Today is World Bipolar Day, and as someone whose life changed for the better upon opening up about my own condition, I feel the need to speak to the moment.
Over the course of surviving my condition — one that has proven fatal for many — I’ve been to the brink and back many times. Before being properly diagnosed, I was often completely adrift. My anger had no shut off valve and my sadness, which seemed to function beyond all comfort, could only be dulled. When my world became too dark or colorless, I would retreat into my own mind, and live there, writing stories in my head, abusing drugs, and ignoring everything that overwhelmed me — which meant ignoring most of life.
From memories of better times, to the theatrics of my imagination, there were plenty of places to hide. And whether it was the mess in my apartment or the prospect of working a nine-to-five, nothing that other people seemed innately capable of ever seemed possible to me.
It was a hard world to live in. But I didn’t live there alone. Unlike a lot of people, I lived through the best and worst of my adult life, as someone surviving bipolar disorder, with the love of my life close by. Love is of course no remedy for mental illness, and staying together meant living through some very dark times. But amid that darkness, we never lost sight of each other. And having survived the pains of addiction and the heartbreak of our mutual and individual struggles, I feel like, these days, there isn’t much in the world that we can’t face together.
I won’t speak to who he is too much here. Unlike me, he’s a very private, introverted person. I can tell you that loves his guitar and a good television show (although he will tolerate some bad ones), and that he has excellent taste in literature. It’s easy to miss a lot of things about him, because he’s very unimposing and patient, and because he’s not exactly eager to get to know most people (I mean, can you blame him?). When we met, well over a decade ago, we probably wouldn’t have gotten to know each other well at all if I weren’t such a loud, forward presence. We’ve always played off each other well that way. His quiet humor, my boundless emotion.
But those boundless emotions can be a lot to cope with, for a person living with bipolar disorder, and for those who love them.
My partner didn’t always understand why I was the way I was, and there were times when he resented me for it — just as there have been times when I’ve resented myself for it. We’ve been through separation, heartbreak and misunderstanding, but from the time we fell in love, back in 2002, we’ve never been far apart. And today, at the age of 35, I realize how lucky I am that we are together, in love, and always willing to fight for one another.
So what’s gotten us this far? Aside from complimentary personalities, I would say it’s an understanding that not everything that’s unique about a mentally ill person is a symptom that needs to be stomped out. Medication saved my life. I’ll likely never live without it. But it will never make me “normal,” and that’s okay. I can’t be with someone who wants “normal,” and I don’t want to be “normal” any more than I want “a normal life.”
Fires can burn brightly without burning out of control and taking down every structure around them. And to be honest, I couldn’t begin to tell you where my symptoms end and the rest of me begins, because my illness isn’t some tumor, waiting to be cut out of my psyche. It’s part of me. It’s severity needs to be checked so that the hyper-empathy and anger that fuels so much of my life and work doesn’t shut down my ability to move forward, but the ways in which I am different aren’t wholly problematic, to me or to others.
I don’t say this to romanticize my illness. It’s not romantic. It’s a painful struggle, and at times, it’s a fight for survival. But I think that’s true for a lot of people who struggle in their own ways, and at times, we do find love in struggle, just as we find laughter and beauty. If we’re lucky, that is.
I write these words as someone who’s been very lucky, in a number of ways, and I have a lot of love for the people who keep me lucky. And one of those people is my husband.
I know it gets lonely out there. Those of us who are wired quite differently than others can have a hard time plugging in, and sometimes, we just opt out. But I wanted to write this piece to say that our loneliness doesn’t always have to lead to the depths of isolation, addiction or worse. I wanted to write this piece to celebrate someone who knows me, and who knows that there will always be days when I’m not okay — someone who’s ready to face those days with me.
If you’re struggling with bipolar disorder, or anything that makes your mind move differently than most, you should know that kind of love is possible.
In my partner, I found more than mere tolerance of the fact that I won’t accept the world on its own terms. When I dream out loud and repaint my surroundings with an eye towards transformation, he doesn’t see me as simply building forward in spite of my illness. My high speed thoughts, my stubbornness and the willfulness of my creativity can be very productive, but they can also make for a very bumpy ride. But my partner loves all of me, and when I’m tired, I can wrap myself up in that love, and keep warm through the hard times.
So here’s to the love of my life, and here’s hoping that everyone who struggles finds the love they need in this world, in whatever form they need it. We don’t need a romantic partner to be who we are, or to thrive in this world, but we all deserve to be loved, and to know that we don’t have to be “normal” to bring something worthwhile into the world.