Disclosure in Romantic Relationships is Important to Increase Understanding about Mental Illness
My mania plays out in rapid speech, racing thoughts, odd ideas at all hours, little to no sleep. My manic hypersexuality has led to a one-night stand and many unpleasant relationships, the kind where it’s ticklish when you later bump into him in the supermarket. I was married to my manias, with no hope for a “normal” life with a “normal” man. That’s why when I met Robert at the synagogue where I worked, I felt ambivalent about entering a new relationship with anyone.
In college, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling, type 1 bipolar disorder. I dated but the relationships usually ended before I disclosed my illness. I left men wondering about my eccentric behaviors, wild nights, and strange ideas about the world. I felt broken.
There was also this: I couldn’t have children. My psychiatrist had warned me that pregnancy could worsen my moods and psychosis and getting off meds was not an option. If I got pregnant, I would likely end up hospitalized, which my family was trying hard to avoid. Having been hospitalized a few times, another might break us emotionally and financially.
My father reassured me that couples without children had more freedom. He said, if you want to nurture someone, adopt a cat. I didn’t want to be a spinster with her cats; but I didn’t need more bad relationships.
So, when Robert walked into the synagogue that day, my back was up. He was six-foot-four with sweeping brown hair like Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. I couldn’t help but feel attracted to him physically. I chatted with him like he was just another congregant, brushing off his flirtation. I pretended not to notice his advances. He brought in gifts, cards and made a donation to the synagogue when my grandfather died.
Inevitably, my hypersexuality kicked in and I decided that Robert would be good to fool around with, a friend with benefits. I agreed to a date at Starbucks, although I still wanted to play hard to get. Over conversation I learned his brother, mother, sister-in-law, and dog had recently died and he lived alone. This was perfect for fooling around, I thought. If we went to my place, my overbearing Jewish mother would be home.
The date went well, and we talked over Messenger every night from there on. We shared this kinetic sexual energy plus I could talk to him about anything. One night, we fought about how I was putting him off.
He called me “crazy.”
I knew it was the time to disclose my bipolar. I felt myself falling for him and this would be the way to avoid heartbreak; I could disengage without too much hurt on either side.
So, I sent him an email, something new for me. I usually slammed the door in men’s faces well before I had to hear their reaction.
I think I love you despite our differences. But there is one thing you should know about me before we move forward in our relationship. I have this thing called bipolar disorder. It doesn’t change who I am or my love for you, but it does come with intense swings of high emotion. I can understand if you have fears about getting more involved with me. There is most likely going to be trouble sometime in our love story, but there will be good times as well. I hope this doesn’t change your mind about me.
Then I waited.
I received his email a day later. He wanted to talk at his house over dinner. I was terrified, but agreed to go, figuring he just wanted to let me down in person, like a gentleman. When we talked, I painted a picture of what my illness had been like and what would become if I went off lithium and my antipsychotic.
To my astonishment, he responded with unconditional love. He divulged that his brother had struggled with mental illness and alcoholism. I didn’t promise him that my illness wouldn’t rear its ugly head in our relationship, but I promised honesty.
Six months later, I introduced him to my psychiatrist. Another few months later, we were engaged. We have a loving, fun marriage for 11 years and adopted a kitty named Sunshine.