Dating While Bipolar – You Can’t Medicate It.

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This post addresses a very hard obstacle in life when living with bipolar disorder and for all people…DATING and RELATIONSHIPS.

 

Medication does not help with the challenges caused by relationships.

 

I’ll share my story…its the “rabbi” in me.

 

This story applies to EVERYONE…with or without bipolar disorder.

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For me, the hardest part of having bipolar disorder that medication does not help with AT ALL is with dating and relationships.

 

Dating and relationships are HARD for everybody…regardless of having bipolar disorder or not.

 

Dating is a whole lot of fun for me as long as I’m not emotionally attached to anyone…then its easy and playful. I’m really carefree…which makes me attractive to men. (If I’m carefree it’s because I’m not that into a guy, yet.)

 

Once I like someone I’m dating, that’s when it gets really hard.
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Sharing with men that I have bipolar disorder has not been an issue for me because I share it with confidence and show them all I’ve done. I let them Google me; it makes me proud. However, it is really hard for a lot of people and we will get to explore it. There is no one right way of how.

 

Progress I have made is that I no longer share that I’m bipolar with men in the first phone call or first date. (I used to do that when I was younger to save myself from rejection. Rejection from a guy I’m not interested in all that much doesn’t hurt me nearly as much as rejection from a guy I really like.)

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I think I’m pretty normal when it comes to struggling with dating. None of us are good at the rules, otherwise there wouldn’t be rules and books etc. Building a relationship gradually over time is hard for everyone…if it were easy, the divorce rate wouldn’t be so high.

 

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But back to my story of how bipolar disorder makes it even harder.

 

Why? Because when I experience chemistry, attraction, desire, fantasy, hope…all the stuff that captivates my interest…everything I know from being a therapist and reading all the books and observing relationships goes out the window.

 

I am immediately up against one of my “arch nemesis”…impulsivity.

 

Impulsivity has a really hard time being patient and giving things time. It is as though patience is blasphemous. If I don’t win the battle with this arch nemesis, I lose the interest of the guy I like.

 

One way hands down to lose the battle is by not having a filter and allowing impulsivity to run wild.

 

People say, “If the guy is right, it won’t matter what you say.”

 

I don’t think that’s true.

 

When the foundation (of a relationship) is being constructed one block at a time, it’s not reasonable to put in a fireplace where there is no wall or a bed where there is no floor, or a toilet where there is no plumbing. I’ve done that so many times because I couldn’t tolerate the discomfort that comes from uncertainty and having a bunch of building materials instead of having a “home” with someone. AND still do it…because that’s being human. (This is a human problem…being bipolar just intensifies it.)

 

The KEY for me is that when the fireplace falls down or the bed is washed away by the toilet etc…that I don’t freak out…that I remember the absence of the foundation AND that all we’ve got are building blocks of a relationship. We both have to agree on how to build it…and if we don’t, we don’t build a “home” (relationship) together.
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So not only do I have a battle with impulsivity…AND stop trying to decorate a non-existant home…I also have to find ways to disengage from ruminating thoughts about what that home = relationship should be like…because right now (in the early stages of dating) all we’ve got are bricks and a shovel.

 

That sets the bar for myself very high. Its basically demanding me to not be bipolar.

 

Bipolar disorder embraces ruminating thoughts. It’s how we persist towards goals.

 

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BUT WAIT. The bar gets even higher with dating.

 

Another “arch nemesis” enters the game…EMOTIONAL ROLLER-COASTERS.

 

When I like someone, the mere act of liking him produces emotion. (The emotion is what is decorating the non-existant home.)

 

EMOTION is a pretty stable or consistent force. It is very predictable and easy to manage when I’m NOT experiencing it.

 

But when I’m experiencing it…everything I know about emotion goes out the window.

 

Instead, the highs feel so good and I just want to keep feeling them and actually believe I will (It’s believing the home is real)…but that never happens (because the home is a fantasy). So when the lows come (the day after the high), it’s like falling on my face on a pile of bricks and I’m disappointed (but that’s what’s real…all we’ve got are the building tools of a home). I immediately pull away and guard myself with strong negative emotion that says, “He’s not into me” because I fear rejection. (Which is not true because at least he may still be interested in exploring our building tools.)

 

My natural impulsive instinct is to pull the building tools away because it doesn’t feel like a home. (And it shouldn’t yet.)

 

EVEN THOUGH I KNOW BETTER. THIS IS JUST HOW EMOTION WORKS. It’s a wave. It goes UP and then comes DOWN. It EXPANDS and CONTRACTS just like breathing.

 

I become ignorant and forget everything I know about EMOTION and building a relationship.
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So why do I give credit to bipolar disorder?

 

Because bipolar disorder takes this normal process and intensifies it ridiculously. The medication doesn’t help.

 

What works for me is remembering what I know and using that knowledge to stop making the same mistakes over and over again.

 

Writing this down was very useful for me. I hope it’s useful to you. It applies to more in life than dating and relationships.

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Setting Boundaries When Your Loved One Experiences Depression

If your loved one is like me, during the worst of depression they want as much nurture and time with you as possible because the experience of depression is so incredibly scary.

During my depression I was not able to think, nor feel.  I no longer felt like a human being.  I needed the support of my family, to just be there with me…in the room with me or touching me or lying beside me just so I could feel alive.

This was great for me, but it wasn’t good for my family at all.  Here’s what I learned my family needed.

Boundaries

 

My family needed to set firm boundaries with me for time that they would not spend with me during the worst of my depression.

For instance, my  mother set the boundary that she needs her mornings to enjoy her breakfast, doing crossword puzzles and to just relax.  She also needed time in the evenings to decompress.  And all day Wednesday was her day to be with friends.  She is retired and had more time to spend with me.

My sister needed boundaries.  She worked full time.  She needed time daily after work to decompress, but would spend time with me before bed-time to practice Tai Chi with me with the hope that it would help me sleep.

With these boundaries, I began to improve because it forced me to utilize my own strength and tools.  And it helped me to recognize when it was time to get psychiatric help.

Without boundaries, I would have been very comfortable staying in my depression and not getting psychiatric help for even longer with all the nurture I received.

I highly encouraged parents and loved ones to figure out their boundaries and set them in a way that says, “I LOVE you.  Nevertheless, I need to take care of myself first in order to be there for you.”

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I survived being a teenager with Bipolar Disorder; so did my parents

I was a good kid.

Being a teenager was the most difficult period of my life thus far.

I survived.

So did my parents.

 

Being a teenager for me meant…

I just want to belong

(in the eyes of someone other than my parents).

 

Way before I was a teenager,  I loved being with my mom and dad.  They could do no wrong.  They were my heroes.

(This was before my brain developed the ability to critically think and make my own decisions.)

My mom was my safety blanket in life. I crawled into bed with her and lay beside her and shared with her anything I thought or felt about life.  She made me feel that what I had to say was important and she appeared interested in all my ideas.  She explored all of my curiosities with me by sitting down together with the encyclopedia to look for any questions I had about life.  She inspired and encouraged in me my love of learning and taught me how to learn and gave me structure to research and study.  She taught me how to be her helper (which was actually the only effective thing she did to get me to do chores, yet she was not consistent enough with it to make it routine and habit in my life).  However, she did ignite a passion within me for helping people, just not for helping her do chores.  She and my dad gave me the space to explore and play freely…they truly encouraged me to be me and dream and believe that I could be anything I truly want to be if I work hard enough.  I believe this planted the seeds for my tremendous work ethic.

I was the last person to wish my dad a good day and the first person to welcome him home.  I was my dad’s first-mate as a sailor.  On long drives, I stayed up to keep him company.  I just wanted my dad’s attention and affection.  He expressed his care by doing things with me and spending time with me.  He taught me how to throw and catch a football and a baseball.  My dad taught me about politics and instilled in me values about how people deserve to be treated and have access to resources.  I learned to take a stand for what I believe in from my dad.  He encouraged me to be strong and persistent in going after what I want and believe in in life.  Little did he and my mom know that I would drive them nuts with my persistence to own dogs and boats and anything that would be more responsibility for them.

As a child, I knew the rules and had structure, unfortunately for my mom, she didn’t get that I pay way more attention to what she did than what she said.

My mother could not tolerate messiness.  At a young age, I learned that if I wait long enough, she would clean up after me. I would have to deal with her persistent nagging, but after years of it, I learned to tune her out.  It worked like a charm.  My mother didn’t know it, but she was very good at teaching me how to manipulate her based on my own understanding of her needs.  Her need for a clean house and organization was far greater than mine.

By my mom picking up after me, not only did I take her for granted, but I lost respect for what she does and how incredibly hard she works.

As a child, no matter what I did, my mom could not stay mad at me.  It didn’t matter if I exploded something in the kitchen or completely destroyed the family room while turning it into a pirate ship OR got into trouble with my friends…I could climb into bed with my mom and share with her everything I felt and thought and no matter how upset she was with me, she could not stay mad at me.  I learned from her that if I simply share my feelings and thoughts honestly and transparently that I am loveable and it does not get me into trouble.

By my mom consistently being there for me, no matter what I did or said, without being disappointed in me, I developed expectations for how people should treat me.  I developed the belief system that I can mess up as much as I want in life and if I am honest and open about it, people will love me anyways.  As an adult, this is still an underlying core belief that by no means is always true, but it does work for me enough of the time.

Unfortunately, my older sister became a teenager before I did and her teen years were very, very difficult on my parents.  She had undiagnosed bipolar disorder (until she was 31) and it was like living with a demon throughout her teenage years.  So much of my mom’s time and energy went to trying to help my sister and cope with her, that I was neglected for way too long.

 

I no longer climbed into bed with her and shared openly and honestly my feelings.  I did not want to be a burden…so I learned to bottle things up inside me starting around the age of nine years old.   I learned to keep a smile on my face and tried to help out as much as I could…I turned into the “angel” child, but I was in a lot of pain and no one knew.

 

 

The year I became a teenager, my mom had breast cancer (and survived) and her mother died (my heroic grandma) and my sister was at the peak of her horrible teens and still had not received the help she needed.

 

Being a teenager was incredibly hard for me.  While in Junior High, I lost all my childhood friends due to the cruelness of pre-teen hormonal girls and I isolated myself from the friends who had been there for me during my mom’s cancer because I unknowingly associated them with horrible pain.

 

 

I had incredibly low self-esteem.

 

I did not feel safe with girls.

I did not feel safe with anyone.

I never let anyone get to close to me.  As a result I went through friends like water all through the rest of Junior High and High School. I only had a limited trust for one person at a time and completely stayed away from groups, especially if girls were involved.

I chose friends who made me feel good about myself.   I chose friends who made me feel wanted.  Some of my friends were good people…other friends were just using me because they could.

 

 

I did not get into drugs and alcohol as a teenager.  At the age of eight, when I was unsupervised and drank enough alcohol to knock out a horse at our family Passover Seder, I learned how much I do not like the feeling of being drunk and how incredibly sick too much alcohol makes me, so I stayed away from it until I was twenty and then remembered how much I don’t like it.

 

My dad learned a lot from that experience and said to me, “If you ever want to try drugs, try them with me.”  He educated me as best he could about the effects of drugs and told me stories of what happened to people he knew, bad stories, but without judging them at all.  Then said, “If you would like to try it, try it with me.”  The way my dad talked with me made me never want to do drugs.  He stole the excitement from them and he made me feel normal for being curious and wanting to try things that would make me feel all sorts of different pleasures.  My dad made me feel safe talking with him and I never got in trouble for sharing my curiosities and mistakes with either of my parents.

 

 

Some parents would be infuriated by this because they see it as giving a child permission to do drugs.  It was not the case for me.  My dad removed my desire to experiment by how he talked with me about drugs.  I did not have to hide anything from my parents.  Those conversations and always being able to talk with my parents openly about drugs and sex without fear of judgment or being in trouble, kept me from trying drugs and becoming sexually active even when I really wanted to be sexually active (while manic).

 

 

Mania came into my life right before turning sixteen.  I got my drivers license while manic.  I’ve written a lot about my mania and depression, but not a whole lot about how it affected me as a teenager.

 

 

Mania and depression stole from me the one thing I was really trying to figure out in life as a teenager…MY IDENTITY.

 

 

I had very low self-esteem when mania and depression came into my life and they destroyed what little esteem I had.  Self-trust went out the window.  I was completely afraid of myself.  I was afraid to be with anyone I associated with mania and afraid to drive.

 

My parents didn’t know how to help me.  Therapy was not working for me because I did not feel the therapist got me and I was able to be incredibly self-aware and not let the therapist in at all.

 

My family helped me heal by trusting me when I was unable to trust myself.  My family encouraged me to face my fears and drive the car again.  They encouraged me to set goals again and take chances in life.  They encouraged me to be excited about life again without fearing that I was manic.  They gave me the freedom to begin exploring again and removed the pressure of things like AP classes and college.  They gave me permission to be and do whatever I want in my life and took away the fear of failure.  This freedom to explore who I am and decide who I choose to become is how I got to where I am today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FANTASY: How the conflict between fantasy and reality can lead to episodes of bipolar disorder and any mental illness & cause difficulty in relationships

 

When we are in our teens or younger, we pick a career path and study for it for years…then eventually, if we persist, we become that profession and take on that identity.   We commit to doing that path and being that identity for the next 30-50+ years of life.  We make this decision solely based on our fantasy for the job.

 

FANTASY in this context is defined as using our imaginations to set goals for possibilities in our lives.   Fantasy is what we believe “should” happen for our lives.

 

We often don’t spend time envisioning a good enough partner or quality of life…instead we fantasize about our IDEAL SELF (our concept of perfect) and want to find those qualities in a partner or career.

 

When we are dating, we are basically figuring out if this person we meet fits into our fantasy for ourselves and our lives.  If they fit, meaning that they have a similar fantasy for themselves, we continue dating them.  If not, we find someone else to date with the hopes that eventually we will find someone with a compatible fantasy to our own and hope that the reality of being with them fits the fantasy we both have.

 

When we get married, we commit to spend the rest of our lives with our partners based on who we fantasize they will be and who we fantasize we will be.   We create a fantasy for the family we will have.  The home we will make together…our dogs.  We fantasize about vacations and travels together.  Everything we plan with our partners is the journey of two people creating one fantasy.

 

When relationships end or we change our minds and lives in big ways…it is often because we have discovered that our fantasy and reality don’t fit each other and we either accept the reality (and stay on course in our relationship and/or field of work) OR we decide that the reality is not what we truly want for ourselves and we create a new fantasy to pursue.

 

 

 

Fantasy Causes Difficulty In Relationships

 

We often fail in commitments because relationships don’t live up to the fantasies we have for them.  When we are in love, it is so hard to see all the giant red flags waving in our faces…they look like rainbows.

 

We convince ourselves to believe that if only we love our partner enough, we can mold them into our ideal partner (which is really our ideal self that we are not even able to be).

 

If we don’t let go of this fantasy and accept our partners and our relationship for who and what it is…we will be miserable.

 

The reality will never be the fantasy AND reality will not be “good enough” until we let go of the fantasy.

 

Letting go of our own personal fantasy and creating a fantasy with our partner is how we build and sustain our relationship so that it has a future.

 

 

 

 

Why do we base our lives on FANTASY?

 

BECAUSE WE ARE HUMAN.

 

Everything in our lives beyond the present moment is UNKNOWN. How else could we handle the sheer terror of NOT KNOWING ANYTHING, if we did not keep a picture in our minds of what “should” “could” or “would” be IDEAL?

 

As human beings, we build a future based on what we fantasize today and we hope and pray that all of our efforts will give us just a small percentage of our fantasy…but when we don’t know any better, we hope for 100% of it and may not be willing to settle for less.  This is one reason why so many people are so unhappy about their lives.  As we get more life experience 50% of our fantasy is AWESOME!

 

In order to cope with NOT KNOWING ANYTHING, we create in our minds the “SHOULDs” and “SUPPOSED TOs” of life…this gives us our structure of how to make sense of the world…and so much of it is based on fantasy, the rest is based on what we know from past experience.

 

THIS IS HOW WE SURVIVE.  We inherit from our families our beliefs and values and choose our own set of beliefs as individuals that will structure our lives and we hope and pray that it works.

 

 

 

 

How Fantasy Becomes A Problem

FANTASY BECOMES A PROBLEM WHEN IT IS IN CONFLICT WITH REALITY.

This causes major STRESS.

Because we so often build the structure for our lives based on what we truly hope and believe “should” and “will” happen…when what we believe SHOULD happen is not happening, it causes tremendous CONFLICT. It causes us to question everything we believe in ways that cause incredible pain, fear, anxiety and depression.

The conflict between fantasy and reality causes us to doubt our beliefs and ourselves.  It can cause us to experience an “existential crisis” where we question why we are alive and what is our purpose in life.  We do anything we possibly can to make meaning when our fantasies don’t come true.

When we are able to make meanings for our fantasies not coming true that soothe pain, reduce anxiety and allow us to function…we are successfully coping in life.

However, when the meanings we make for our fantasy not coming true create pain, increase anxiety and depression…this can develop into mental illness.

Mania and depression can be triggered when this conflict between fantasy and reality occurs because the conflict causes STRESS in the forms of incredible fear, overwhelm, urgency, pain, loss and possibly trauma.

When we refuse to acknowledge reality and live as if the fantasy is real, this is psychosis.

How we respond to what happens…how we respond to not having our fantasy…determines our quality of life and our mental health.

 

 

The GIFT of Fantasy

FANTASY allows us to bring out the best in ourselves.

It is all about our potential as human beings. Fantasy motivates and inspires us. Fantasy gives us something to have faith in and hope for. Fantasy gets us through the toughest times in our lives.

We need our fantasy. We need our fantasy to get us through life. Without fantasy, all we would have is not knowing what will be and fear.

Without fantasy, we could not build a future.

We don’t just create fantasies for ourselves…we create fantasies for our children…we create fantasies for our friends…we create fantasies for everyone we come in contact with based on how we would like them to respond and how we want to be treated.

So much of who we are as human beings is based on the fantasies that we have been building throughout our entire lives.

As human beings we use fantasy as a primary coping skill in order to survive.

Through FANTASY

We learn

We grow

We plan our lives

We build our lives with others

We have families and raise children to be good people

We put faith in our community and trust that people will follow our societal structure

Fantasy is a key ingredient that makes up part of the foundation and our abilities for survival as human beings.

IDEAS FOR COPING WHEN FANTASY DOES NOT COME TRUE

  • FOCUS ON GRATITUDE. Notice what you do have in your life that is what you want it to be.  This is accepting reality as it is and seeing all the goodness you do have in your life.

 

  • CHANGE THE FANTASY. Change your fantasy to better fit reality by setting realistic goals for yourself.  Focus on what IS possible instead of investing so much of yourself into what you believe SHOULD be possible.

 

  • FORGIVENESS. Forgive yourself and others for life not being what you hoped it would be.  Stay away from blame, shame and guilt…they will not help you.  Know that you and others did the very best you could with the resources and abilities that you had at the time and you simply were not able to create what you hoped for yourself.
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