In 2015, at the age of 21 I hit my ultimate low. All throughout my life, I have felt that I have had mood changes, significant changes that caused drops in my mood. Typically, I believed I was just lazy, I loved to sleep and could sleep days away and sometimes food was important and other times it was just a nuisance and eating was for survival I guessed after several days and light headedness. Well March, 2015 came to a screeching halt when I realized after 2 weeks in bed with no desires, the tears were beginning to stain my face and my eyes were just too puffy and I smelled so bad of not showering that I realized- this time it may not pass. I made the calls to those close to me and said it’s time we get some help and without a doubt I had the support of friends. I was checked into a hospital and spent several days quietly thinking, watching around me and feeling comfortable knowing everyone around me was struggling just like me. After several days, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. With complete disbelief, I couldn’t believe it. I could not be bipolar. Bipolar people switch moods every 5 minutes. They laugh and then cry and then run naked and then do something else random. That was NOT me. But I had not recognized my knowledge of bipolar disorder was highly distorted by the media. It was the images of drama, of drug addicts, of people who were the absolute extreme of bipolar disorder and for some reason that stigma hit me hard. I recalled using my phone calls to explain to my best friend that it could not, simply could not be that I AM bipolar. As soon as I was discharged and sought out my psychiatrist beyond the psych ward I did everything to change my diagnosis to depression. For some reason depression seemed to make me feel better than bipolar disorder. This façade worked for a while but several months on medication, I realized I was having these rapid mood changes. The ups and downs and confused states of mind that the medication was not controlling. It was only then that I looked into Bipolar Disorder and realized these were called manic episodes, depressive episodes, the mix of the both, and the slither of time when I get to see myself in a clear view without the episodes. But the first thoughts, I have always wondered with my mental health issues is- Who is going to love me, love me like this?
Dating someone with mental health related problems, I feel like is a gamble for many. Many people would probably report not wanting to be with someone who has schizophrenia, bipolar, depression or the other list of mental health disorders listed in the DSM V. It’s a risk factor. Many know that mental health has been linked to some degree to be hereditary. According to Darwin’s theory, we want to reproduce with those that give us the best combination of genes to pass on, and some may feel like that is just not a risk they want take. Others simply do not just want to love, fall in love, or like someone with “issues”. I have watched two shows that have talked about mental health and dating- The United States of Tara and Empire. Empire depicts Andre Lyon as someone who is bipolar, sometimes manic- going off his medication, high levels of energy, rapid thoughts but extremely motivated. In recent episodes he struggles with hallucinations of his dead ex-wife, but is soon found to be in love with a new woman. Andre has overall struggled to manage his medication and also keep his secret of bipolar diagnosis from his new girlfriend. Andre loves this girl so much that when he tells her during one of his depressive episodes and her reaction seemed at first that she would leave him; His instant reaction was recognizing that he was tarnished goods and by finding out this secret, she would simply walk out the door, in which she did not. In the episodes of the United States of Tara – she struggles with Multi-Personality Disorder also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder. Tara has 2 children and a husband who go on the journey of not knowing who Tara will be each day and how to constantly get the family out of trouble, protect their secret, live in fear and uncertainty. Tara reminds us of the unpredictability of mental health. The reality of who will you be each day, each moment, each hour and how that can change not just the person suffering but those around them- their families, their friends, their job and anyone who interacts with them. Unfortunately, these two examples come with a script, a television show and complete control over how people react and respond to mental health. No Andre’s girlfriend did not walk away and yes Tara’s family stuck by her, but this is not the case for everyone.
Dating has been the hardest scene for me to learn to manage in these past 2 years. I have learned that I am not my mental illness however my mental illness is apart of me. My mental illness, determines a lot about how I view and interact with the world. Some days, I am overly excited with the energy to write six or seven blog pieces, my mind races, my speech fast and I am ready to take on the world 17 steps at a time. In this state of mind, I push my mind and body to its max doing everything I can without thought. For others in this sense of mania, its cleaning, its shopping, its compulsion and bad decision making, which I have participated in as well. Other days, I wake up and give myself a pep talk… Sounds something like this… “ I am okay”, “I can get up”, “just put your feet on the floor”, “turn on the lights”, “go pee”, “do I have to shower today?” “How many hours until the day is over and I am back in bed?” “Are you hungry? No. Okay grab the apple just in case…” Those days are hard, I fight the hardest to move, to breathe, to live and to not wince every time someone touches me or even talks in my direction. Those days I want to be invisible and I want to disappear. Those days I wonder just like Andre, how could anyone stand me, put up with me- I am tarnished goods struggling just to stay afloat and trying my hardest to stay one step ahead of this illness that rears its ugly head into my life.
Sometimes, when I date I wait months to tell someone of my bipolar disorder. I cancel dates abruptly because I want to just lay in bed or I send random texts saying I want to go to the movies like right now in this moment. They take those things as me being spontaneous and random and not medicated, manic and depressive. I let them believe what they want until I am ready to sit and explain. Other times, I have tried the approach of letting people know early on- sometimes that’s tricky. You see someone you like, slightly squint, slightly frown because they don’t know what that means. Those unaware of the disorder ask questions, want to know what it means and ultimately how it affects their life and this new found friendship/dating or future relationship. Some ask no questions and simply disappear from your life altogether. This state for me is the hardest because it’s vulnerability. The level of vulnerability to let someone see you, for who you are is daunting. It is explaining your random moods, your bad decisions, your tears, your anxiety, your need for answers in the moment, your ability to over think and obsess, your everything. It’s the explanation of who you are and what your illness is and how the two do not always match. It’s the vulnerability piece of opening who you are but also opening the door in preparation that this person can simply say “hey this is not for me, I like you, but yeah this mental illness stuff is just too much” and that person walks away. With that open door and the shutting of it behind this person you may have liked, your heart hurts. Now many will say, well they didn’t deserve you, or its their loss. But in the end it is ultimately your loss. They liked you for who you are but they did not like the intrusive nature of this illness/monster that has attached itself to you. Remember, I am NOT my illness!
To those who have walked away, I do not blame you, I commend you for knowing your boundaries, setting them and sticking to them. To those who support their spouse, lover, partner, or even friend through mental health I commend you. I commend you for sitting in the dark during tears, for bringing home ice cream and watching episodes of Magic School Bus and for being okay with the 3rd cancelled date this week. I commend you for asking how are you, helping to navigate medications, and forgiving me for the umpteenth time. I commend you because you too are affected by this. To those dating in the mental illness world, it is hard. It is hard deciding who to be vulnerable with, who sees you beyond your illness, beyond your mistakes, beyond the ups and downs and willing to help you along this journey. But all you can do, is be yourself, learn yourself, identify your triggers and be your own light in a very dark tunnel.
Always trying to navigate a crooked room.