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I’m Sorry You Love Me

Being by bipolar is…well, a bitch quite honestly.  On the other hand living with, loving or even being close friends with a bipolar…well, I gotta believe that’s a fuckin’ bitch of a burden.  I only know what it is to be bipolar and I’ve watched (often helplessly) as my illness has unfortunately impacted others.

I mean, it can’t be easy…the mood swings, the cycles, the mini-cycles, the need for sleep, the need for solitude, the meds, the shrinks and never really knowing what to expect not to mention the worry and concern and pain caused by not being able to help stop the pain.  To be honest, even if I wasn’t bipolar, I’m not sure I could do it.

I have long cycles – the technical term is cyclothymia – where I build from what most would call a “normal” mood baseline into hypomania and then start to fall down, past the baseline again, into a depressive state.  For me, the cycles are roughly 12 – 18 months punctuated by some smaller cycles in between.  I know my cycles and usually, but not always, can identify them when they are happening.  But how can my partner, my wife, my friends know what to expect?  Bottom line, I’m not sure they can with any degree of certainty.

And what does that do to them?  When I’m more manic, I am extremely emotionally available, want to connect with people I know and meet new friends, I want to do things and go on adventures, I want to talk and wonder and dream.  When I head into a depressive state (which for me aren’t typically as long term), I shut down, I internalize, I introvert.  Emotional availability is difficult if not impossible.  The air is heavy enough that it physically hurts.  To touch someone is torture at times, so forget intense intimacy.  I am exhausted but can’t sleep.  My mind either feels sluggish or races around a gerbil wheel chasing one thought I can’t shake.   And more to the point, there is a literal chemical block, almost physical in nature, so any form of connection and reassurance takes intense effort.

I may have the desire to connect, to be intimate, to talk and touch – but I can’t.  It’s like there is a big sheet of Plexiglas between me and the world.  And that leaves loved ones out in the cold.  How are they supposed to maintain what feels like a one-sided connection?  How are they supposed to handle it when being alone trumps being together?  When intimacy and romance, openness and availability are often replaced with a void or worse, obvious physical and mental pain in someone they love?

I have seen it too often, they get hurt.  Plans get pushed back, things end up forgotten, food and socializing are no longer priorities.  They can walk into a room and experience a tidal wave of irritation, sadness, anger, apathy and tears – and not taking it personally can be difficult.  They don’t always understand and rarely can comprehend what is happening because this illness manifests itself differently in everyone.  And the pain they experience circles back and intensifies the elevated states with a sense of guilt, remorse, and a desire to rain down apologies when in truth, apologizing accomplishes nothing but reaffirming the lack of connection.

When I am more on the manic side, I am a blast (although can experience intense irritability as well).  When I am depressed, I’m an irritable hermit fighting the urge to go “scorched-earth” on everyone and every thing.  The depression seems to be the hardest for others to deal with.  The ignorant out there will say, “Buck up little camper, all you have to do is smile.”  Yeah, right.  You don’t get it.

And it becomes even more difficult to understand for those particularly close because I have developed mechanisms for ensuring when I go out in to the big, bad world; or when I have to work, it can be difficult to tell I’m anything but in a really good more or just tired.  So they have to ask – why can you do it there, but not with me?  The simple answer – it’s acting.  It’s locking me down and taking one step at a time and the effort is colossal so when I get home, when I don’t have to act or pretend or lie to the world, when I get a chance to just “be”, the filters come off and you are left with someone who “feels” completely different than the guy you overheard on a conference call or watched interacting at the dog park.

So is it really fair to be in an intimate relationship with this illness?  Does anyone really ever truly know what they are getting in to in terms of a relationship with the mentally ill?  I doubt it.  And I have no desire to hurt anyone (most people anyway) and the dynamics of this illness combined with the normally fragile dynamics of a relationship can combine with disastrous effects.

I have to manage my illness.  I know what that takes.  I hate it, but that’s life.  No sense whining.  Loved ones, they have to manage their lives…they are responsible for their happiness and while some ties that bind are stronger than others, I wonder if expecting anyone to be in close proximity for an extended period of time is…realistic.   I feel guilty about what it does to others, to people I genuinely care about and love, but there are times when I can’t do anything about it.  The illness reigns.  The illness must be managed and the effort required is…at times…all encompassing.

I do love them, I do miss them, I am trying and I do want to connect…and while I often think the word “can’t” is bullshit…in this case I have to put aside my desire to control everything and realize I’m helpless…that I just “can’t” do it at times.  So all that leaves me with is hoping the loved ones have an extra dose of understanding and acceptance, don’t take it personally when I ask to be left alone, and believe, have faith, that my apologies are heart felt and my desire to be connected are undiminished, even if they can’t be seen, felt or heard.  And if they can’t do that…if they can’t hold on without being hurt, then believe me when I say I understand if they have to leave.  I respect those decisions and realized a long time ago, it’s just part of the hand I was dealt and I know it isn’t a card they have to hold.

In the end, I just want everyone I love to be happy and safe.  Excepting that I can’t always contribute to that, that I can’t always make them feel safe or loved, that I can even be viewed as an impediment…well, I accept that, and again, I am deeply sorry.

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