Who’s got the problem?

Years ago, my boyfriend and I were in couples therapy. He was cheating on me. I didn’t know that yet. He said he was doubting our relationship. I didn’t understand why. He told the therapist: “I’m having doubts about the bipolar disorder.” He looked at the therapist and not me when he said this.

He then went on to talk about all the reading he’d been doing about bipolar disorder, about what might happen with our children down the road, about all the things the internet told him about this disease and its dark corners.

What’s most strange about that conversation, looking back at it, is that my boyfriend had so many mental health issues himself: alcoholism, a panic disorder, perhaps some kind of personality disorder. He didn’t own his illnesses, he suffered in silence, and he didn’t take care of himself.

But in that therapist’s office, as presented by my ex-boyfriend, it seemed crystal clear that I was a liability in that relationship.

As it turns out, everyone has problems. The diagnosed, the undiagnosed, and all the onlookers.


Bipolar Dating

When you’re bipolar you never really leave your disease behind. It’s always with you, memories of moods gone too far up or too far down stuck to your ribs like indelible tattoos punctuating frailties you will never outgrow or out master.

Dating his hard. It’s a tiresome performance, a one-woman-show all about you at your most charming packed with stories you’ve told so many times you know how long to pause for a laugh, an understanding nod.

Sometimes, you forget you’re bipolar. Most of the time, you don’t.

If you like the guy, you wonder, how many dates before I say something?

You fear being judged. All the while, you judge too. You judge and you wonder: is this the kind of guy who could handle me at my darkest hour?

Tonight, I’m going on a third date with a guy who seems to be made of stuff that might be able to handle me and my disease. I don’t know why I’ve bestowed this strength upon him. It’s just a gut instinct. A feeling. A judgement I can make long before I expose myself to the kind of judgment that arises when you tell someone you live with mental illness.

We all have things we hide, vulnerabilities, fears, doubts, foibles. I never want to apologize for who I am. This date tonight will most likely be one more in a series of near-misses. The spark won’t ignite and we’ll go our separate ways. He may think to himself, when bipolar disorder comes up in conversation or in the news, that he never knew anyone bipolar.

By then, I’ll be long gone, on my way towards finding a guy who, someday, some way, I’ll be able to tell.



On Quelling Obsessive Thoughts

All too often, I obsess.

If I could get paid for the time I’ve spent ruminating over conversations and wondering what’s going to happen next, I’d be a billionaire.

Tonight, I’m fixated on a date I had last night. I went out downtown. The date went well: good conversation, a bit of flirtation. We walked outside and I expected this guy to say, “I’d love to see you again.” Or something like that. Instead he sad, “Let me know if you want to hang out again.”

Um…OK. Not exactly sure what to do with that kind of ending. Today I thought, maybe he’ll text. He didn’t. Work distracted me, but tonight that text-I-never-received is all I can think about.

I know these are common post-date worries.

But my brain seems to take the concern and heat it up until the boiling obsession bubbles into every single one of my brain cells. I do stupid things like google “should a woman text a guy after the first date?” and read websites that advocate rules I don’t believe in.

Years ago, I would have kept going. Kept riding “the crazy train” as my friend L call is– reading websites about the scenario, texting friends, replaying scenes in my head.

Now, I work on shutting it down with the following tactics:

  1. Notice that I’m obsessing.
  2. Accept what I’m doing–it’s OK. No need to beat myself up.
  3. Write about it. Journaling always helps me.
  4. Redirect the neuroses. Find a distraction. Anything–doodling, cooking, napping.
  5. Forgive myself if I start up again.

You can be bipolar and healthy. That’s a fact.

I’ve given this blog a new subtitle related to “living well.”


Because I want to play whatever part I can in making sure the world starts to realize that those of us diagnosed with a mental illness are not necessarily “ill.” Who is everyone? I don’t know: maybe the news media who talk about mental health and gun control in the same breath so often you’d think we are all–god forbid–violent; maybe people who say bipolar when they mean ‘crazy,’ maybe my ex-boyfriend.

What a strange concept: that you can have a mental illness and not be ill.

But it’s the truth.

I live a healthy life. And I have bipolar disorder.

This is possible: for me, for you, for anyone who has access to support and treatment.

Can you relate? If so, that’s fantastic. If you are suffering: know this: it gets better.

When Bipolar Disorder Meets PMS

cryingfromflickrYesterday, I cried on the platform of Metro North a few minutes before the train arrived to pick up me and my boyfriend and bring us to meet my parents and sisters for dinner. There wasn’t anything terribly wrong, except I’d bought my sisters presents and he had forgotten to bring the shopping bag with him.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m such a dummy.”

“It’s fine,” I told him.

But then I looked away, and I just started to well up with sadness. I’m not normally one to get mad about something as insignificant as a shopping bag left at the apartment, but all of a sudden, there on the platform yesterday, his forgetting of the gift was in my mind indicative of a larger problem in our relationship. I was irrationally angry at him. And even though I knew the anger was irrational, I felt it as deeply as any anger I’ve ever felt. I also felt a clawing sadness inside my chest because everything felt wrong. I didn’t want to go to dinner. I hated my job. My co-workers, for the most part, were completely incompetent. Let’s face it: my whole life was a disaster.

One thing I did know, and I knew this yesterday–in the back of my mind– when I wrote a post about moods and bipolar disorder (though I wasn’t really admitting it), was that I was about to get my period.

Back when I was too young to understand what a period really was, I remember my mother standing in front of the sink washing dishes in a state of sadness, telling me that she was going to feel fine “the minute she got her period.” I think I was around ten years old at the time, and I sort of knew what a period was, but not really. It had something to do with going to the bathroom and blood. But I couldn’t fathom what it had to do with making her feel better. Years later, after my late-bloomer body decided to finally deliver my period to me months after I earned my driver’s license, I still didn’t understand what she meant.

It wasn’t until I was out of college that I began to suffer from PMS and experience the strange feeling of overwhelming relief, as if the heavens had opened up and delivered me into this hallowed hall of happiness, where my pulse quickened with creative energy and the cobwebs in my mind cleared away, that I understood what she meant. Life sucked, and then I got my period and it was better again. My other bipolar mood swings felt unpredictable, but this was one I could count on.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I was managing as best I could with medication. With the help of a patient boyfriend, I got enough sleep to not let my flights into hypomania get so out of hand that I lost my job or did something really stupid. But we had very loud, overblown fights in the first year of that relationship. At one point, as I flew into a rage about something insignificant, he said, “Have you noticed we almost break up every month, right before you get your period?”

What he said hit me right in the gut because I’d never considered breaking up. But he was clearly suffering as much as I was.

With the help of a good gynecologist, I went on a birth control pill that worked for a number of years to calm down my previously stormy PMS. And with the help of my psychiatrist, extra Wellbutrin in the morning the week before my period helped boost my mood and keep the PMS at bay. That worked for a while. But since then I’ve switched birth control.

About a year ago, I tried the NuvaRing. It worked like a charm for a while, and then it didn’t. I found myself sobbing for no reason, wanting to pick fights with everyone, right before it was time to take the ring out at the end of my cycle.

The funny thing about living with bipolar disorder and PMS is that, like cousins raised in separate countries, the two disorders, syndromes–whatever you want to call them– are related, yet so different. When I’m in a depression, I slow down and feel a kind of existential pain that makes it hard to understand how anyone even makes it from one day to the next because life is so dark and meaningless. When I have PMS, it’s like depression, spiked with mania. I’m angry and sad. And it’s a different kind of sadness, a sadness that’s so close to the surface, it bubbles up at a moment’s notice.

The smallest incident–a shopping bag left at home–leads to sobbing.

And so last month I switched from NuvaRing to a birth control pill called Loestrin. This is only my first month on the new pill. The specialist doctor I saw who prescribed this told me the end of the month might be rough like this, and that if it proved to be this way for a couple months, we could start a routine where I just skip the placebos all together so I don’t have any hormone dip at all.

For now, here I am, this morning, able to write this with a feeling of relief. Because as it turns out–and I know this is too much information, but I think it’s relevant– I got my period this morning.

Was it all just hypomania?

Here’s the problem with this disease.  (Is it even a disease?? Sometimes I don’t know what to call it.) Anyhow, the problem is that you’re constantly second guessing yourself. You never know if your emotions are “you” or a symptom of your mood.  For that reason, you never really know who the f you are.

I went to therapy this morning. I talked about H, about these past few months, about how horrible they’ve been. “I was kind of depressed,” I told my doctor. She disagreed. She thought I was agitated. Obsessed. She thought I seemed hypomanic. I know that she wants me to increase the Depakote. She didn’t say it, but I could tell.

A short history of me and this drug:
I’ve been married to Depakote for 10 years. When I first took it, I think they had me on something like 1500 mg.  I gained close to 30 pounds. I developed a tremor so terrible I couldn’t eat soup or hold a cup of coffee.  Eventually, I tapered the Depakote down to 500 mg, and I’ve taken that with a cocktail of other medications for many years.  But, back in July, after a blood test  showed that the 500 mg of Depakote was “subtherapeutic,” I increased my dosage to 750 mg. In less than a month, I gained 15 pounds.  My  doctor tried to claim that maybe I was gaining weight because I was just “getting older.” This was the most ridiculous thing she’s ever said to me.

I mean, yes, I’m thin, and so I think it’s annoying to other women when I complain  about my weight because when I gain 10 or 15 pounds, I only go up to a size 4 or a size 6.  But everyone should be sympathetic to the fact that it sucks to suddenly not fit into your clothes because of a medication.  Unfortunately, it’s a side effect I can’t really handle. So after going up to 125 pounds, I went back to the 500 mg.  And the obsession with H happened at that same time. Now, the subtext of the therapy today–I think–was that had been more medicated, maybe I would have had things under control.

But really? Could this possibly be true? Could these past three months have just been me hopped up on hypomania? Would I have been a little bit heavier but a lot saner if I’d just stayed on the 750 mg?  I have to say that I feel duller, less creative, not as exciting when I’m on the 750 mg. I don’t feel as much in general.  And I think that I was obsessive about H because he never called me back, because he didn’t pay attention to me.  More Depakote wouldn’t have made him call me back! More Depakote wouldn’t have changed the fact that it just sucks when a guy ignores you.

Still, I’m second guessing everything. I wish I had a stronger sense of self.  I wish I could say, definitively, this is me, not the mania. Not the disease. But I can’t.


I feel old, at thirty. I feel as if when I was first working at P, there was this power I gained every time someone made the mistake of thinking I was one of my students, of thinking I was still in high school. There was power in being twenty-two, in having that stretch of possibility that was my twenties extending out in front of me.

Now I’m looking back on this decade and I don’t know what happened. It’s been four years since M and I broke up. Four years and I’m still doing the online dating thing, still going to sleep by myself, still sleeping with idiots who I don’t care about, who don’t care about me.  I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, and I’m also too hard on myself to recognize anything that I might be doing right.

Meanwhile, my relationship with H finally ended just before the new year after I finally accepted that he just, to use the cliched phrase, was not that into me. I’d spent months and months waiting for his phone calls, for his texts, for his e-mails. There would be small bursts of communication from him and then nothing, and I was totally consumed by him. I couldn’t see my way out of it. Couldn’t see that I was miserable, that he had done nothing to make me happy. Of course, I know that I need to look to myself to find happiness, not to someone else.

Still, there is this hope, deep within me, that I will be able to find someone.

Last night, I sent this guy an e-mail who looks kind of lame, but I thought, at least he’ll e-mail me back and then we can go on a date and it will be something to do this weekend.  I awoke to an empty inbox. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, and I also don’t know why I’m so craving the attention, why I can’t be happy on my own.  I feel as if not having someone else to go to sleep with means I’m not anchored, means I’m adrift.

I also hate that I still miss M. That I was thinking about him last night, wishing he was beside me. It’s so cliché. It’s so predictable. I’ve missed him for four years. He will never want me back.