationships of all kinds (not solely romantic) are not only negatively affected by my erratic mood shifts and abrasive attitude, but can also play a positive role creating the full person I am today.
To quote myself, “Underneath it all and braided throughout, I believe I am a pretty incredible, kind and funny person. I might even dare say smart and delightful, but those things are quite frequently overshadowed. Despite my mental illnesses, I cannot accept that love is impossible for me.”
Although it might take a lot more work and patience to grasp those aspects and hold onto them tightly, they are there. There is positivity because there seems to be a divine balance of the chaos in my life, at least for now.
Invisible disabilities, like most mental illnesses, are often ignored and unknown by the “neurotypical” person, making them more difficult to define when there is nothing tangible or even focal to look at. My mental health plays a huge role in my everyday life and all of my decision-making. In the past, my decision-making was less healthy and more tolerant of bullshit of any flavor. I wanted so desperately to believe the nonsense shoveled into me, I was forced to believe it was right, regardless of if I knew it was absolutely, conceptually wrong. Throughout the years though and with much therapeutic support, I have grown to reflect on these choices and negative behaviors and started to reflect on how to be a smarter, healthier and more collected decision-maker. I am still making mistakes, of course. But I am learning quickly how to live within this marathon of mental natural disasters and be able to show up and be the best version of myself at any given moment. I still mess up. I don’t mess up as much as frequently as I used to though, and I have to be gentle and remind myself how far I have come in order to keep going.
I asked the question, “am I allowed to be in love?” Because I’ve been told that I am not allowed this experience. Because it feels like so many forces are often fighting tooth and nail together against me. Then after publishing the last article, I realized I didn’t touch on any of the positive aspects of being in a relationship with me or someone else who is suffering, and what a disservice that was to everyone and selfishly, also myself. It can be absolutely, heart-wrenchingly awful, but does not always take center stage. I was writing that while coming down from a manic state to being heavily depressed and it’s hard to find the bright side when you’re buried underneath your covers. But I swear its not all bad! Being with me might even been worthwhile and dare I say, enjoyable…
My depression makes me into a melty mess of a person with no will to live. But it simultaneously is when I gain my most insight into the relationships I have and the track that might life seems to be going on. I am usually able to catch up on much needed sleep from the manic episode I have inevitably crashed from. If I console a friend or someone I am intimate with, I find gratitude in their patience and presence. If I am able to get outside, I give myself a round of applause. And when I am able to do it with you? Even better.
Dating me when I am deeply depressed definitely has its challenges, but it’s also a time for you to take a load off. Realize I’m not going anywhere because I don’t have an ounce of willpower to do anything, let alone leave wherever I may be. It’s in these episodes where we can share oxytocin from deep squeezes and comfort in cuddles. We can share the mass amounts of takeout I’ve ordered, if you’re lucky. It’s a time where I try to dig myself out mentally. I find appreciation for your belief in my persistence to exist. I communicate my gratitude for your existence and shout it through the sandbags on my chest, as loudly as my voice will let me. In these moments, I find myself taking inventory for all that I truly have and feel lucky, despite the circumstances.
When I am manic, I have a much looser grip on reality. More people adore this side of me. An outgoing, hardworking, innovating, high energy, non-stop force to be reckoned with. A never-ending good time, a risk-taker worth all the risk. It’s hard feeling and accepting more love or appreciation, or even acknowledgement, when I am in this state. I take it all in, only to digest it later though a critical and highly sensitive lens. I am in pain but those around me feel a sense of temporary relief or “sense of normalcy.”
I might not eat or sleep regularly, two basic human necessities for survival, but it will save you a ton of money on take out or groceries. You never have to worry about what I want to eat because if I’m hungry, I will quickly let you know. I do my best to communicate to the people in my life how I am feeling, so they are aware of the consequences of what that truly means for me. It has been through this transparency that I am able to maintain honest, healthy relationships with friends, peers and employers of mine. It is something I must always be working on. During this time I am more productive, more creative and generally more excited about how big I can live my life.
I insinuated previously that when I’m manic, I might cheat or do drugs. I have never cheated on anyone and I have no intention of it ever happening, but it is an example. I have done a lot of things I’ve never intended on doing while I am manic. And although it is no real excuse for the untrustworthy and emotionally abusive behavior, I wanted to clarify that it’s not an automatic response. I’d rather use my high sex drive all up on you, the person I am in a relationship with. It’s hard to be manic and feel more accepted for my overall energy, even when it’s both mentally and physically painful inside of me. I embrace these bursts so I can have a life and act on my responsibilities and follow my dreams.
Now dealing with me when I am experiencing a mixed episode is different than the two previous states above. In a relationship, my mixed episodes tend to conjure up great ideas with no follow through, huge expectations with even larger let downs, brutally frightening and honest conversations about how we both feel. I try to meet you halfway throughout this all. As I have written previously, during mixed episodes I am “filled with intrusive thoughts, paranoia, absurd inventions, depressive thinking, disco music and enough chutzpah to keep me awake for a week.” I love to dance with you in my living room during these days and have lazy or crazy afternoons in the bedroom. I want to gain your trust when I tell you that I am safe. I want to be safe, too.
Mixed episodes can be hell because they are like the industrial laundromat of feelings. Everything is a menagerie of darks and lights being tossed around, being dragged down by different temperatures of water and brought back up again by the churning motion of the machine, soaked in the same soap yet all distinctly different layers. I never know who I am going to be during these times, just some approximation, and when they occur I try to make the most of them so that they don’t get the worst of me.
Dating me when I have a mixed episode is like a mechanical bull that you can have control over. You can ride that cow until the gears go numb without a worry in the world and dismount gently. But when I manically mount it, I want to have fun and there’s a chance I’ll be riding high for a while or just a little bit but I never know when I’ll get bucked off back all the way down to the floor. So I try to make the most of every single moment and stay focused. Being busy keeps me safe and helps those around me worry less. I constantly am concerned about stressing others out and in these moments, I am sharpest to asses what my reality actually consists of. So, my bipolar disorder with rapid cycling isn’t all bad. In fact, I’d like to think it has some perks and that my suffering isn’t for nothing. It’s hard to recognize in the moments it’s happening, but with reflection I am able to see the positive aspects.
To address the final wrench I threw into my last article: dating someone like me, with complex PTSD. Everybody’s traumas and deep seated stories they tell themselves are usually triggered by exterior happenings out of anybody’s control. Mine are no exception. Trauma is a real bitch to look in the face because you want to slap it and scream, but in order to work through it you have to look it in the eyes with a firm handshake, welcome it into your home, back into your heart, feed it dinner, find out why it’s still haunting you and hopefully kick it cleanly to the curb. This is beyond difficult.
If someone is sharing their trauma with you or even the fact that they experience some kind of aftershock of something is in itself outstanding. It must not go unrecognized that it is extremely difficult and sensitive, whatever it may be. Personally, in the past I have given the broader details and triggers, learning that whatever I feel safe enough saying is enough. And sometimes I need to hold my tongue back in the beginning. In my experience, once the relatively vague information is in the atmosphere, it tends to be an easy topic to avoid, tiptoe around or open up for discussion. I always welcome considerate questions if I can handle them.
I welcome questions about any of this stuff. I want you to ask them. Because if you aren’t dealing with any of these disabilities, how are you possibly supposed to know how to handle them or how to love someone so deeply afflicted by them. This part seems like one of the most difficult hurdles in my romantic relationships, because sometimes the amount of information is considered insufficient or is misunderstood. Bearing my soul and cutting myself wide open, raw so the breeze hits my bones and my mucous membranes glisten is not in the least bit easy. But I guess that’s what it takes. It requires hard work and I am doing it.
I have been in therapy for over a decade trying to make some livable sense of it. I do EMDR to train my brain to move through the traumatic moments rather than ruminate on them. I am an active participant in my recovery from the past and an active participant in building a sustainable and bright future. I am always trying to learn more and to do better, because I want to and have things to bring to the table too.
In my other article, I listed a bunch of ways you can help me or someone dealing with mental illness in order to facilitate a healthy, communicative, honest relationship, but I didn’t mention anything outright that I can do to foster love and connection towards someone else. Towards someone who is trying to just understand me. Relationships are partnerships after all. I cannot imagine trying to get to know me, without having me explaining all of myself first, and then where is the mystery? Like Kanye West said “I hate being bipolar, its awesome.” So sure, I’ll ask a lot of you inadvertently, but I want to reciprocate whenever I can and support your lifestyle however I can. I promise I will tell you how I am doing, even if you do not ask, and I want to know how you are honestly doing too. I want to help you to accomplish your goals and show up for you whenever I am able to. Even though my emotions are expansive, there is plenty of room for your emotions too. I insist you take care of yourself when you need to step away and I hope we are able to communicate about what is happening. I promise I’ll be brutally honest and vulnerable, that is just who I am. I hope you can do the same. I think the world would be a lot easier if we all were. No one is walking on rainbows and butterflies every single day. And I don’t want to dive into the shallow end of a waterless pool every single day either.
It is so easy to get caught up in all of the ways mental illness creates negative, almost inescapable energy that it is hard to find the positive things that make things seem way less scary. So, it’s not bad all of the time. Dating me, being my friend, accepting me in your periphery or whatever it might be, it’s not a nightmare all of the time and it is worthwhile to grasp the drowning dreams within it. It just might not ever be what you expected, but I will take what I can get. Glow in the dark stars stuck to your ceiling can never light up your whole room. But at least they’re cool to look at.
Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash