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The world of dating is an anxiety-provoking experience, even with the most seasoned of serial daters, but what do you do when your mental illness feels like an uninvited third guest?
I've only been with my current boyfriend for a short amount of time, and one of the biggest worries I had was wondering how I'd broach the subject of my mental health, and how he'd react. I would love to believe that love is enough, and of course, it's a hugely important aspect of any healthy, functioning relationship, but there are also many attributes which help build a strong relationship. Trust and belief in one another, being open-minded, having real respect for your partner as a human, and a willingness to work through the hard times are hugely vital too. Eventually, I confided in my boyfriend about my struggles with bipolar because I knew that it'd be naive to think that it wouldn't be something that needed to be spoken about at some point. Although I have it, it isn't me, nor is it you. I can't stress how important that point is.
Mental illnesses are experienced differently from one individual to another, and for me bipolar has been a friend and a foe. To specify, I have bipolar II, and what distinguishes this from Bipolar I, is that I don't ever have manic episodes, but something called "hypomania." This is the side I call my friend because when I am going through it, love feels stronger, I feel stronger, and I feel more confident in everything I'm doing. Granted, this grandiose sense of inner confidence does carry its risks and downsides. At my worst, I was incredibly promiscuous and drank far too much and did drugs, because I could. There was no serious rationale behind it. I was on such an emotional high, all I needed was access to do something and I'd do it.
In my relationship, I still go through hypomanic phases and I'm very excitable, which can make me a fun partner to be around! I want to do everything with my partner, and live life without thinking of tomorrow because my mind is so enthralled and happy at the moment. So, what's so bad about this? Well, in isolation this isn't a wholly bad thing. If I was like this all the time, I'd probably be a pretty crazy, impulsive, and life-of-the-party girlfriend, but what goes up must come down, and with bipolar (all types), the crash is intense.
My mind changes like the flick of a light switch, and I honestly wake up with this dreaded, familiar haze and lethargy of depression and from there it's a period of time where I just can't see up. This is the flip-side of bipolar. I have had many suicidal thoughts when I go through the depressive phase of bipolar, and it isn't always easy on my relationship. My texts are generally shorter, or sometimes I just won't reply for hours on end for some unbeknownst reason. There's no reason for me not to, but when I'm in a low period, there is little reason "to" either. Social plans get cancelled, and nobody can tell when I'm awake or asleep. Napping in the afternoon, only to sleep for up to twelve hours at night can make it hard to pinpoint exactly when I will be available for contact. I'll be honest, it sucks. This is the part I'd call my "foe" in all of this.
It breaks my heart when I talk to my boyfriend on the phone and he knows that I'm in a depressive state. He is never rude about it, nor is he fed up, but it's not easy to love someone whose mood changes at the flip of a coin. But telling him about what bipolar II is like for me has helped our relationship remain very stress-free. Having gone through depression himself, he can relate to the unexplained feelings of emptiness and lack of hope which are oh so present in both disorders. It helps that he is an incredibly understanding person who will go to any end to try and understand better; I hope that everybody is in a relationship with someone like this, but since love is a two way street it's important that you help your partner understand your mental illness, no matter how much you might want to hide it. You don't have to unload everything at once, but through little conversations to "check in" where you are, it is helpful for a partner to know: triggers which can cause an episode (both manic or depressive) so you can work together to spot them before they overwhelm you; tell them that you love them whenever you have the chance, because I know for a fact that if you're on the receiving end of my communication when I'm in a depressed state, it can be hard to know where you stand. Moreover, tell them that your mental health is your responsibility, and so they should try their best not to see it as their own cross to bear; the best thing they can do is be there for you and take care of themselves the best they can.
Loving isn't easy, but having that person by you day and night is a true blessing in life. Also remember that they love you for who you are, and that your mental illness doesn't make you less lovable, nor does it define you. Be proud of yourself in having faith in yourself and your relationship to work with your partner, because I know it's not easy. You got this.