Reader Question - I have a mental illness (I am bi-polar) and I think this is keeping me from finding a soulmate. I struggle with my behavior and my meds, and just as soon as someone begins to like me, I blow it. How can I prepare for a soulmate when I have this problem hanging over my head?
Though bipolar disorder can be particularly challenging for both you and your Beloved, in a very real sense, it is no different from any other illness. All illnesses carry their own burdens and issues. All illnesses change the dynamics of a relationship.
Let’s take this a step further. All of us have issues, all of us are carrying burdens, and, listen carefully, all of us have special needs. My burdens and issues may not be yours and yours may not be mine, but mine are every bit as real as yours and vice versa. We are all unique, each in our own way. Part of your uniqueness is named “bipolar.” A few years ago, part of my uniqueness was named “cancer.” Part of my husband’s uniqueness is named “PTSD.” For each of us, that is only part of our story.
What If the Real Issue is Fear?
And it sounds as if another part of your story is “I am not worthy.” The give-away comment in your question is “… just as soon as someone begins to like me, I blow it.” This happens to many of us operating under the mistaken idea that something about us is so offensive that no one could possibly like us long-term in spite of it, so our subconscious rushes it into being. Maybe we are testing the other person. Maybe we are protecting ourselves from getting in any deeper before getting hurt. Whatever the underlying reason, we are acting as if we are defective in some way and everyone else is just fine.
It’s crucial to understand that thinking of yourself as “ill” and your Beloved or future Beloved as “well” can be damaging to both of you. The burden of expectation you place on a partner when you think of them as the “healthy” one and yourself as the “sick” one is crushing. Happy healthy relationships are always about mutual care and respect. Any relationship that centers just on the illness of one instead of on satisfying the needs and desires of both is doomed.
Remember, Your Beloved will Have Needs, Too
It will be important for you to be mindful that non-bipolar people have needs, too. It will be important for you to remember that all relationships have challenges, and we all need to do our very best to respect the feelings and needs of those we love in spite of those challenges, working through those challenges. This is true for every relationship, regardless of the details.
That said, illnesses do require certain kinds of behaviors and treatments in order to get well or manage the condition, and again bipolar is no different. You will want to make sure you are working with good doctors and therapists, collaborating together to devise and maintain a treatment plan that works for you. That is an essential gift to you as well as to your Beloved.
Many people with bipolar disorder prefer to retreat into their own shell or push people away when they are upset or depressed, and it may feel impossible to make any other choice when in the throes of an episode. You and your darling can prepare for those “bad” times by building a strong, loving relationship and cultivating good communication and relationship skills during the ”good” times. That will help make sure each of you knows you are always loved and appreciated, even in those times when it is hard to express those feelings. If you work on nurturing good ways of expressing your love for each other when things are stable, you will both be better able to withstand the difficult times. Your cycling will be much easier on both of you if you invest in demonstrably assuring each other of your love. Being open and attentive to your partner’s needs will help build a solid foundation for both of you for when you are cycling. Research indicates this approach can also have a profoundly positive impact on managing your illness in general.
Self-Care, Personal Growth, and Bipolar DIsorder
In every relationship, self care is part of nurturing the relationship. In your case, part of your self care is accepting that bipolar disorder is part of you, but it’s not all of you. You will want to take care of the whole of you, just as you would want your partner to care of their whole self if he or she had cancer or diabetes or some other debilitating illness. Treating yourself in ways that care for the whole of you will help you manage your illness better and be a better partner. Giving to yourself in this way will help you give to your Beloved which strengthens your relationship.
You’ll notice that pretty much everything discussed here is about you – how you behave, how you treat others, how you treat yourself. And that puts you squarely in the driver’s seat for connecting with the love your heart desires.
It may be tempting to think that it's hopeless because of the disorder, but I suspect the odds are really about the same as for any of us and the greatest enemy is in your own mind. It’s way too easy to think of ourselves as somehow damaged when we have an illness or a secret or feel like a failure in some way, but when we do, that energy is sensed by the people around us. Sometimes that draws the wrong ones to us, sometimes it pushes away the right ones, and sometimes it causes us to act in self-destructive ways. Regardless, indulging in hopelessness rarely attracts someone to save us, no matter what the movies say. Please don’t lose hope. Hope may be the most powerful weapon in your arsenal.
A good book to read for yourself now that will be wonderful to share with your Beloved when you two connect is Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston. Though it’s written especially for partners of persons with bipolar disorder, it has a wealth of helpful and supportive information to help you understand yourself and the dynamics of a loving relationship when bipolar is part of the mix.
Does it take someone special to love someone with bipolar disorder? Well, does it take someone special to love a person with cancer or diabetes? To love someone who is an amputee or blind? To love someone who was abused as a child or is driven to succeed? In every single case, in every single couple, in every single set of circumstances, the special someone that it takes is the one who loves you just as you are and you love them just as they are. If you can accept that each of us is “handicapped” in some way, that can help de-mystify your own illness, remove it as an excuse, and begin clearing the way for the love you desire and deserve.