Once I decided to start dating again after the breakup of my last marriage, it took a while before I was up to doing any dating. There was a long period where even the thought of being with someone new was terrifying, but after a while I did get involved with someone. But it was a situation where we had been friends for a while, and were both coming out of a bad relationship. There’s no doubt that it was significant, but we were (are) really better off as friends.
When that ended, dating became a mission.
I was on several internet dating sites, and I met scores of women. There are a lot of lonely people out there, and I never had any problems meeting anyone. So I did. The number of times I was going out each week was ridiculous, and always with a different woman. I rarely had a second date, and even more unusual to have a third. I wasn’t going to waste my time or theirs on anything more if there wasn’t a real interest. I know, it sounds like I was desperate to have a relationship, but I really don’t think so. I didn’t want to be alone all the time, and there are a lot of activities that are so much more enjoyable when you have someone to share them with. (Going to the movies by yourself isn’t all that great for example). But I wasn’t so focused on anything more than a friendly relationship. In fact, I was pretty adamant that I was NOT going to get deeply involved with anyone – maybe ever.
But that may be changing a little.
So I’ve been seeing someone on a regular, even exclusive basis for a while now. In the grand scheme of things it hasn’t been that long, but with my attitude of anything long term it has. We’ve been seeing each other for 10 months now, and I don’t see any reason it should end. It really feels like a healthy relationship. We really enjoy being together, and in ways that are beyond just ‘dating’. But we also have our time apart, and that’s just as important. I’ve learned how to be happy by myself, and in fact crave that time alone. I moved into a new house about 5 months ago, and I really love the place. I’ve done some fixing up with things like painting and some gardening, and just enjoy spending time there. Oddly enough, it was built about the same time as the house I grew up in, and is laid out almost exactly the same. It’s very comforting to be there. I love to read, and have the time to do so. I took in my Mom’s cat when she died, and it makes up both happy just hanging out watching television; me relaxing in my recliner, her curled up on my lap. My life feels balanced, and I think it’s good.
Here’s the thing though, what do I share about my past?
I’ve told her I’m bipolar. She knows I take medications every day, and that I see my therapist every week. I’ve told her that I’ve had problems controlling my moods, and there have been times it’s been really bad. She even knows that my diagnosis is type I. What I haven’t done though is get into the details. In past relationships I have talked about specifics of my past. I never admitted I was bipolar; but I had not admitted it to myself either. I couldn’t disclose something I didn’t know about. But I did get into what detail I had. We talked about hospitalizations and great struggles with depression. Of course, I always had an explanation for the reasons, and could justify why it wasn’t going to be a problem going forward. I wasn’t intentionally misleading, I had just misled myself.
It’s a little different this time.
Like I said, I haven’t hidden the fact that I’m bipolar. I have talked some about some of the issues I have every year during the fall and winter. What I haven’t done is gone into the sordid depths and horrors of all I’ve experienced. If she’s ever asked questions about something specific I’ve always answered honestly. We have a friend who is in very dire straits, and has become severely depressed. Other than encourage her to seek help I have made a point not to tell her what I think she should do, and provide what insight I can to them both on what depression can be like and just how bad it can become. I’ve learned a great deal about psychiatric medications over the years, and have shared what I know as we’ve talked about the different ones. (Always preferencing it with a disclaimer that it’s my opinion, not fact) She’s a smart girl, I’m sure she has put two and two together, and realizes that I’ve had to get my experience from somewhere.
So why haven’t I disclosed more?
My therapist and I have spoken at great length about this. Even from the beginning when I was concerned about when I should bring up being bipolar. Her feelings about it are that while it’s important to disclose the illness, there’s no need to get into the nitty-gritty. She has several reasons for this. The new relationship is still developing, and she needs to be able to see the real me, and not be clouded by the fear of the past. It gives her a chance to know what I’m really like, and not what the disease can make me. If there is a new episode, she’ll be able to see what is real and what is the disease.
Another rationalization is that I’ve have progressed so far in my treatment, and have really created an environment for myself that has proven very successful in managing the symptoms and preventing new episodes. Not only that, her experience is that the older you are the less impact the illness has. Based on her interaction with me over the years, she believes that there’s a very good chance that I won’t have any new episodes; at least none that I can’t handle.
Hmmmmm… possibly. That’s the goal for sure.
Finally, she thinks that the less I dwell on the past the less likely I am to repeat it. Not that I should ignore it completely; I need that knowledge to recognize warning signs that help me keep my moods controlled. Her thought though is that the more normal I act, the more normal I’ll be. (Not like the time years ago, when a boss told me that I should dress like the job I want, not the job I have. It didn’t end well when I showed up to work the next day dressed like Batman!) The brain responds to repetitive actions much like muscles do. I haven’t played golf in a number of years, but put a club back in my hand and muscle memory will take over and I’ll have my swing back in no time. How many times have you heard, ‘it’s just like riding a bike? Once you learn, you never forget’. So what she wasn’t me to do is ‘train’ my brain in normal life.
I have to admit, she’s on to something there.
When I’m together with my lady friend, I don’t really think about being bipolar at all. I am aware of my moods, but not wrapped up in them. If I have a bad day, I can accept it for just that; a bad day. We all have them, and we all have our ways of dealing with them. And she’s been great with her encouragement and support during those times. And I do the same for her. Everybody has good days and bad, and it’s normal to want to help people to cope. In fact, last night she was completely wired! She had been overwhelmed with work and had gone at a frantic pace all day, and when she got home she was still moving at 100 miles an hour. It actually felt a little manic. So we sat together and watched some mindless television. I stayed as calm as possible, and just let her vent and get as much tension out as she could. Later, I gave her a back rub. And on my days, she’s just as good. Of course, there have been times when we have both had bad days at the same time, but we’ve been able to recognize that and we stayed apart until we had worked through everything. I really believe that this is a good, healthy relationship that we are developing.
But I really have mixed emotions about the way I’m handling this. I’ve been honest with her about the fact that I have this illness. But at the same time, I feel that the omission of specifics is misleading. A lot of what my therapist says makes sense. My gut however doesn’t always agree. This is an important relationship, and I’m committed to put all I can into making it successful. And we both have history that we don’t get into any details. We both know about our respective divorces, we do not talk about them at all. Maybe there are things she’s done or behaviors that I wouldn’t like, but every situation is different, and the fact that she may have acted differently before doesn’t mean she’ll do the same now.
So I think that I’ve got a compromise that I can live with.
I’m comfortable with the fact that I’ve disclosed my diagnoses. Likewise, the discussions about when my moods are likely to shift, and that I’ve been through some really bad times are fair and honest. As time goes on, and the relationship deepens I will be sensitive to the situation and add experiences as is appropriate. My therapist has suggested that at some point I bring her with me to one (or more) of my sessions, where she can provide her insight into all that’s happened and what she expects going forward. There’s the opportunity too to educate, and to let her know what to watch for and how to respond to changing behaviors. That makes sense to me, and for now at least sounds like a good plan. I do not want to lie to her, and I certainly don’t want to hurt her. At the same time, I do want to see this progress, and don’t want to blow it before it really has a chance. Honestly though, the jury is still out on how I feel about handling this. I could easily change my mind tomorrow.
I’m just taking it day by day.