Somewhere along my journey while starting BTW I began to realize that there have been extremely life altering events that have allowed me to become the person I am today. Events that have taught me valuable life lessons, pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and allowed me to see the bigger picture for what it really is. I sat and thought to myself, “who are some of the major influencers I’ve met along the way?”, and “who has positively impacted my life and inspired me to grow into the best possible version of myself?”. Then it hit me. My ex! I’m sure some of you reading this are a bit perplexed; “how could your ex leave such a lasting impression? If this is the case, why would you break up in the first place?”.
Despite our relationship having taken place 10 years ago, I still cherish a lot of the memories we created in such a short period of time. From the weekend trips to the cabin, hour long conversations revolving around our most audacious dreams and aspirations, to our playful and passionate connection; I look back and realize that at the time most girls would have killed to have the relationship we did! My family loved him just as much as I did and they could see how genuine his intentions truly were. Having lived in a city 3 hours away from my parents there was always a concern for my safety and mental health. Even at the young age of 16 I could see my parents worry begin to dissipate as they came to the realization that I was finally in safe hands.
With that being said, it only took me 2.5 years to sabotage everything we had worked so incredibly hard to build. My insecurities began to surface and for the first time in 4 years I decided I would give antidepressants another shot. What did I have to lose? I already felt hideous, worthless, broken, and alone. At the time even the thought of turning into an emotionless zombie seemed more appealing than the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy I was facing each and every day. It was not. I braved 2 months of prescriptions before I had finally had enough and decided to face my problems head on. I knew I was not entirely in control of my actions, I knew it was going to require a LOT of hard work, and I knew I was a ticking time bomb anxiously awaiting my next manic episode. But I didn’t care. I was determined to prove everyone else wrong! After all, who knows me better than myself right?
I began drinking and going out with my friends from work quite regularly. Newly 18 (which is the legal drinking age in Alberta) I felt as though I was invincible and ready to take on the world! Weekend after weekend, party after party, I discovered an extroverted side of myself that didn’t have to cope with the debilitating and ongoing anxiety of my everyday life. In a way it allowed me to escape my problems and live freely in every sense of the word. I was finally happy! Or so I thought.
The morning that followed my evening of promiscuity and infidelity was comparable to a months worth of depression and anxiety. How could I do this to someone I care so much about? Why do I always find a way to ruin everything great in my life? What is wrong with me? As someone who has always been honest (at times even too honest) I knew I had to make a phone call, and I was dreading it entirely! To my surprise my boyfriend was exceptionally understanding. He was willing to work together to get past what had happened and continue our relationship despite my lack of judgement while under the influence. I was not interested. I somehow managed to justify my behaviour and insisted that my feelings of insecurity stemmed from how he was treating me. I know I know, typical Bipolar tendencies. Lash out and push away the people that care about you the most. This is a battle I’m still working on to this day.
Looking back at it now I realize that although he was able to forgive me, I knew deep down in my heart that I couldn’t forgive myself. Similar to every other mistake I had ever made, I would rather continue to torture myself every day until my subconscious would eventually bury my feelings of shame and guilt so deeply that it was as if it had never happened at all. Can anyone else relate to this? Knowing now that this was bodies defence mechanism to protect me against toxic emotions in which I wasn’t able to come to terms with, I get it. 18 year old Keisha was comfortable avoiding the situation and I can’t say I blame her.
After nearly a decade of time to reflect on our relationship I’ve come to understand how this connection was truly a turning point for me in my life. I was fortunate enough to experience what it is like to be with someone who genuinely loves and cares for you regardless of your flaws. I had learned how to become vulnerable and let down my walls despite past traumas. I had learned how to love and be loved no matter how hard I tried to fight it at times because the reward surpassed any obstacle along the way. For the first time in my life, I had discovered a part of who I am. And for that I am forever grateful.
Fast forward to August 2018. I was fortunate enough to sit down with my ex boyfriend and hear what he had to say about our previous relationship. I wanted to know his take on things and how he was able to cope with the ins and outs of dating someone diagnosed with Bipolar.
1. How would you best describe our relationship overall? Was there anything in particular that stood out to you?
It was a long time ago but overall there were definitely more ups than downs. I think since we both knew you were bipolar, I eventually just got use to it. I think at least a few other girls I’ve dated before may have also had bipolar. Being aware that you had bipolar made it easier to deal with since any episodes you had weren’t out of the ordinary.
I don’t remember us really arguing that much, aside from one time when we were on Whyte Ave and you had been drinking. You were yelling at me and wouldn’t get in the car. Aside from that there wasn’t much arguing.
2. What did you struggle with most having dated someone with bipolar?
The hardest thing with anyone that’s bipolar is there isn’t really an easy fix. You just have to listen, it’s more about the person wanting to vent than it is about actually trying to fix a problem. Rather than trying to provide solutions, you just have to listen to them. It’s definitely just your moods at the time. When you get into that low point, it’s really low, and when you’re manic it’s like you’ve had a lot of coffee and you’re super hyper and crazy.
3. How were you able to cope when I was experiencing an episode?
Now I’m a lot better at dealing with it. As far as I can remember, when you were having a melt down I think I was the type of person who wanted to fix it; even if it was unreasonable or couldn’t be fixed. In some relationships when that’s happened for me I would take it personally. Now I’m more aware of how to deal with it properly. Back when we were dating I was constantly trying to fix things that couldn’t be mended.
A lot of people with bipolar, depression, and anxiety don’t know how to cope so they go on medication. In my opinion this doesn’t always work. Everybody I know that has taken anything for their mental health has gone off of it because they ended up not seeing the results they were hoping for. One of my ex girlfriends turned to exercising to help with her depression and it was the only thing that worked for her. I’ve had friends who have started eating healthier and changed their diet. My friend even went on a Keto diet and felt way better after cutting out carbs. Even my neighbour goes to meditation classes to deal with their anxiety. Two hours every morning, which most people would think is crazy, but it helps her immensely.
Someone with bipolar whose highs are a lot higher and lows are a lot lower can end up throwing themselves out of balance much easier. People aren’t sharing their success stories. They don’t advocate the extent to which their change in lifestyle is actually helping them. It’s not talked about. Social media is filled with people that want attention for the wrong reasons instead of addressing the underlying mental health issues because there is such a stigma about it.
4. Which end of the spectrum would you say occurred most frequently? Mania or depression?
During our relationship there was definitely both. I would say it was probably 70% manic and 30% depression. After we broke up it seemed to have switched. I think this was mostly because you were in a bad relationship with your last boyfriend.
5. Did you ever consider leaving our relationship for someone more mentally stable?
I don’t think so. Honestly at the time I knew you had ups and downs. I felt like it was normal because past girlfriends were very similar mentally. I wasn’t looking for anything more stable because I didn’t know it existed. Not necessarily with you specifically but girls I dated afterwards that were a lot more difficult to deal with A big part of it was your awareness, even when you did struggle you were still able to see the big picture. You realized you have bipolar and the next day you could recognize you had an episode.
6. Were you uncomfortable letting others know your girlfriend had a mental illness?
I don’t know if it ever really came up in conversation. I think you knew you had bipolar deep down but wouldn’t fully admit to it at the time. When I talked to all of my friends it wasn’t something that ever came up. I wasn’t ever embarrassed about it, it seemed like a normal thing. I think a lot of people are nervous to talk about mental health but because I know others who also suffer from it, it wasn’t taboo for me.
7. What were some of my most positive and negative attributes?
When you weren’t depressed you were always bubbly, happy, and easy to be around. When you were positive it shined through. It definitely seemed like even though you were manic, you were just extremely happy and fun to be around. You were always super caring, and willing to help people. Even with your brothers, you had a different personality when you were around people that needed help, almost like a maternal instinct. You were ambitious. When you wanted to do something you were always trying to be better, even if you didn’t always follow through you were never complacent.
Other than that, when you were really down and I didn’t know how to deal with things I kept trying to fix the problem and wouldn’t get anywhere. From my perspective I always wanted to fix things that weren’t necessarily able to be fixed. It wasn’t something I needed to do exactly, I just needed to listen. I didn’t know how to deal with it back then. I remember you kind of had this party phase. All of your friends would drink and party all the time which had a lot of negative impact on our relationship because I was the opposite type of person. I think that was one of the biggest reasons we broke up. Your new boyfriend liked to party and I didn’t.
I’ve heard you mention a few times now that there were certain things you were trying to fix that simply couldn’t be fixed. Could you please elaborate on that?
For example, the one big argument I mentioned earlier when you didn’t want to get in the car and go home. I was trying to fix what the issue was in that exact moment even though there wasn’t necessarily a problem. You were just angry and having an episode because of your bipolar which I was able to understand after the fact but not entirely in the moment.
8. Would you ever date someone again if you knew beforehand that they had bipolar? I realize you’ve answered this in previous questions however it was something I wanted to touch base on prior to our interview.
Now that I’m more aware of things and know how they work, it’s easier to deal with but it’s still a lot of work. Someone might not have bipolar but they may have another issue you don’t know about. I wouldn’t avoid a relationship due to anything mental health related. It’s not detrimental to the relationship you just have to know how to manage it. It’s one of those “grass is greener on the other side” kind of things, but there will always be problems. No one is perfect.
I would like to point out that I was very self aware prior to conducting our interview. My approach was to make sure that I wasn’t jumping into anything with preconceived notions or expectations. I genuinely wanted to hear his perspective in hopes of gaining a stronger understanding of what it is really like trying to support a partner with mental illness.
The first thing that stood out to me was my substance abuse. Over the years I’ve tricked myself into believing that my relationship with alcohol was something I’d developed more recently, not realizing it had been an ongoing problem for 7 years! I began endangering myself as well as those around me which eventually lead to my sobriety in September of 2018. Self medicating and mental health is a major issue which is why I’ll elaborate more on this topic in my blog post, “Sobriety and Bipolar”.
Now I don’t know about you but I felt an overwhelming sense of joy when I heard 3 real life success stories of individuals coping with their mental health naturally! How incredible is that? There are so many people out there experimenting with coping mechanisms that don’t involve prescription medication. This is a breath of fresh air! Why aren’t we hearing these personal testimonies? Why when we jump on Instagram or Facebook are our feeds not flooded with positive and natural solutions to managing our mental illnesses? I’ll tell you why. Because doctors in the health care system are trained to treat symptoms while lifestyle changes are just that; ways in which we can improve our day to day life by making healthier choices. Free of prescriptions, free of side effects (which oftentimes end up being worse than the original problem), and freedom from our racing thoughts and instability. Just because we have been diagnosed with Bipolar, OCD, anxiety, or depression doesn’t mean we are destined to a life full of psychotropic cocktails and never ending doctor’s visits. There are so many incredible resources available to us if we are willing to open our minds and embrace the possibilities!
Last but most certainly not least, I discovered that these coping mechanisms I’ve been utilizing for several years were actually prevalent as early as a decade ago! Of course I’ve learned new strategies since then, met with different therapists, made changes to my diet and so on. What I’m referring to is my foundation. At the time I felt like a scatterbrain who was barely meeting the minimum requirements and expectations of society. I’ve always liked to think of myself as a caring and compassionate person and yet I’ve built myself up in my head as this introverted, awkward, and at times very hurtful human being. Perhaps what I hadn’t realized up until this point, despite my lack of judgement during my youth, was that these coping skills have been ingrained in my mind for quite some time. Whether I was being proactive or reactive I’ve always made a conscious decision to strive for more out of life. That’s not to say that I haven’t considered (or even attempted) to end my journey, nonetheless I’ve gained strength to push forward no matter what absurd circumstances have come my way. And that is truly a blessing.
For anyone who is struggling with their mental health or that of a loved one, I sincerely understand how complex and discouraging it can be at times. I want you to know that you are not alone and you don’t have to sit in silence because you are ashamed of yourself and your diagnosis. There are infinite possibilities and resources available to you! As frustrating and hopeless as things may often seem, you are one decision away from creating an entirely different life for yourself.
Beautiful Train Wreck