- 5 Secrets to Dating When You Have Bipolar Disorder
- First Dates: Manage Your Expectations and Have a Getaway Plan
- Should You Disclose Your Bipolar Disorder?
- The Risks (and Benefits) of Building a Relationship
- Know Yourself, and Get to Know Your Date, Too
- Dating With Bipolar Can Be an Exhausting Cycle of Intensity and Bailing
- Healing a Troubled Relationship
- The Love of My Life has Bipolar Disorder
5 Secrets to Dating When You Have Bipolar Disorder
Ryan Zamo, who was diagnosed with bipolar at 22, doesn’t recommend disclosing your condition on a first date.
For people with bipolar disorder, piloting the unpredictable waters of dating can mean much more anxiety than normal. Here, five adults with bipolar disorder talk about their dating experiences, and how they navigate both the dating scene and the crucial question of when to disclose their mental health issues. Melanie Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, California, and author of the Mindful Self-Express column on Psychology Today, also weighs in.
First Dates: Manage Your Expectations and Have a Getaway Plan
“I’d just remind myself to cool it — it’s just a date,” says freelance writer Laura Dattaro, 28, of New York City. Dattaro was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder right after her 23rd birthday. “It can be easy to get carried away, especially if your mood is on the upswing.” That excitement and good feeling may make the new person seem like your soul mate or new best friend, she says, and when that doesn’t pan out it’s a big bummer.
Dr. Greenberg agrees, noting that in someone with bipolar disorder, that excitement can be heightened. So to those with bipolar who are entering the dating scene, she advises, “since bipolar people can be impulsive, you might want to prepare yourself for taking your time.” For example, you might not want to get too sexual prematurely.
Greenberg also says that your anxiety could be heightened. Leah Yegneswaran, 24, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 20, agrees. “I worry that I’ll be triggered over the course of the date,” says the University of Mary Washington student.
So Yegneswaran creates a backup plan to accommodate the possibility of an anxiety attack. “I tell friends in the area of the date that I might need a safe space in case something happens and I need to crash somewhere,” she says.
Elspeth Rawlings, 23, a student in Frederick, Maryland, tends to only date people she already knows, which helps minimize anxiety. At age 17, Rawlings was misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder. She was formally diagnosed with bipolar I in early 2015 and is now thriving with the right therapy and medication regimen.
Low-key first dates — like watching movies together — are best for her, Rawlings says. “I don’t really like not having a place to retreat to or get away from crowds if I start to feel bad,” she adds, echoing Yegneswaran.
Ryan Zamo, 26, feels “highly nervous” about dating when he’s in a stable period. “I would be hoping that I don’t start swinging into mania, because then I just get erratic and start spending tons of money that I really shouldn’t be spending,” says the Los Angeles resident. Depressive periods make Zamo not want to go at all: “Nothing’s harder than trying to be interested in someone’s story when you’d rather just not be there.” Zamo, who is CEO of his own organic cosmetics company, says he showed signs of bipolar disorder when he was 18, but was only formally diagnosed at age 22.
Should You Disclose Your Bipolar Disorder?
“Definitely do not tell the person on your first date,” Zamo says emphatically. According to Greenberg, not disclosing right away is okay if doing so would be uncomfortable. But, she adds, “If the relationship is getting more serious, you should reveal it.”
“If you think you might behave in a way that is uncomfortable for the other person,” says Greenberg, that’s another reason to disclose.
Zamo has had that experience. When he discloses that he has bipolar disorder, it’s usually after he’s become “feisty and irritated during a low period.” Later, he’ll feel bad about it, and revealing his bipolar disorder is “the only way to explain being an ass to them,” he says.
Michelle Mallet, 32, of Seattle, describes herself as outspoken and open with friends and coworkers about her mental health. Mallet, who currently works as a chef, was diagnosed with the condition around age 18 or 19. Despite being outspoken about her condition, Mallet doesn’t reveal that she has bipolar disorder on a first date.
RELATED: Why Bipolar Disorder Is Often Misdiagnosed
“I want to know the people I tell this to first,” she says. Dattaro leans that way, too, in a mental balancing act of her own. “I try not to think about it as some scary secret that needs to be revealed,” she says. “It’s more an aspect of my life that’s just a little more personal than regular first-date fodder.”
Rawlings takes a different approach because she has anxiety and panic disorder along with her bipolar. “I disclose as soon as possible just so I don’t scare someone, but also to protect myself from people who aren’t necessarily accepting when it comes to mental health issues,” she says.
The Risks (and Benefits) of Building a Relationship
When you have bipolar disorder, dating can make you feel like you’re not quite in control of your emotions, says Greenberg. You could feel like you’re becoming too angry or being ultra-sensitive, she adds. When it comes to relationship style, research has shown that adults with bipolar disorder display more insecure attachment styles when compared to people without the disorder. Zamo says he’s definitely scared people off, either because he cut off communication during a low spell, or because his manic behaviors were too much for someone else to handle.
The mood state does matter, according to Mallett. She once reached out to someone she was dating while she was in a “depressive, anxious cycle,” requesting that they turn their relationship into something more serious. Mallett’s request was rejected. “That triggered an anxiety spiral, which triggered my depressive cycle to the max, and I spent the next day in a super-duper fog and then drove myself to the hospital and checked in for suicide watch,” she explains. “I was in a serious, depressive state for two months,” she says, and had to take medical leave.
But what about the pluses of dating? Dattaro sees some possibilities. “One positive aspect is that it can show you that people aren’t really all that judgmental about it. If they are , find new people!” Dattaro thinks that opening up to someone and seeing that they remain calm about it can “really bring trust into your relationship.”
Rawlings has found that all of the people she’s dated have had a form a mental illness, and that a good portion of her friends do, too. In fact, there are dating sites that cater specifically to bipolar matchmaking, like BipolarDatingSite. The ability to make jokes and talk about that shared experience can be a coping mechanism, she believes. On the flip side, though, is that you could become a “project” of some well-intended person who wants to help fix you without understanding that it’s not something they can do.
Know Yourself, and Get to Know Your Date, Too
Getting to know the person first makes a big difference. “Take things slowly,” Greenberg says. “Don’t let insecurity drive you, or feel less than because you are bipolar.”
Be self-forgiving, too, says Yegneswaran. “Don’t berate yourself for not living up to what you think you ‘should’ be like,” she says. Rawlings agrees: “You should not let anyone tell you that you are broken or not good enough, even if it’s your own brain telling you that.”
“Don’t let being bipolar stop you!” says Mallett. She didn’t date for years because she was worried that she was too depressed or too manic to be attractive to someone without a mental illness. “But if someone likes and then loves you, they’ll love the whole you, and that includes your messed-up brain.”
I am beyond a hopeless romantic.
I love love,
and I think that it’s the most
genuine, beautiful thing
in the world.
I started collecting
vintage love letters about
a year and a half ago.
People put their true feelings
into these letters,
and it’s beautiful because you
can feel their vulnerability.
And I need to get more of that.
So that’s where I look
for that inspiration.
I am an individual that lives
with bipolar disorder,
and I definitely
every single day feel something.
The average dating scene
is pretty rough.
Dating definitely gets more
difficult when you have
a mental illness,
like bipolar disorder.
People just have such
a horrific image of what
mental illness looks like.
You’re just always on edge when
You’re petrified of judgment
Revealing your diagnosis when
you’re dating really
depends on you,
and it definitely depends
on the other person.
I am not for revealing it
right in the beginning.
And that’s not obviously
because I’m ashamed.
You feel obligated to walk in,
hey, my name is Hannah,
by the way,
I have bipolar disorder,
as if you committed a crime
and you’re on the run.
I just want to let you know, I’m
wanted for something,
so if you’re cool with that.
I believe they have to get
to know you as an individual.
And when you feel comfortable,
that’s when you should reveal
In relationships, it’s very
difficult to trust.
And I know you can’t have
a relationship without trust,
but you’re handing over all
of your weapons to someone
and just hoping they’re not
going to use those weapons
Because they know all they have
to do is say to someone is,
it didn’t work out.
She’s got bipolar disorder.
And most of the time,
that person is going to go, oh,
wow, thank god you got out
So far with dating,
it’s been a good mix.
And the people that are curious
about it, they want to know more
information because they don’t
know about mental illness, which
I’m happy to share with them.
So I meet great people that are
very accepting of it.
I think it says something so
powerful about an individual
that embraces that fact.
So definitely a lot of good
The things that keep
me entertained is creativity.
I love doing video projects.
I love writing.
And my family and friends.
My family’s number one always.
That always keeps me going.
I have an incredible group
Even though I have
we’re all struggling when it
comes to dating,
so I think that we help
each other out.
I’m really focused on my career
as a blogger in advocacy.
The people I’m in touch
with every day that reach out
to me are so inspirational.
I blog about mental health.
The most popular topic is love
and dating with mental illness.
The reaction that I get
is people relating to what I’m
saying and sharing
their own experience with me.
I feel their empathy,
and they’re brilliant
and they’re creative.
And the worst part about it
is that they feel unlovable.
I believe there is someone
out there for all of them,
and I think there is definitely
someone out there for me, too.
Dating With Bipolar Can Be an Exhausting Cycle of Intensity and Bailing
Most of the time, living with bipolar disorder is uneventful. As long as I take my medications and check in with my therapist regularly, I’m able to keep my symptoms under control and avoid potential flare-ups of depression and extreme mood swings. Managing my mental health is usually more of a routine than an ongoing crisis, but I still have bad days, bad weeks, and even the occasional bad month where I don’t feel like I can be around people and want to disappear completely, or feel like I can’t stop moving and refuse to go to sleep. When that happens, it can interfere with my work life, friendships and—as you can imagine—completely sabotage my dating life.
Bipolar disorder causes drastic and unusual shifts in mood, activity level, and energy. For many, it’ll include recurring cycles of depression and mania, often described as extreme highs and lows, explains Kelly Campbell, a professor of psychology at California State University San Bernardino.
These symptoms can be particularly challenging when it comes to dating, especially early on in a relationship or when meeting someone new, she tells me. The fluctuating moods and periods of depression that are linked to bipolar disorder might also come off as flakiness and disinterest, and a potential partner might easily take these seemingly mixed messages to heart. Telling a date you’ll have to cancel (because you’re feeling hopeless or haven’t left the house in days, even though last week you were fine) can make a person feel like you’re blowing them off.
And if you do tell them the truth about why you’re cancelling, a date might assume that “people with bipolar are crazy, have multiple personalities, are constantly suicidal, or manipulative,” even though many people with bipolar are relatively stable, says Carrie Bearden, professor of psychology at UCLA.
And then there’s the other end of the spectrum: “The tendency toward impulsivity could lead to early sexual initiation, which comes with certain risks as well.” Coming on too strong can make a new relationship burn out quickly—and though there’s nothing wrong a spur-of-the-moment hook-up after a first date with a Tinder match—Campbell says there’s a greater risk the connection will “dissolve very early.”
In the past, when I haven’t taken my medications, my Tinder matches have expired or former dates moved on when I was suddenly too depressed to answer texts or meet for drinks. Other times, I couldn’t stop talking to or texting with them because my racing thoughts wouldn’t quiet down or let me sleep. For me, dating with bipolar is sometimes illustrated in an exhausting cycle of feeling like a jerk because I was sad, then feeling sad because I was a jerk and bailed. Sometimes, there’s the added layer of then wanting to overcorrect by smothering the person with attention.
That being said, dating while with bipolar doesn’t mean every relationship is doomed. I’ve found—and experts confirm—that strong communication is key, regardless of how challenging that might be to practice. Having honest conversation with a new partner about living with mental health issues can help to avoid hurt feelings and confusion, Campbell says. “Once a partner is aware of their condition, they can serve as an ally and help their loved one stay on track with a treatment plan.”
As long as I take my medications and keep going to therapy, bipolar does not get to define my entire personality. However, one of the scariest parts of dating with bipolar is actually telling a date about it. “People with bipolar disorder might encounter negative reactions when disclosing their condition,” Campbell says. Disclosing too soon can feel like a massive overshare, and it’s generally not the kind of information you’d want to talk about on a first date for fear of scaring a potential partner away.
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The decision to tell a person you’re interested in that you’re bipolar is a very tough one, she says, yet the downside of not disclosing that information soon enough is the person could feel betrayed, or like you’re hiding something from them. Still, whether you tell a potential partner on the third date or three months into a new relationship, there’s no way to predict how he or she might react—and that can be terrifying.
Rejection sucks, and being rejected by someone you really like for something you can’t control feels even worse. “Even if someone is well-meaning, they may not have the reaction you’re looking for,” Bearden says. “People have good intentions and try to be supportive, but they may not know the right way to respond.”
Thankfully, Campbell says that talking about mental health issues can be a conversation that happens naturally. “Our disclosures should be reciprocal, meaning that one person should not be doing all the talking and disclosing,” Campbell says. “As your date or partner starts to reveal personal things to you, you may do the same.” Pay attention to how they respond to personal disclosures, she advises. If they respond in a validating, accepting manner, these are signs that they’re not consumed by negative stigma surrounding the disorder and that they could be a supportive partner.
Once you get past the potentially awkward disclosure hump, Campbell recommends filling your partner in on your treatment plan and what you need when you’re feeling depressed or anxious. It’s also helpful to create a strategy for dealing with flare-ups and bad days so your partner knows what they can do to help. “Tell the person how you’d like to be treated, and how you want that person to behave under those circumstances,” Bearden adds.
The fear of disclosure doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I’m more comfortable sharing my experiences with my partner because fortunately, he’s comfortable discussing his mental health with me. We’ve gotten to know each other slowly and gradually. Casual talks about depression, medications, and going to therapy happened organically and very early on—they’re parts of our lives that we both consider routine and typically uneventful.
We’re able to check in and let each other know if we’re struggling and after a good amount of practice, I’m able to be honest when my thoughts and emotions feel overwhelming or when I haven’t been following my mental health care routine. Knowing I don’t have to hide part of my life from someone I’m dating helps me feel stabilized and supported, even when I’m not at my best.
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Healing a Troubled Relationship
Having a relationship when you live with bipolar disorder is difficult. But it’s not impossible. It takes work on the part of both partners to make sure the marriage survives.
The first step is to get diagnosed and treated for your condition. Your doctor can prescribe mood stabilizing medications, such as Lithium, with antidepressants to help control your symptoms. Therapy with a trained psychologist or social worker is also important. With therapy you can learn to control the behaviors that are putting stress on your relationship. Having your spouse go through therapy with you can help him or her understand why you act the way you do and learn better ways to react.
“I think the more a partner can learn about these things, the better role he or she can play,” Haltzman says. “Being involved in treatment can really help make the treatment for bipolar disorder a collaborative effort. And it will actually increase the sense of bonding.”
Though you may want to crawl into your self-imposed cocoon when you’re depressed, and feel like you’re on top of the world when you’re manic, it’s important to accept help when it’s offered. “I think,” Haltzman says, “it sometimes helps to have a contract.” With this contract, you can decide ahead of time under which circumstances you will agree to let your partner help you.
For the spouse of the bipolar person, knowing when to offer help involves recognizing how your partner is feeling. “You really have to work at it to understand what the other person is going through,” McNulty tells WebMD. “And you have to be alert to their moods.” McNulty is now remarried to a woman who also has bipolar disorder. When one of them notices that the other is starting to slide into depression, he or she will ask, “How do you feel?” and “What do you need from me?” This gentle offering helps keep both partners on track.
Here are a few other ways to help relieve some of the stress on your relationship:
- Take your medication as prescribed. And keep all of your appointments with your health care provider.
- Take a marriage education class.
- Manage your stress in whatever way works for you, whether it’s writing in a journal, taking long walks, or listening to music. Try to balance work with more enjoyable activities.
- Stick to a regular sleep cycle.
- Eat healthfully and exercise regularly.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
If you ever think about hurting yourself or committing suicide, get help immediately.
The Love of My Life has Bipolar Disorder
Every girl who is looking for her Prince Charming always envisions a tall, dark and handsome man. Few descriptions of this person ever describe his mental condition; however, psychology tells us that if a person is tall, dark and handsome, the halo effect that we ascribe to him will automatically include intelligence, wit and mental stability. (If you are unfamiliar with the halo effect, it simply means that a person with one good quality is seen to have many good qualities.)
Few, if any women will ever achieve this perfect vision in their real lives. I have yet to meet the perfect woman on this earth, so we can assume that there is no such thing as a perfect man. Once I got over needing to have a cartoon as my life partner, I found the love of my life in a package much different than the Disney caricature.
Believe it or not, I actually met my husband at an AA meeting. His depressive state had caused him to use alcohol as a sort of self-medication. In many ways he was the most in need of help, but he always had the kindest words of encouragement for me and for others in the group. I asked around to see if his behavior changed just to get me on a date. Everyone said that this was his true personality, so I ended up asking him out.
After six months of dating, I knew that this was the man I was going to marry. He said that he knew from the second he saw me walk into the AA group, which is quite a romantic thing to say. He says very romantic things, which is another reason why I had to lock it down.
Part of the reason that I married him was that he let me know exactly how debilitating his condition was. With his doctor’s permission, he actually went off of his medication for a while in order to show me exactly what a worst-case scenario would be like. I chose him only after experiencing that episode firsthand.
We both wanted kids; we definitely had to agree on this point in order to get married. We decided that our various challenges would serve as a good example for our children. If they came out healthy, they would have no excuses. Both of us are very driven, and we wanted our children to be inspired by us and be driven in life as well.
Bipolar disorder is described as a set of behaviors that fluctuate wildly without any external provocation. Moods shift from extremely manic highs to extremely depressed lows. My husband’s bipolar disorder was not able to be diagnosed precisely, as many cases are not. However, our doctors and my gut say that it was partly from genetics and partly from a lack of nutrition early in his childhood. It certainly did not help that he grew up in a mildly abusive household in which no one really knew how to vent frustration in a proper way.
My husband, the true love of my life, deals on a day-to-day basis with bipolar disorder. Before we go into the reasons that this is difficult, we must go first into the character traits that made me want to marry him despite his mental disorder.
The spirit that I saw in this man as he dealt with his bipolar disorder was unshakable. The number one reason that he is my husband now is that no matter how he felt biologically that day, his service to other people never wavered. He gave the same to everyone whether he was feeling well that day or not. It was then that I learned the true nature of the spirit and that our bodies are truly just vessels for a much higher energy.
This is not to say that our marriage is without its problems, of course. The process that my husband must go through in order to overcome his mental weaknesses enough to serve society in the way he does takes quite a toll on me, his main source of daily support. At times, I am his mental punching bag.
It can be difficult to try to explain to my best friends from childhood that my husband truly does not mean to make me cry at family occasions and during holidays. Ex-boyfriends have physically confronted my husband about some of the things that he has said about me in public because of his bipolar disorder. Some of the things that he says while depressed are the exact same things that physically abusive husbands say to their wives.
Even as you read this, you are likely saying to yourself that I am letting love blind me and that I may even be in some physical danger. Believe me, this social pressure is an incredibly difficult ship to navigate, because while a bipolar person is depressed, the things that they say resemble abuse. If a so-called mentally healthy person said the same things, it would be abuse.
This is exactly why I would like to focus on the difference between dating someone with a mental disorder and someone who has the potential to abuse you and possibly end your life.
If you are dating someone with a true mental disorder, then that person should first be aware himself of his problem. If he has not sought out medical attention and given himself the potential for stability through medication or through a daily routine, then that person is not ready for you to date. For instance, if you are dating a mentally ill person who believes that he can get off his medication whenever he wants, this can be a dangerous situation. Leave it alone.
Secondly, a person with a mental disorder will also understand the social ramifications of his actions. My husband never made excuses for his behavior in front of people — he immediately returned to his doctor and worked out a medical program that would increase his stability. I did not have to cajole him to do this; he is well aware that the person he is when depressed does not deserve a caring wife. Abusive people say that they will change and do nothing.
Third, understand that dating or marrying a person with a mental disorder places you in a situation that many people simply will not understand. You may have to explain yourself over and over again to people who love you. You cannot become frustrated with this, as that frustration will creep back into your relationship and affect it negatively.
As women, we always prefer to be the ones with the freedom to emote; however, if you are planning on a serious life with a person who has a mental disorder, this is simply one of the sacrifices that love calls on you to make. Your partner will need your mental stability in order for the relationship to work.
Most importantly, you must be able to separate the mental illness from the person who is suffering from it. This is perhaps the biggest lesson that my relationship with my husband has taught me — the physical body is a slave to nerve endings and neurons and blood chemicals. The spirit, however, is completely separate. It is truly difficult to explain, but if you cannot fall in love with the spirit of a person through the noise of biology that a mental disorder creates, then you should immediately let that person go. The relationship will not go well for either of you.
My husband and I set up physical boundaries as well. For instance, it is agreed among our entire family that if my husband ever hits me for any reason, I am to immediately leave. We have this in writing. It is not a legal contract, but it is an agreement that is known to my entire family as well as his.
The bottom line is this: There are ways to overcome the difficulties that mental disorders bring to a relationship. True love will always find a way.
This post originally appeared on http://www.cupidslibrary.com
The Love of My Life has Bipolar Disorder