Bipolar and relationships - Kerry's story
By Kerry Hudson
Waking up on a Saturday morning, the sun beating it's way through closed curtains. the smell of freshly cut grass from the park outside, and the man I love draping his arms around me. For most couples today means a picnic in the park, a day at the seaside or relaxing in the garden, but I just crawl back under the duvet, the familiar dread consuming me once again.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in 2005, and psychosis 2010, but the symptoms have been there since I was just thirteen and all my relationships, no matter how loving, have suffered at the hands of my condition.
My choice of partner
Pretty much all of my relationships have been with guys I already knew as friends. This cuts out the awkward guesswork and potential stigma as they tend to already know a bit about me being bipolar. I usually go for less conventional guys. I've tried dating conventional men but I feel even more like I'm under the spotlight in comparison.
Unlike most of my "normal" friends I've never tried internet dating and at times felt like I've been missing out on all the fun, but I dreaded the whole "shall I say something? when do I say something? what do I say?" situation. Bipolar has a big impact on my life, my personality and my behaviour, but then I couldn't exactly write it into my profile; I'm, 30, 5-5 brunette, hazel eyes, Aquarius, manic depressive, likes everything one minute, hates all of it the next could I?
I'm currently in a stable yet lively relationship with someone I've known for sixteen years. He is very accepting and understanding of my bipolar. He has a diagnosed personality disorder and is having long term treatment so our lifestyles are quite similar which helps me feel less alienated to the rest of the world.
He is however often the target of my frustrations, purely because I trust him more than anyone else - ironic as it is that the one's we love the most are the ones we push away - but he has learnt not to take my negativity too personally. This took time, but only because I spent so long in denial about being bipolar (about the first three years of our relationship) that I wouldn't let him try and reason with me. I can only imagine how frustrating, confusing and draining it must be for the person on the receiving end of my mood swings.
During my previous relationships I was yet to be diagnosed and had no understanding of my mood swings, mania, paranoia etc.. and so I simply believed I was a bad girlfriend. This did nothing for my confidence in the relationship, especially as I watched boyfriend after boyfriend in hospital waiting rooms or police stations their with their head in their hands, in tears or just plain exhausted. Some of them will never know that I'm not a bad person, just desperately unwell at times.
On meeting a new or potential partner for the first time, my behaviour on the first date was usually very different to further dates. Guys would usually find me very entertaining - talking a LOT, making them laugh, doing crazy things, knocking back drinks, making wild suggestions - they got the impression I had no hang ups, was wild even, and I would usually put out on the first night, often somewhere on the way home as I couldn't wait till we got there.
So undoubtably guys would assume that this was how I was all the time but usually by the third date they'd have a much clearer idea my levels can drop from 60 to 0 at any time. By now I'd be either tearful and clingy, or lifeless and dull, and they'd seem disappointed, and that was that.
High sex drive
Having a girlfriend who's a sex addict must seem like heaven for a guy, but in reality my partner at the time I was at my 'peak' was drained. This was before my diagnosis so I was taking medication which can have the opposite effect, and mania had found it's way to my sex drive and I needed it all the time. He also felt as though he wasn't enough for me, and he wasn't. Video's, toys, drugs.. all that matched or fueled my drive were needed. Ironically he started sleeping with other women just to have regular sex again.
Mood swings are probably the most noticeable complications in my relationships, especially topped with psychotic episodes, where I can be extremely over sensitive, paranoid and believe all sorts of things, from my partner being in bed with another woman because he's not text back within two minutes, to believing he's lying dead somewhere because he's not picking up. And mood swings can create shifts of intimacy, sometimes I'm distant, other times clingy, sometimes I'm full of love and ideas of marriage, other times plagued with hate and remorse for things that in reality haven't even happened.
When I'm manic, I'm easily lead astray, and can forget all about my loved one back home who's worried sick because, and it's happened many times, I've popped to the shops to return home two days later oblivious to to the worry I've caused them.
My partner often has to tread on eggshells - not knowing if something which usually makes me laugh will upset me today, and what's more complicated is that I suffer mixed episodes so I can be in many moods at once, often finding myself in tears of euphoria, anxiety and despair at the same time. Difficult for him, and even more difficult for me.
Despite these ups and downs, highs and lows I have a loving, intimate relationship and have learned a good few things over the years that now are the keys to my present relationship's success. I'd now like to share them with you:
Relationship tips for the bipolar sufferer
The most important thing is to keep taking prescribed medication. Many bipolar sufferers I’ve met in hospital over the years are there because they’ve stopped taking their medication to feel “alive” again. As your health will suffer, your relationship will do too.
Be an honest as you feel comfortable with your partner, if they aren’t aware of your symptoms or behaviour when unwell they may take things you do or say personally.
Allow your partner to have a life outside your relationship, they will need the support, which in turn will make them stronger for you when you need them.
Remember that they are your partner, not your carer, the spark can burn out when illness gets in the way and sometimes needs relighting again so find sometime for romance.
Relationship tips for the bipolar sufferer's partner
Try not to judge negative behaviour, or take it personally. Instead question why your partner is behaving this way, are these symptoms or early warning signs of an episode?
Learn as much as you can, without prying, about your partners condition. There are plenty of bipolar websites on the internet, and you can speak to MDF for advice (LINK).
Get support for yourself. There may be times when you too need to talk to someone so be it a friend, a family member or a counsellor, make sure that you offload from time to time. This will also give you the strength to you to support your partner.
Although your partner has bipolar, they also have lots of lovely things about them which is why you fell in love with them. Remind yourself of these from time to time, especially when you feel consumed by the illness. Your partner is likely to feel embarrassed about their condition, so remind them of those lovely things too.