Last night I received the following text…””I am learning that there is nothing real about you”. And this was from one of my very best friends that I’ve known for years and years. Now understand; she has her own (major) issues. And she was very drunk at the time. She is coming out of a 15 year relationship that ended very badly, and she is a very bitter and angry woman. I try to remember this when she attacks me like this, and I really think that the reason she was upset with me is that I’m getting involved with someone, and she’s not. Not only is she jealous of the fact that I’ve been able to move on out of my bad relationship, but I’m not around as much to ‘entertain’ her. But it does raise the question…
Am I keeping it real?
Work is easy. I have no reason to be anything but real. Needless to say, I don’t go around flaunting that I’m sick, and I don’t believe anyone has a clue. My work is affected by my mood, but the nature of my job is that it’s not obvious how I’m performing or how my mind is working. I’m an individual contributor, and no one has any reason to see what or how I’m doing. When I’m depressed I keep to myself. I have always somehow managed to do just enough to keep from getting into too much trouble. During the manic times I’m expansive, friendly, and for the most part fun to be around. The only time it becomes a real problem is when the anger comes. I struggle to keep it out of the workplace or at least keep it reigned in. I’ve learned to bottle it up; but totally explode when I’m away from the office. So is it real? I’ll admit I’m not being honest with my co-workers, but there’s no reason to be. And if we’re smart, we keep our personal life and all the private issues to ourselves anyway.
When it comes to how I approach the treatment of this disease I keep it as honest as I can. I have a great therapist that I trust explicitly. When I’m conscious of my behaviors we explore the reasons and delve into the underlying causes and develop realistic ways to manage them. And when I’m out of control, she patiently supports my reality and does what she can to keep me grounded. And when I come back to the real world, we look at where I’ve been and what lessons can be learned. I’ve been in enough therapy over the years to learn that I gain nothing by being less than 100% honest with my Therapist and with myself. I have absolutely no secretes from her. She knows things about me that I don’t even know about myself. And we work together to deal with the illness honestly and true.
My personal life is more difficult to understand. I have friends who know about my illness and we share appropriately. There are other friends who don’t know, either because they wouldn’t understand or we’re just not close enough to expose that level of myself. These are true friendships however. Whether I’m revealing personal details or just interacting and a casual level, I have no real reason to be anybody but who I am. I have so few friends I value them all as much as I can. Enjoying the company, fellowship, and connecting as human beings. I get as much out of giving to others; offering support, comfort and being there to provide whatever I can to meet their needs. When it comes to my friends, if anything I tend to wear my heart out on my sleeve and over share.
So the real question becomes – what about those I choose to have a more meaningful and intimate relationship with? I know that when I’m in a manic state, I sometimes can be promiscuous and casual with my intimacy. Okay…I’ll admit. I can be a real slut. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can get out of control. And there’s not really anything about it that’s real. The truth is however, I don’t present it as anything other than what it is. I make no promises and I don’t pretend to be offering anything beyond the present, or anything other than what it is. And these types of encounters are mutual. I haven’t been with anyone who wanted any more than they were getting. I have been in more than one casual relationship that has included sex, and if I’m totally honest with myself it really hasn’t been fair. But again, there was nothing to suggest anything exclusive or long term.
So what I feel I need to look at is the relationships that do matter. I haven’t really accepted that I’m bipolar for very long, so my historical relationships are a little tricky. In my first three marriages there were no indications that I was dealing with a serious mental illness. I didn’t think I didn’t believe that I had any issues, so there was nothing to disclose. My last marriage was a little different. I didn’t realize that I was bipolar, but I did share with her that I’d had a lot of issues in the past and struggled with my moods. I was as honest with them as I was with myself. I’m developing a new relationship now. I know the full extent of my illness, and what it can do to me and to others. Honestly, I haven’t used the word “bipolar” yet. We’re in the very early stages of the relationship and still learning about each other. We have however talked about our own struggles over the years, and I have shared that I have some serious issues with my mental health. And she has her own issues. It’s entirely possible that once we get to that level, we find that we both have some form of mental illness. There have definitely been some clues. I don’t believe we’re playing games with each other; it’s just that we’re easing in to a deeper level of emotional intimacy. I’m not trying to hide anything; it’s just not time to get into something that personal. All things in good time. As the relationship deepens we both share more and more about who we are. And that doesn’t apply just to mental illnesses either. There is a natural progression of any relationship that has to develop over time. Now, if she were to ask me point blank if I was bipolar, I would of course say yes. In the meantime I don’t feel dishonest. I have an illness; I am not defined by it. I am a human being with value and worthiness. (By the way… she has had some major health issues that have seriously impacted her life. She didn’t choose to reveal that until weeks after we’d started dating. And I find out more and more about it over time. We all have things that don’t need to be shared until we feel comfortable about it.)
As an aside… I got another text from my friend this morning. She admitted that she has been in a really bad and ugly place, and said she’s sorry for what she said to me last night. She’s my dear friend, and I forgive her. But it’s not something I’ll accept or ignore. I’ll have to let her know that it was hurtful and totally unfair. I didn’t deserve to be attacked like that. But we have the kind of friendship that we can do that and still remain friends.
So back to the original question. Am I being real? I have to think that the answer is yes. I may not always be in a true reality. But even then I’m true to my own reality. I’m not a manipulator. I don’t exploit anyone or take advantage of the circumstances. I’m always honest with myself within the boundaries of disease. I never deliberately mislead anyone or intentionally lied to them. I may be careful about how much I reveal or when I reveal it. But I truly believe that I’ve learned so much about myself and my illness that I am fair and true to the very best of my ability.
I am who I am. It’s as real as it gets.