I had a therapy session yesterday, and in the course of the conversation I was asked, ‘What have you given up to be in your relationships?’ I didn’t have a ready answer, and thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to think through what I had gained and lost throughout the many relationships I have had. Then the question became bigger. What have I given up because I’m bipolar; because aren’t the two are related after all?
Since Bipolar Disorder is a lifetime affliction, the losses came early. I gave up a large part of my childhood. Well, maybe I didn’t exactly give it up, but the usual things expected with growing up were taken away by the beginnings of my illness. My intelligence took away the childhood simplicities. My insecurities took away my feelings of safety. Being ‘different’ took away the usual friendships. And my isolation gave me nothing but loneliness. And as bipolar disorder is hereditary, I grew up in mentally ill home environment, losing a lot of the nurturing and comfort one really needs. I never had the choice to have the typical childhood, it was just never there. That’s not to say that it was all bad, there were certainly happy memories and good times. It wasn’t until much later, after I had my own children and even later when I began understanding the extent of my illness that I realized what I had missed.
I gave up a lot during my teen years as well. That’s when my illness really began to manifest itself, primarily in the form of depression. Prior to having my first real relationship, I was miserable and lonely. So many of my peers had already found their childhood sweethearts, and the excitement and fun of teen dating was all around me, leaving me isolated and alone. I’d like to think that I was depressed because I was so lonely, but knowing now the effect of my illness I’m sure that I was lonely because I was so depressed. When I finally did find a girlfriend, I gave up everything I had to make her happy and keep her as mine. So needless to say, I smothered her and the relationship quickly failed. This sent me into an even deeper depression that lasted until my early twenties, and I lost many other opportunities with dating.
As an adult, the things I have lost and given up are almost too numerous to detail. I’ve willingly walked away from great jobs and sabotaged others, not just because of my illness, but because of my refusal to accept it and do anything to help myself. I’ve given up very good friends so I could be in a marriage that turned out to be unhealthy and damaging, and ultimately failed. I gave up unrecoverable time with my family during a time where my mania and delusions of grandeur created issues that I couldn’t accept. As a result, I took away years that my parents should have been with their grandchildren, and even worse, years that my children should have had with their grandparents. I gave away big parts of my personality to obtain and maintain more than one marriage. The need for love and to be cared for, and to have someone I could care for was so great, that I would and did give away everything I had to fulfill. But in giving up so much of myself in the process, I gave up any chance I might have had for a healthy successful relationship, and they all failed. Even when I thought I had found someone with whom I could really be myself, I gave up my heart. But it turned out that she was the one who had given up her personality for our relationship, and when it failed I lost a big piece of the heart I had given.
There’s no question that being bipolar sucks. But I’ve also gained some things as well. I have a keen sense of humor that has carried me through some really rough times. I have an understanding of who I am and how I got here that few others ever realize. I have learned enough about myself and others that I’ve been able to develop some truly wonderful and healthy, lifelong friendships. And if I ever choose to love again, it will be from of a place of strength, utilizing all the lessons and insight I’ve learned, and given every chance possible to succeed.
I am bipolar. I’ve lost so much over the years, and I’ve gained a lot along the way. But as Popeye said, ‘I yam what I yam”… I wouldn’t be who I am had I not lived the life I’ve been given, illness and all. And when it’s all said and done, I wouldn’t have it any other way.