Finding love when you’re bipolar is sometimes like looking for a hairpin in a pitch dark room: it’s a futile attempt, and can be very frustrating.
A few weekends ago, I had what I would call two social obligations on a Saturday. I call it an obligation not because I am wary of meeting family and friends, but because when you’re bipolar and are on the depressive end of the spectrum, every little thing feels like a daunting chore: from getting up from bed and exercising, to more mundane tasks like choosing what to wear and taking a shower. To give you some perspective, writer Andrew Solomon said that the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.
One’s zest for life becomes a mirage when you’re depressed.
That Saturday afternoon, I was particularly down and out of it. To make things more complicated, I had a prior commitment to attend a surprise baby shower and a dinner and night-out with friends. My sister was already dressed and I was still in my pajamas, ugly-crying. I was pretty much okay that morning, cuddling with my cats Haruki and Jiro. But upon looking at my calendar, I got triggered by the pressure of preparing for my upcoming mental health talk for the Belle de Jour launch weekend.
One bad thought lead to another: I am a sucky public speaker. I’m not witty or brilliant or interesting enough. I am fat and ugly. I’m one big flabby joke. The self-hate is so intense, all I could do was break down.
At one point, I didn’t even want my family and friends to see me that day, from sheer fear that they would judge me for my constant weight gain. I have one too many traumatizing moments with body-shaming.
Somehow my sister was able to talk me out of my refusal to show myself to the world. She even gave me the option to just have dinner with friends and leave right after — no need for the night-out, and she’ll be happy to pick me up. After that, I did what I do best: putting on my happy face, a bright disposition to conceal my suffering. Sometimes I feel like I live a double-life. But that’s an entirely different story — we could talk about that another time.
Putting on my happy face progressed into full-blown mania at the end of the day. I was pretty stable at the baby shower and during dinner. I couldn’t help but ask my sister to congratulate me for just showing up. However, at the end of dinner, I started to feel fantastic. Now this is a wonderful thing, right? Not always, especially when you’re bipolar.
I told my sister I’ll push through with the night-out, so my friends and I went club-hopping to Yes Please, Revel and Valkyrie. The staff at Yes Please remembered my name, and I was ecstatic, as if it was the most amusing thing in the world. I felt like my 21-year-old self again, 24-inch waist and all.
I felt invincible.
Who would have thought that the depressive girl in the morning can turn into a flirtatious partyphile at night? I became extra talkative to strangers. The next day I was shocked to see several new Facebook friends that I couldn’t remember adding from my alcohol-laden evening. Alcohol and psychiatric meds is a bad combination — and yet, I can’t help but drink it for liquid courage, fooling myself into thinking that it will cure my depression. When my friends said they had to leave, I decided to stay and party — alone. Needless to say, I went home at 5am with my dignity thrown out the window.
Unfortunately, my manic-depressive swings can be so severe that it can all happen in a period of 24 hours. In retrospect, this may have been the reason why my last two relationships didn’t work out (although it would be unfair to say that I’m solely the reason for its demise). My commitment to social events is quite shaky, yet I party like a rockstar. I can feel extremely shitty about myself, yet at times I feel like the queen of the world. When I get irritated, all hell breaks loose. When I feel especially grandiose, I end up buying a round of shots to strangers. I can at one moment be completely catatonic, and be extremely wild and risky the next.
I’m always in one end of the pole, never in the middle.
This is the terrifying reality that can only be seen by the people in my house, my close circle of friends, and my ex boyfriends. It takes a very patient, compassionate, and understanding person to be with a bipolar partner.
So many times in the past year, I couldn’t help but ask myself: how then can I find love, given that I have this serious mood disorder?
I wish I could tell my fellow bipolar and depressive readers the right answer to this question. I don’t have a boyfriend now, and as much as I want to continue beating myself up for it for having a psychosocial disability and for gaining weight, I realize as the days go by that I should just focus on myself and manage my invisible affliction — taking my medicines on time, avoiding triggers like alcohol, going to psychotherapy, having a healthy diet, and exercising. In short, I must be kind to myself.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Though there is no permanent cure for it, it can be maintained with a treatment plan. Sticking to this plan will ensure that you’re safe from life-threatening situations which could include suicidal ideation and other risky behaviors, such as impulsive spending, hypersexuality, and engaging in substance abuse — factors that can seriously affect relationships.
All these boil down to loving yourself unconditionally. And hey, the universe works in mysterious ways — before you know it, love may come knocking on your door (just make sure your new romantic interest will do their homework by educating themselves about your condition).
And if that doesn’t happen, so what? You still have your awesome self, quirks and flaws and all. Life is one big adventure, with or without a romantic partner. It’s all just a matter of perspective.
That’s what I tell myself, at least.