I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was fourteen. I’ve been in therapy since I was nine. When I was thirteen, I was hospitalized for the first time. I had a friend who “broke up” with me after that hospitalization because she couldn’t be around me anymore. Worrying about my depression and my self-harming was causing her to be depressed and was causing her grades to drop. By the time I was in high school, I was acutely aware that the only other person I knew who had bipolar disorder had been divorced multiple times. I knew that the divorce rate for marriages where one partner was bipolar were dismal. And so I automatically assumed that every relationship I had that ended, ended because of my bipolar disorder. I was in a constant state of flux, attempting to never tell my friends anything that wasn’t positive, binging on discussions about how I was struggling, and beating myself up for talking to my friends in the first place. I had convinced myself that only my therapist should know about my problems, and I was terrified that the moment I talked about my down and out moods with a romantic partner that the relationship was doomed.
Fast forward to 2014. There is one woman at the local church I attend who knows I have bipolar disorder am on disability. She knows because she mentioned that she wasn’t working at the moment, and I asked if she was on unemployment or disability. She responded with the latter and I excitedly told her that I was in a similar predicament. Sometimes going to church or attending choir rehearsals is overwhelming for me. I would love to have someone at the church with whom I could discuss this. I would love to have a person I could tap on the shoulder and say “I need to step out for a minute”. I would love to have a person who could build me up and say, “I’m really proud of you for overcoming your anxiety or suicidal thoughts and for being here.” I would love to have a person who knows not only that sometimes I don’t want to be hugged, but know the reason why I’m sometimes so uncomfortable being touched. But at the same time, I want to be able to have fun with my church friends. I don’t want the judgment. I’m sick of saying that I’m a housewife and not explaining why I don’t work, but I’m also sick of the pitying looks I get when I’m honest. I don’t want to drive people away, so I have this burdensome secret because I’m afraid of treating people like a therapist and opening up too much too quickly.
I know that last week I opined about learning to separate friendships. While this is a useful tactic for people who have mental health concerns, I think this is something most people do – we all have casual acquaintances with whom we enjoy spending time now and again but whom we don’t consider close friends. I wish it were easier to make those definitions. I wish I didn’t have this bubbling, broth-y secret soup threatening to overflow that seems like such a defining characteristic but that comes off as damaging as well. I wish I didn’t want to scream “I HAVE BIPOLAR DISORDER but will you still like me now that you know?” Because sadly, sometimes that answer is no. And I don’t know that a “no” is something I can deal with right now.