Hello and sorry about a break in posting. My bipolar was acting up (I’m sure you can relate). I’m back though, with a question from a reader:
Hi, I would like some advice. My girlfriend Jane [name changed] is showing symptoms of bipolar. I think she’s hypomanic (but I am not a doctor). I’m scared, confused and I don’t know what to do. Could you give me some information? Most of all, what can I do as her boyfriend, and how to help rather than harm?
Lost in Miami
I’m not a doctor either but here are my thoughts.
First of all, symptoms resembling hypomania do not have to mean bipolar disorder. They can also be a sign of thyroid problems (I found this hard to believe for a long time until I met a few people who, indeed, exhibited all symptoms of bipolar, only to find out they had malfunctioning thyroid). They can also feature in other illnesses, such as borderline, schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia. Only a professional can give you a clear diagnosis.
Very often I meet people with bipolar who are convinced they are unloveable, will never have a relationship, marry, etc.
Perhaps I am not an objective judge of such statements, seeing as I am in a 3+ year relationship, during which I got diagnosed, landed in depression so deep I couldn’t walk without help, mania that got me into hospital, fought (successfully) a substance abuse problem and remain without steady employment. Our relationship survived all those things and remains in great shape. *knocks on wood* So my answer to that is, basically, no. You are NOT unloveable. You CAN have a relationship. You CAN get married. Have a house, children, garden, whatever else your heart desires.
Having said that, bipolar is going to make it much more difficult.
Caution: The post below may be triggering to people currently suffering from depression
Wait, you could say. There are people dying left, right and centre. Surely depression isn’t as bad as that.
Thank you for reminding us about the fact we are (mostly) privileged. We (mostly) have health insurance, (mostly) are not refugees, in our countries there is (mostly) no war. We use this knowledge to make ourselves feel worse, or, more precisely, our depression does. Marian Keyes, a famous (and brilliant!) multi-million selling writer, wrote once:
It has been like being poisoned, it’s felt like my brain is squirting out terrible, black, toxic chemicals that poison any good thoughts. I’m well aware that I have an enviable life and there are bound to be people who think, “What the hell has she got to be depressed about?” But whatever has been wrong with me isn’t fixable by an attitude shift.
To me, the worst thing about depression is that it eats at the very core of our souls. In stable, “normal” state, we are certain of some things. My boyfriend loves me. I love photography. I’m writing a novel and I’m 2/3 through. I’m having friends coming to dinner on Friday. My parents love me. Those things are so obvious we don’t even bother actually thinking about them, they are a built-in spine of our existence.
A friend has told me he met a really fantastic girl. She’s everything he dreamed of. They’ve been dating non-committally for a few months, and now he asked her to be his girlfriend. Her response? “I can’t be anybody’s girlfriend,” she said. “I have bipolar disorder, and it’s a terrible illness. I’m just not fit to have a relationship, any relationship at all.” He asked me how he could convince her. “You’ve got bipolar,” he said, “and you’re in a relationship. It’s possible to have a relationship while having bipolar, right?”
Of course it is. But then the problem with bipolar disorder is that it doesn’t actually make anything impossible. You can be a respected professor of psychiatry like Kay Redfield Jamison. You can be a super-popular actor and TV personality like Stephen Fry. You can be a chart-topping singer like Robbie Williams. You can be married, have kids, a good job. It’s just that for us it’s harder than for “normies”, and some of us overestimate the difficulty level based on what we heard and read about ourselves. And this is where internalised stigma comes in.