Yesterday I shared tips about managing mental health and relationships, but I didn’t talk about my own relationship. It got me thinking – how exactly does my bipolar disorder impact my relationship? And what does my partner think about my mental illness? I decided that the best course of action would be to just ask him. So, we sat down and I interviewed him about his deepest thoughts on my mental illness. I warned him that the questions would be intrusive. However, I thought that it was necessary in order to get honest, accurate answers that painted a true picture of the situation. I have to be honest – some of his answers were hard to hear. But very enlightening and useful for me. Here we go:
What is it like to date someone with bipolar disorder?
While I am pretty much the only person that he’s had a serious long-term relationship with, he told me that there is not much to compare it to. My bipolar disorder is just something else to consider. “Obviously it’s challenging at times, but you’re my best friend.”
What is the hardest thing about dealing with my mental illness?
“The hardest thing is accepting that sometimes I know you need to be quiet and it’s hard to deal with when you are being non-communicative. It’s hard for me to step back and leave you be and not try to intervene. When there is a lack of communication, that’s when I get scared. But sometimes i just need to let you recharge and recoup.”
He also went on to talk about how it is hard for him when he reads about things people do that are positive for their mental illness and he sees me doing the opposite. For example: mindfulness activities. He sees me as being resistant to undertaking those activities myself, even though I endorse it for other people on my blog and in my advocacy work.
As well, he said that when I am “up”, I don’t take advantage of my time and do things to benefit me for my next slump or low energy mode. I don’t engage in self-care.
How can I help you help me?
From this question, I learned that the most helpful actions I could take would be to communicate my needs and what is going on in my head so that he doesn’t have to worry and knows what he needs to do. As well, to try to fully engage in activities and spend less time on my cell phone.
Why do you come to the doctor with me?
“I want to know what is going on, what the doctor’s intentions are, their level of optimism. I want to hear it first-hand. And if there is any tough news, I want to be there to support you. It’s also nice to be able to ask questions myself that you might not think of.”
What was it like for you when I was in the hospital after my diagnosis?
“It was the scariest time of my life. We had just gotten back together – less than six months. I didn’t really know what to do. When you got to the hospital, they basically tranquilized you for days. I feel like they just pumped you with sedatives on the Friday until you could see a doctor Monday morning. You could barely stay awake, barely focus. We were long-distance at the time. I was staying at your apartment and taking the subway up and down. I had to go home to Montreal but I really was worried to leave you alone and didn’t want to do that.”
What was it like when we were long distance?
“It wasn’t too complicated. When things were bad, I would come in to Toronto more on the weekends. When you took extended leaves of absence from work, you would come to Montreal to spend time with me. In general, I was always thinking about you and wanting you to be well, but wasn’t often too worried. Just in a few moments – three or four times.”
What do you think about my mental health advocacy?
“Sometimes I worry that you are not balancing it out with self-care and I get concerned that you are spending too much time immersing yourself in it. Reading other people’s stories when you are in a depressive state, I am afraid that it is making it worse. It is keeping you busy and active, but I am worried it is having a negative impact. I do think it gives you a sense of purpose and provides a sense of motivation. I also think you are helping people and that’s wonderful. A lot of people are scared to talk about what they are going through. You are giving people an outlet. And showing them they aren’t alone. I myself was inspired to go to therapy because a friend had told me he was in therapy. Even though my parents always wanted me to go, it was only then that I felt that I could go and do it for myself and not for someone else. So I think that your blog could do that for someone.”
Are you worried about when we have kids in the future?
“Yes. I have heard that pregnancy can be a very triggering event for people with bipolar disorder. But I do know that there are a lot of people with bipolar disorder who are good parents. And of course, I still want to have kids with you – five kids specifically – because we could be a basketball team with two substitutions. (He makes this joke ALL the time!)
What do you think about the fact that mental illness has affected our sex life?
“I mean – I’d like to have more sex, don’t get me wrong. If you are not in the mood, I just want you to feel comfortable and not feel pressure. I just want us to both feel good and have fun together. It should be mutually agreeable.”
What do you think has helped us succeed as a couple?
“Your tolerance of my burps and farts. Just kidding. You have a magical way of snapping out of it (my mental illness symptoms) and supporting me when I need it and am having a bad day. We are far from our families and you are my support system. You still get that job done no matter what.”
What do you love about me and our relationship?
“Snuggling and sneak-attack hugs and tickles. All of the silliness that we do. Just being with you.” (He basically just went into our habit of listing a bunch of positive adjectives (smart, cute, funny, ambitious, creative, etc.) mixed in with baby talk and cutesy-ness. Not very helpful but comforting nonetheless.)
What do you think about the fact about the fact that I will have bipolar disorder forever?
“There are plenty of people that can lead normal lives and be very active, so it’s just a matter of finding a medication that works for you and a treatment plan that makes the bad days more manageable. I am optimistic and think there are better things ahead of us.”
Have you ever considered leaving me and why haven’t you?
“Yes. Not for long. Because I love you. I think it’s perfectly natural when things get hard to go into self-preservation mode and wonder, but I always have faith that things will get better.”
Do you have any advice for someone in the same situation? (a partner of someone with mental illness)
RUN!!! (joking, couldn’t help himself) Take care of yourself and ensure that you are getting what you need. Just try to do what you can. Accept the limits of your capacities. Don’t push yourself past your limits of well-being.
And how can they help their loved one?
“Everyone is different- there is no cookie-cutter answer for this. Just be there, be supportive the best you can. Maybe be a little forceful when you need to be. Sometimes I need to put a glass of water in your hand. It’s all case-by-case, day-by-day, person-to-person. There is no silver bullet. Take the bad with the good – but I think that’s true in any relationship.”
That’s the end of our interview! Have you ever talked to your partner about their/your mental illness? Tell me all about it in the comments below! And Happy Valentine’s Day, if you celebrate. If you don’t, screw Valentine’s. It’s up to you!