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Can Bipolars & Highly Sensitive People Find Sustainable Unconditional True Love? - My Own "Hopeful" Journey
On August 28, 2015, at 5:00 PM, I meet the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. Today, almost 13 months later, the question is, does she want to spend the rest of her life with me?
She is a stubborn Taurus with seemingly unmovable boundaries and in need of "me" days yet sensitive, incredibly sweet, beautiful inside and out and a middle school teacher.
I am an Aquarius (read giver), bipolar, a highly sensitive person (HSP), thinker, doer, humanitarian and founder of Hope Xchange Nonprofit and Hope Xchange Timebank. Given who we are, can we really be together forever?
I wanted to share how we have found unconditional love and have hopefully -- all body parts crossed -- figured out a way that works for us both to make each other happy and to give each other what we both need, despite the fact that I am hurting myself by loving her. Despite the fact that I'm bipolar. Despite each of our own imperfections.
I'm Hurting Myself By Loving Her - But It's Not a Show Stopper
I ask myself every day, is it fair to her to be with me? I ask myself every day, is it fair to me when I hurt myself by loving her? I love deeply because well I'm me - bipolar, HSP and an Aquarius - and that's just what I'm wired to do.
I watch how she struggles with dealing with the juxtaposition of meeting me when I was "balanced" last year and now trying to cope, to the best of her abilities, with dealing with me when I'm manic. As an HSP, it pains me. And, as a bipolar, I'm paranoid she will leave me when she sees me go through the inevitable depression that is to come.
Of course, if you're also bipolar, you know that I have no clue when that will be, something that is still very hard for me accept: not knowing how long the mania will last and not knowing when the unwelcome depression will rear its ugly head.
Like many people I've worked with in the bipolar community over the last 3 years and as a mentor in our bipolar-to-bipolar mentoring program, I'm creative, highly intelligent (Harvard grad), work way too much and give way more than I take; and, I'm totally okay with that as it works for me.
I'm also someone who has accepted my bipolar diagnosis and, for the most part and to the extent I can, I cope with the highs and lows (albeit how to best do so has come at a high price as my family and friends have watched me try and take my own life three times, have had to put up with some pretty extreme manic behavior and major dark bleak depressive episodes).
I know myself. I know I'm bipolar. I know I'm a highly sensitive person. I know I love her. I know she loves me. Yet, I feel myself every day feeling sorry for feeling like I've hurt her. And, wondering every day if she will forgive me. I find myself wondering every day if I'm worthy and deserving of her love. But, I also find myself wondering if she is worthy and deserving of mine. You see, friends, love is a two way street.
Love is True Way Street Regardless of Whether You're "Normal" or Bipolar
So, I ask, despite the fact that I'm hurting myself by loving her, can we together find true love and stay together? Here's what I've figured out about love and relationships. I can't expect her to love me unconditionally if I don't love her unconditionally. I can't expect her to make me happy if I don't make her happy too. It's hard when you're manic because many people perceive that you're in an "all about me" state as you set out to save the world (or whatever you tend to do when manic).
I also realize people don't change and that, in any healthy relationship, you're in for a world of hurt and disappointment if you expect them to. And, for damn sure, I know that I'm not going to change no matter how much I stomp my feet and mutter how unfair it is that I'm bipolar and a HSP too boot but I've also accepted that this is the way it will always be. I'm physically wired and have been since birth to be, well, me - the beautiful mess that I am.
And, I also know that she isn't going to change and I can't expect her to. I can, however, expect her to love me to the best of her abilities. And, I can expect her to try her hardest to make me happy. As, in return, I love her the best way I know how and I try every day to make her happy; and, probably try far too hard but that's just me.
So YES, Bipolars & HSPs Can Find & Do Deserve Unconditional Love
If you can get to a place where another person's happiness drives your own, that's a good sign. If you can get to a place where you're both able to communicate to each other what you need and what needs are currently going unmet, that's also another good sign, particularly if you're both asking each other questions like "what do you need from me to get through this?" "How can I help you better understand me?"
Don't get me wrong. Just because you're able to communicate what you need, you're not always going to get it because no one can give you exactly what you need 24/7. But, if you can get that when your expectations are dashed and you are hurt, it's not the other person's intention to do so, that's a also a very good sign. It's not that they don't love you; I think it's that they don't understand you. But, how can you expect them too?
Most people don't even understand themselves and that is just not people who are bipolar. Indeed, I would argue that those who are bipolar are more self introspective and know themselves more so than 'normal' people as we spend so much time inside our own heads. Me, way too much time inside my own head.
If you can get that's it hard not just for you as someone who is bipolar but also hard for the other person in the relationship, that's also a very good sign. You have to try and view it from each other's perspective.
She has taken the time to educate herself about what it's really like to be bipolar and I have tried to understand that this is all new to her. My amazing older sister has helped me to better understand what it must be like for her to meet a happy person who is balanced, healthy and in shape and to now meet a whole new person who is manic and (thank you Mother Nature) still in good shape, loves way too deeply and works way too much.
Don't Get Me Wrong - Our Relationship is Not Perfect
Make no mistakes about it, our relationship is far from perfect. But, is there such a thing as a perfect relationship? Of course not. No one is perfect all the time. And, we can't expect to be (well, unless we are a perfectionist like me!)
We do have communication and intimacy issues and, ironically, it was me going into mania that finally lead us to seek out couple's therapy. And, we are blessed as we have an amazing therapist. I would like to leave you with two pieces of advice Dr. Y recently gave us about how to improve communication and intimacy, if that is something you're also working on in your relationship and in case your partner is not amenable to couple's therapy.
Improving Communication & How To Stop Assuming You Know What Your Partner is Thinking!
If you're feeling like the other person is simply not hearing what you're saying, practice the following exercise, something you obviously both have to agree to do and then walk the talk. Over dinner, turn off all cell phones and put down your work.
Ideally, make dinner together and find a nice quiet place to sit and talk to each other. After you talk for 5 minutes, your partner has to repeat what he/she thought you said. We all assume that we know what each other is thinking. My friends, we don't get that right very often and, as a result, are hurt more than we need to be.
Dealing with Intimacy Issues?
Take a month off from having sex; and just touch, kiss, cuddle etc. Give each other massages, take showers and baths together and reignite how much you both enjoy just being together and remind yourself that you can find intimacy in other ways besides making love. Each day rotate who is the initiator.
So, while being far from perfect, we are working on our issues and we both are trying to make it work. Why? It's simple my friends - we love each other and isn't that what life is all about? Finding true unconditional and sustainable love and happiness. And this is why I believe that those who are bipolar can and deserve loving relationships. It's not impossible but you do have to work bloody hard at it! But it's so worth it.
In Closing ... When You Know It's Time to Get Your Meds Adjusted Again
You know it's time to go back to the doctor for another medication adjustment, when you wake up out of a dead sleep and write a very long blog post in an hour. And, as Natasha Tracy kindly advises me, blog posts can not be this long as no one will read this far! But, as another dear friend, Edge Brussels, reminded me last night, you have to be gentle and patient with yourself.
Oh, and yes, my beautiful girlfriend, on top of everything else, has to put up with with the fact that I share personal stories like this so she has to be gentle and patient with me too!
I believe we can help others, particularly those like me, know that they are not alone and that there is hope for us all. That is my mission in life: to help the bipolar community know that we're worthy, valuable and deserving of love, just like everyone else.
And, to Melanie, heartfelt thanks sweetheart for putting up with your "beautiful mess" and for loving me unconditionally, as I love you. And, heartfelt thanks to my therapist, Dr Y, who is one of the reasons I am still here today.
CEO & Founder, Hope Xchange Nonprofit