What they don't tell you about mental illness and relationships
Bipolar Disorder - Your stories
Rethink Mental Illness has a factsheet about mental illness and work. Our advice team can give you information about mental illness and housing. But what are important things to know about mental illness and relationships? Here Claire shares her story of love, vulnerability and bipolar...
"When people start seeing someone new, everyone is happy to give their two-pence worth on how best to handle that relationship. If you google ‘relationship advice’ you’ll find the Internet is full of similar suggestions.
Living with bipolar disorder, I was often told things like ‘it’s best not to rush into anything’ and ‘don't just blurt it out, get to know him first’.
The thing with mental illness is that there is no perfect time to tell your new beau that you are sick.
When I met Steve I broke all the rules. On our first date I talked about children, as in I didn't want them EVER! (Nor did he so we were good.)
Our second date was much more interesting. You see, I started seeing Steve at the height of a hypomanic episode. Not ideal dating territory. Our second date was to be my ‘crash pad’ evening. Mid-way through, all hell broke loose!
Goodbye fun, chatty, laughing, hyperactive Claire.
Hello Monster Claire.
I remember very little of this evening. I don't even remember how it started. I remember there was shouting, screaming, punches being thrown, but I couldn't say at whom or for what. I remember throwing my coat and purse in the Bristol docks. I remember self-harming, then I remember Steve talking me off a ledge, literally talking me off a ledge, I was ready to go into the river.
I also remember him saying some simple words to me after he had got me safely sat on a bench afterwards... ‘I don't care what's wrong, or how hard you push me away, I'm not going anywhere.’
That was in 2007, and he hasn't gone anywhere.
At first I resisted, and pushed, not because I didn't like him. But I felt like I didn't deserve someone so loving and caring. How could someone who lived with this illness deserve that much love?
I also hated putting him through the turmoil I put him through. I would rather lose him than to see the pain in his eyes when I'm sick and he can't do anything.
Over the years we've had to learn how to make our relationship work, because it's hard. Steve walks a fine line between ‘husband’ and ‘carer’.
He spends vast amounts of time making sure I'm eating, washing, drinking when depression has me in its grips. Or just as gently advising me that maybe I should slow down a little when I'm hypomanic, or trying to help me field the 'voices' or 'visions' when psychosis starts.
Despite this we take time to walk together, hold hands, talk honestly and openly about everything. If we didn't we couldn't survive. Like any relationship we have problems, but my bipolar is a minefield we now battle together, and it's made me calmer and more hopeful.
The thing I learned with Steve is that sometimes letting someone see the worst part of yourself is the best thing you can do."
You can read more from Claire at her blog www.BrizzleLass.co.uk. And check out our factsheets for more information about bipolar disorder and looking after yourself if you're a carer.