Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.
“So then, let’s make a go of it.” I said. “My jaw just hit the floor” she replied. I finally overcame the thought process that had crippled my capacity for happiness for years and put impossible requirements on positive results. Since early adolescence my understanding of love, risk and relationships has been awfully skewed. My first relationship reinforced the wrong-thinking that, if left unchallenged, would have left me alone forever.
My first (and only significant) relationship until now began when I was thirteen and ended when I was twenty six. In the wake of my dad’s death I began partying and at one particular party I met a girl who became my best friend. Eventually this friendship metamorphosed into a love affair and a declaration of devotion to each other. The relationship completely broke down after thirteen years and I was left emotionally crushed. This relationship and the love of my immediate family were the only two certainties I had permitted myself in all of that time; I was absolutely certain that we would have been together forever but like the house built on sand, our relationship founded on mutual needs and teenage infatuation could not weather the storm of adulthood and illness. The impossible expectation met with reality and it was, predictably, car-crash viewing.
My sister has never claimed to be book-smart. Indeed she isn’t. She is, however, the wisest person I know and her insight and intuition are beyond incisive; I always take my little sister’s council on anything important. She has tried to explain the above to me many, many times but my appreciation of ‘Love’ has always remained as the romantic, all-encompassing and illogical kind. My expectations of relationships have been forged in the fire of teenage hypomania and grief and until recently were completely unrealistic and impractical. I expected that when I met a person who was truly compatible with me I would immediately know it, the lightning bolt would strike me and it would be how my first relationship was. I stupidly expected to know within a day or two of meeting someone whether they were fit to fill the position left vacant when my last relationship burnt to the ground.
For one thing, as a friend recently explained to me, this cannot happen. Your first love affair will always stand like a monument devoted to the time you gave yourself over to someone else wholly and without any thought of preparation should the worst happen. Your first break-up, consequently, is like a death. The only difference between me and, probably, you is that my great, teenage love-affair ended when I was in my mid-twenties rather than mid-teens. The expectation to have repeat episodes of your first love affair is ridiculous and damaging and it will leave you forever unsatisfied whilst wondering why.
My friend went on to tell me, as my sister had done so many times before, that to expect a certainty in love is pure folly and that to deny yourself a chance of happiness because it might not work out and last ‘forever’ is a greater stupidity still. Another friend (also a font of abundant wisdom) had said that perhaps I was putting too many restrictions on my happiness. “I need someone tougher.” “I need someone softer.” “I need someone who x, y, z.” – If these thoughts are limiting your happiness and are born of negative thoughts you’ve had and projected onto the future – be suspicious. Likewise – when you start to use words like ‘Forever’ your suspicion should also be aroused. No thinking adult can honestly promise themselves to someone ‘Forever’. None of us have the gift of foresight.
All of the above have been absolutely right and, once again, my shortsightedness and wrong thinking have been brought into sharp relief. I recently put a stop to a casual relationship that I was engaged in. I had made a dear friend and we had begun sleeping together (Breaking rule number one, according to a lot of my friends), with no expectations but the continuation of our friendship and physical intimacy and companionship.
This relationship was founded on an inherently faulty ambition and both my friend and I began to expect something more from each other. We naturally settled into routines and behaviours that couples engage in. As this happened in front of me I panicked. I had told my friend at the very beginning (When I had known her for just over twenty four hours) that I wasn’t going to fall in love with her, and I laid out clearly all that could be expected of me because I was terrified of perpetrating accidental, emotional abuse. I wanted to be clear and honest on the point that the lightning bolt I was expecting hadn’t struck me. I caused serious hurt and confusion with this kind of naive, blunt honesty but I saw it as necessary. In retrospect I know that deciding I couldn’t fall in love with my friend within that time was evidence of wrong thinking just as now I know that ‘deciding’ this sort of thing AT ALL is patently absurd. It doesn’t matter.
My illness manifests partly as a continuous effort of self-improvement and introspection and this behaviour was seen as a boon in my last job. Consequently it was cemented as my primary modus operandi. I turn this analytical, mental Spanish Inquisition on everything I engage in automatically and I try and play life like a game of chess. I obsessively attempt to stay three moves in front of every possible outcome and to pre-emptively banish negative results. These kinds of thought patterns serve only to limit the enjoyment I have in the present moment because :
a) My attention is never completely here.
b) My brain will simply keep searching for negative outcomes if none are immediately forthcoming. I will ALWAYS find the drawback and reason to NOT do things.
This way of thinking is pure poison. In the case of my romance with my friend it meant that I could see dozens of immediate risks and possible negative outcomes.
“What if we eventually bore or irritate each other?”
“What if her PTSD and my Bipolar create a situation where we are easily overwhelmed?”
“What if I decide I want to move on and it hurts her?”
and most crucially:
“What if I hurt her? What if this doesn’t last ‘forever’ and I hurt her? How will I possibly deal with the guilt when I have entered into the relationship KNOWING of a risk of hurting her?”
When I broke up with my high school sweetheart, she attempted suicide. The guilt I felt from this was worse than anything I’ve known before or since. Afterwards I swore I would do ANYTHING to avoid that level of guilt. This extended to remaining single and was a completely overblown defense reaction. It discounts the other party’s ability to self-determine and make their own decisions and is probably evidence of some kind of latent chauvinism on my part.
I told my friend that I was getting mixed up and that we would need to stop sleeping together but that I desperately wanted to remain friends. She agreed, though it obviously hurt, and we began trying to go back on some of the routines we had gotten into. We didn’t speak as much and physical contact ceased completely. I was guilty of not telling the whole truth at this point. I had a concern that I didn’t air that my friend was too soft and good natured to be able to withstand my bad behaviours. I know the ridiculousness of attempting to change someone after getting together and I have often ranted and raved about the unfairness of that kind of behaviour. Ergo – I decided that I couldn’t commit properly in any way to my friend. I needed someone less likely to allow me to behave badly and she deserved a much ‘nicer’ person than me.
Spending time with my friend, not holding hands, not touching, not kissing and not holding each other was a source of frustration and profound sadness. Avoiding each other gave the same net result. I decided “friendship be fucked – I make her happy and she makes me happy, let’s enjoy it for what it is”. I have no idea how things will turn out, I don’t have residency in the country I’m in right now, I don’t have a career path laid out or any industry specific skills with which to ensure economic stability, I don’t even know what I really WANT from life and if I can get it here or with her.
Where I’m up to though is that the definite knowledge that she makes me happy RIGHT NOW trumps the lack of knowledge about hypothetical futures. Most people learn this fairly early, so what for me is a revelation may seem like tedious fact to you. I’ve turned a corner with this thinking though and so it has a place on this blog. I’m finally able to actively combat the part of my mind that DEMANDS assurances on the outcome of any particular endeavour. A development that is making me nervous and overjoyed in equal parts. It’s a scary kind of happy, but it IS happy – which is more than I can say for contentedly ruling out any potential happiness for fears of guilt and loss.
Do you shut yourself down without giving your future a chance? Do you distance yourself from someone with the condescending intention of not hurting them? Have you recently turned this corner too? I’d like to hear and hopefully learn from you.
All the best,