Written by Mari Wrobi.
Art by Emily Allen.
“Oh you love me? Name three of my prescription medications.” I looked at the tweet from @pant_leg for five seconds before I sent it to my partner. I expected him to respond with an eye-roll emoji or something equally exasperated, but to my surprise he responded: Seroquel, Lexapro, Gabapentin. I should note that I take more than three prescription medications, so there’s more room for error than someone taking exactly three. But still, I revelled in the fact that my partner passed the test and loves me–according to Twitter.
When I turned to Google for advice, I was met with countless articles about how relationships with bipolar people always fail
I suppose I should back up. I was diagnosed as bipolar in 2015. When I first received my diagnosis, one of the things that my psychiatrist made sure to mention is that bipolar people have very tumultuous relationships. Every resource that I came across seemed to corroborate this assertion. When I turned to Google for advice, I was met with countless articles about how relationships with bipolar people always fail; about how unpredictable and toxic bipolar people are; and about why you should break up with a bipolar person before it’s “too late”.
Nothing came up that was either positive or informative about how to actually make a successful, long-term relationship work with someone who is mentally ill.
But as time went on and as my partner and I began to talk more openly about my mental health, the more I realized that my partner doesn’t hate me because of my diagnosis.
Despite the fact that multiple mental health professionals and ex-lovers of those who are bipolar have branded me Too Hard To Love, I am currently three years into the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. At first, I was worried that I would fulfil the prophecy and that our relationship would crash and burn. But as time went on and as my partner and I began to talk more openly about my mental health, the more I realized that my partner doesn’t hate me because of my diagnosis. This concept shouldn’t be revolutionary in 2020–but it is.
My therapist is the third person in my relationship and the reason that it has been so successful–and my partner and I both wouldn’t have it any other way. Here are a few gems of wisdom from my therapist that I would like to pass along.
Rational mind vs. Emotional mind
When it comes to the way that people respond to events, some people operate with a “rational mind” while others operate with an “emotional mind”. When two people clash in the way that they process and respond to events, it can lead to misunderstandings between the two. As someone with an emotional mind, I typically just want to vent with someone who will listen–while my partner, with a rational mind, usually wants to focus on logistics or receive advice. Given this fundamental difference in the way that we process events, my therapist recommended that we indicate to the other whether we would like an emotional response or a rational one–that way we receive the response that we actually want. Being more aware of which “mind” we should be using when we process events together has helped us feel more supported than we otherwise might .
The 0-5-10 concept refers to a scale of reactivity. We all react to events on a scale between 0 and 10. For most people, little things elicit reactions between 0-5 and big things elicit reactions between 5-10. For those of us who are mentally ill, our reactions tend to skip the in-between numbers and occur at either a 0, 5, or 10.
Recognizing that your reaction might not be equal to what it should be is an important tool in holding yourself accountable. It’s not fair to my partner that when he says he finds someone else attractive (probably a 2 or 3), I react as if he has cheated on me (objectively a 10). I often can’t stop myself from feeling upset at a 5 or 10 when I do–but what I can do is respond at the appropriate level with my actions externally, even if my internal reaction is different.
Don’t assume, ask.
My anxiety will often make me think that my partner secretly wants to break up with me or that he’s angry at me, even though I have no evidence of either of these things. My therapist challenged me (and my partner) to stop assuming these things and to ask instead. Not only does this help ease anxiety, but it also facilitates better communication in general.
The second part to this is that you also must tell. By agreeing not to assume each other’s thoughts and emotions, you also trust that the other person will tell you when something does come up. This way, we rely on the reality of our partner’s feelings rather than on the narrative that fits our anxiety.
“It’s just a bad mental health day.”
Over the three years that we’ve been together, my partner has gotten pretty good at understanding what my mood swings look like and when it’s just one of those days. Once we recognize it for what it is, we can then work together to figure out what the best action plan is. Sometimes it’s more space, less space, engaging in self-care or other coping strategies, and–of course–reaching out to another trusted friend or therapist. Bad days will come and go, and they’re nothing to be ashamed of–but it’s important to make sure that the communication is there so that you can get through it as easily as possible.
One of the most important things that my therapist helped me realize, though, is that being bipolar does not make me a bad person. I used to think that my symptoms were a burden to those around me and I tried to be as agreeable as possible to make up for all of the problems that I thought caused. My therapist taught me that the challenges that I present due to being bipolar are different from other people’s, but they’re not worse. And above all else, I am not hard to love. This is something that my partner has reminded me every day that we’ve been together.
And you are not hard to love either.
About the Author
Mari Wrobi is a queer, trans and intersex advocate living in Sacramento, CA. They currently work at a shelter for LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness; intern at the Gender Health Center, a non-profit for TGNC people in the area; and speak across the nation on intersex rights with interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth.