Dating and Mental Illness: For Better or Worse

Author: Eliora Mae Baker

Dating is not always pretty, and love is hard at times. The difficulties of being in a relationship with someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder are many. Is a relationship with someone with bipolar completely out of the question? Absolutely not. It’s not going to be a walk in the park. But in my experience (and I’m sure many would agree), no relationship is.

I’ve been dating a man diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder for the last year and a half, and I’m absolutely in love with him. However, one thing that drives me crazy is when Anthony tells me he’s bad at relationships, he doesn’t deserve to be happy, or even that he stresses about not being stable enough for me. These are some of the lies he tells himself, and I hope one day he’ll realize that they are lies. I’m happily in a relationship with a man who deserves a world of many great things.

Anthony makes me laugh, makes me a better person, and he makes me happy. If that’s not the first step to being good at relationships, I don’t know what is. Sure, sometimes he cancels plans. Sometimes he’s moody. Sometimes, as I lay on my bed while on the phone with him, I listen to him tell me he’ll never be happy again. But that’s his disorder talking – it’s not him. How can I fault someone for a disorder they can’t control?

Coming up with a plan

Three months into our relationship, Anthony had a manic episode with psychotic features that manifested with delusions. He broke up with me, said hurtful things, and he told me he no longer loved me and never did. A week later, he emailed me and asked if we could remain friends. My response was of course, but I was still open to more. What followed was stream of more than eighty emails back and forth discussing anxieties, life, love, hopes, dreams, and so much more.

One thing that I requested in all those emails was for us to come up with a plan – it’s something we needed to make the relationship work. As I’m writing this over a year later, we have the basics together: I know who I need to contact if he has a severe manic or depressive episode and I know where to take him if he needs to be hospitalized.

I know he may have episodes in the future and, due to the stress of any relationship, his depression and anger may be directed towards me. If that happens, I have to try my best to stay calm and collected. My job is to do my best to be a good girlfriend: to love myself, to care for him while giving him the space he needs, and to hope with all my heart that he’s stable more days than he’s not.

Why I think we’ll last

I’ve done some reading on bipolar disorder – I’m no expert and I never will be, but it’s become part of my daily and weekly reading now. This man I love goes through massive amounts of psychological pain and I want to know how to help him. I also want to know when I need to back off. The backing off is probably the hardest part for me – I’ve always been a very hands-on person and someone who likes to be at the center in trying to resolve conflicts. It’s who I am, but I can’t always be that person. This is something I’m working on with my therapist.

My therapist and I work on my anxiety often. It’s nerve-wracking being a woman with anxiety and abandonment issues who’s dating a bipolar man who has left me once and told me he longer loves me. At the beginning of those eighty emails after his manic episode in 2018, he couldn’t admit that he ever loved me. He said it was a lie and he was sorry. He was still emerging from the episode and, as we worked together on our friendship and he started to stabilize, he was able to admit that deep down he loves me very much. A year and a half into our relationship, I know he loves me. But my anxiety still gets the best of me some days.

We both love each other, but we choose to be together and make this relationship work, no matter what may come. That’s a powerful statement when I think about it. I’m deciding that this person is who I want to be with at the end of each day. This is why I think we’ll last. We do our best to put our needs first, but we also choose to be there for each other, to be patient and love each other through the hard times.

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