Vulnerability, trust and authenticity are the foundations of any successful relationship. It takes time to really get to know someone and build genuine intimacy. In the initial phases of dating, everyone tries to put their best foot forward to impress their prospective partner.
The ‘honeymoon’ phase is ideally full of fun, laughter and good times as we enjoy spending time getting to know the other person. The reality is that we all have our challenges and flaws which will rear their heads when life becomes stressful or we have our first conflict with our loved one.
While I do not see bipolar disorder as a ‘con’ for a relationship, it does bring its own unique set of challenges, all of which can be overcome.
One of the biggest challenges for me in dating with bipolar disorder is the timing of disclosure. While I am completely comfortable with my diagnosis and have gone public nationally with my story, it is completely different sharing this while dating.
Knowing how much personal information is okay to share, as well as the right timing, can be a fine balance.
On the one hand, I do not want to hold back on disclosing a big part of who I am and yet on the other hand, this information might not be so relevant in the early days of dating. Prospective partners all react very differently to the information.
I have had some partners who said next to nothing, probably owing to their ignorance of the diagnosis while it triggers a flood of questions from other more curious individuals.
Occasionally, dates have reacted with a small level of fear which I have quickly calmed by explaining that I am well-managed and that the disorder does not define my life.
Regardless of the reaction, this conversation of disclosure always comes up eventually in serious relationships; the timing of the conversation and the way it is handled is very personal since it is my story to share.
As part of disclosure, I have found it helpful to share with my partner signs and symptoms to watch out for. It can cause a lot of pressure for the relationship if a mental health episode occurs, and the other person is unprepared for what to expect.
That being said, all the explanations in the world cannot prepare a partner for what a full-blown manic episode will look like. It puts a huge amount of stress on the relationship and has led to a break-up for me previously.
On the flipside, if a partner can display the loyalty and compassion needed to take care of me while I am unwell, then this demonstrates true strength and integrity within the relationship.
One of my ex-partners stood by me during a lengthy hospitalisation for mania as well as during the months of depression which followed. It is similar to the marriage vow “in sickness and in health.”
Demonstrating support for me during these darker times shows a strong and healthy relationship built on solid foundations.
If I am going through symptoms of mental illness, I want to know that my partner is there for me wholeheartedly. Sometimes people shy away from supporting me out of fear of not knowing what to say. My advice to people is to never stay away and to keep being there for the person however you can. If I need my own space or do not want company in that moment, then it is up to me to say that to my partner.
At the end of the day, there is no magic formula or ‘how to’ guide for caring for someone with a mental illness. What is required are the basic human qualities of compassion and understanding.
While I appreciate that it may be confronting seeing a loved one going through a mental health crisis, it is equally important to remember that they are not themselves and have much more chance of coming through the other side with your support.
I have always felt that bipolar disorder does not define me. It hasn't stopped me from achieving my goals or living a full life.
While I have suffered a great deal, it has also enriched my life and given me a greater self-awareness and appreciation of life, as well as more empathy for other people who are facing difficulties.
I have led an interesting life and have been able to experience many parts of reality with a deep appreciation of balance and stability. This level of insight and awareness provides me with a depth and emotional maturity that I can bring to a relationship.
For these reasons, dating someone with bipolar disorder need not be feared. Someone who has suffered through mental illness who has come through the other side may be able to bring a unique and fresh perspective, and a healthy self-awareness to a relationship.
While bipolar disorder may bring challenges, these can be overcome with open communication, compassion and love.
To read more stories from people living with mental health issues or supporting someone who is, check out People Like Us. Or to chat online with a community who really understand, visit the SANE Forums, available 24/7.