I often tell people that my first date with Michael didn’t go very well at all. I mean, I think he thinks it went okay.. But well… Okay here’s what happened..
It was the end of last March when our friends set us up on a blind date. He knocked on my door to take me to dinner and when he walked in and I saw him for the first time I said to myself, “Wow… okay. He’s beautiful. God I hope this doesn’t suck.”
We chatted for a bit as we were walking to the restaurant and getting to know each other. When I asked him about his work he told me, “I’m a butcher!” And I thought to myself, being vegan, “Okay STRIKE 1. Wow is this a joke universe?” But I just nervously laughed it off like, “Wow that’s … cool!” And I carried on with the date (he was beautiful so like… I’ll let one slide).
Dinner went well. He asked me his 3 famous questions that help break the ice on all dates and it had us talking from the beginning of dinner until all the way back to my apartment. I was thinking to myself, “Wow we have so much in common! This is crazy. So far so good!” And as we got to my apartment we chatted some more and I guess we were getting a little bit more comfortable with one another to the point where Michael really started opening up to me. He said to me, “Yeah I don’t ever see myself getting married. That’s just not something I want.” And I said to myself, “Lol strike 2. Is this a still a joke.” While nervously saying out loud, “Ohhh heh. Welp I guess a lot of people don’t these days!” And then he proceeds to tell me straight up, “I also suffer from Bipolar Disorder and Depression.” And my eyes just got huge, couldn’t help it, and I couldn’t even muster up anything to smooth it over. I was just like “Oh…..Kay…..Well….Dang.” And I immediately thought to myself, “I can’t date this person. I have never in my life dealt with depression or bipolar disorder, and I barely even deal with anxiety.” He then kept telling me about his suicidal past and how he’s overcome most of those parts of his life and I was just thinking to myself, “This dude barely knows me and he’s telling me this on the first date????! I can’t do this. I’ve never had a suicidal thought in my life? How can I even relate?” And he sees my reaction and just laughs. He said, “It’s okay haha. You don’t have to say anything. I’m super open about it. I’ve been dealing with this since I was 8 years old. This is who I am and I don’t try to hide it.” Which made me feel better, but I was already thinking to myself, “Yeah I don’t think I’m going to see this guy again.”
But…almost a year and a half later, we’re still together.
Let’s just touch base on the thought process I had towards the end of our date though. I was so ready to jump the gun on this guy I was so incredibly attracted to and interested in the moment he mentioned his mental health disorder. What?!!! Why was I so afraid of that? That sucks. I suck. I feel so shallow as a human being for thinking he wasn’t capable of being someone I could date JUST because of that. Even though, growing up, I had no experience with mental health disorders, not with friends, family, or myself, nor was I properly educated in it……I still, to this day, feel like shit for initially thinking that way.
From our first date and even up to this very moment, I feel like I’ve been in a very fast paced, crash course on mental health and everything that comes with it. And I’m not writing this blog post to come across to people that I now know everything… because oh my god I don’t at all. But I’m merely writing this to let people know who struggle with this in and out of relationships, that they are not alone. I want this blog post to be something you can read and either relate to, or learn from.
In my hardest moments with Michael, I would google and try to find answers that would validate my feelings when he would go manic or go into a depression. I would try to find articles from other people in relationships that would talk about their experiences and how they handle manic episodes or depression in their relationships and I couldn’t find anything at all except for tips and medication recommendations. All I wanted was a male or female point of view discussing what they were personally going through to see if it could help us, which is another reason why I felt this blog post might be helpful.
The first couple of months of dating Michael I never really saw any signs that he had bipolar disorder or depression. He told me this was because he was on such a high from dating someone new and being in a new relationship that he didn’t really have any down moments. It wasn’t until our trip to Italy where I experienced first hand what exactly it meant for a bipolar person to go full on “manic.”
First off, if you’re bipolar or dating someone that is… I’ve learned that you HAVE to have a good sleeping schedule. This is so important. If you don’t get adequate amount of sleep every single night it could trigger things such as anxiety and irritability.
Here’s how we both learned that sleep is super important for mental health..
Last July, being in Italy was Michael’s first out of country experience and we drove through the night from Little Rock to Houston to make it to our flight on time. We barely got any sleep on that drive and hopped on a plane for roughly 16+ hours where Michael still didn’t get enough sleep. Then when we got to Italy, it was morning time there and night time back home, and I wanted to walk around and explore (I’m an energizer bunny when it comes to stuff… Michael is not haha). Michael did what I wanted to though but after a few hours of walking around in the blistering heat on no sleep and then coming back to our AirBnb with NO A/C really did it for him. He started getting irritable when we got back, we started arguing which was unlike us, and then it caused me to see a side of him I’ve actually never seen. Keep in mind, at this point we had only been dating for THREE MONTHS and I couldn’t understand why he would be yelling about nothing, why he was so pissed off over the smallest things, and why he couldn’t just calm down.
——And that’s the thing I’ve learned the most. Never tell a manic person to, “Just calm down.”
While I was in another room keeping to myself, he was off on his own and threw his phone and broke it in the middle of a foreign country. All I could do was sit there and just cry in the spare room. I thought to myself, “Wtf have I gotten myself into? Why am I with this person?? He’s so irrational!!! I can’t deal with this! He’s angry about sleep and heat and we are in a beautiful place!” But that’s the thing, he has zero control over how he feels when he’s manic. He literally can’t “calm down,” he HAS to either blow up and let it out or something has to put him to sleep somehow.
I remember I was frantic and texting two of my best friends, two of the only people I know who have somewhat dealt with this, and the biggest and best advice I’ve received was, “Just don’t leave him.” So I didn’t. I stayed there, with moderate distance of course, and waited it out. I waited for that tense and thick energy to calm down and for him to come to me and tell me wtf that was (keep in mind- I didn’t know this was a manic episode at the time). When he came to me, he was crying and he was apologizing a million times. He couldn’t believe what he had just put me through. I told him I wasn’t sure if I was the right person for him to be with and that I just wasn’t sure if I could handle things like this. He completely understood if I wanted to end things but that he would also gladly get on bipolar medication if that’s what I wanted. He didn’t want to put me through something like that again.
Now- keep in mind. Even at Michael’s worst, which it has been worse than Italy, he has NEVER made me feel unsafe, he has never caused any physical harm to me or my things, or even verbally abused me. So, if you’re dating someone who is bipolar and they have caused physical or emotional abuse to you…. this blog post isn’t for you. No mental disorder makes it okay for you to hurt others, and you shouldn’t be with that person.
The rest of the Italy trip and all throughout the next few months, things were fine and I told Michael that I didn’t want him to take bipolar medication. He told me he’s tried all the popular ones out there (he’s been dealing with this since he was 8) and he’s always hated how they made him feel. And after doing research and people saying most medicines turn you into a complete zombie along with other intense side effects, I didn’t want that. I love happy, goofy, charismatic Michael that tells dad jokes and has bad dance moves and I didn’t want that to change. With our decision to not do the medication route I knew I would have to deal with the consequences of manic episodes but I loved this person and I was willing to learn as much about this as possible and see if I could handle it.
Months went by with no manic episodes really and the rest of our year was moderately normal. I mean, we had a few road bumps and arguments (duh)… but nothing like Italy.
At the beginning of 2018 we had both experienced something I never thought I (or even we) would go through. One of my best friends at the time had stolen all of my cash savings ($10,000) from me. I remember in January, the morning I found out, I collapsed on the floor and cried for hours. I just knew who it was immediately. I had to contact police, go through so much stress, fear, doubt that I would get my money back, legal strains, detective work, everything…for months. I was also in the process of using that money to put towards some financial goals and dreams I had and since that money was stolen, my dreams were put on a hold and I ended up having to back out of what I wanted to do.
In the middle of January, right after she stole my money, we carried on with our plans for Michael’s birthday and went to the Terlingua desert, one of Michael’s favorite spots. At that point we both needed to get away from what was going on because the entire money situation had put so much stress on our relationship.. so much that I was crying every single night, my trust for literally everyone around me was gone, and I was completely blocked off emotionally.
During our trip, we were both sitting around a bonfire in the desert talking about what happened and I remember we were wrapped in blankets (we somehow managed to go to the desert in the middle of a random cold front). As we were talking about everything that happened, I looked over at him and he was crying. He randomly said, “I love you so much and I could never leave you.” And I just couldn’t believe that after everything we had been through, that THAT’S what he said to me. I was expecting him to basically say the opposite because I was completely stressed out and irritable for weeks at this point.. so it was mind blowing that that’s what he chose to say to me. Michael was a complete rock for me through all of that and it somehow made our bond stronger. After all the times he’s had to lean on me that entire year, he completely came through for me on this one. I remember him literally picking me up off the floor because I was crying so hard when I discovered my money was missing and he was just holding me, saying that we will get the money back, and that I will be able to push through this. It was as if him seeing me so weak sent his emotions into an overdrive.
And by the way…we did win. We won that fight a couple of weeks ago (!!!!!!) and justice was definitely served after 7 long months.
It wasn’t until we moved into our new place together that I really got to see bipolar disorder in a new light and how it was going to take a new toll on our relationship.
Stress was getting to us from moving, needing to buy new furniture for our place, busy schedules, lack of sleep from devoting hours into painting and moving from apartment to house, traveling, having to be more social with family and friends coming over to see our new place, etc. It was all starting to add up ….especially with Michael.
The first week of moving in together we were arguing SO much that it was becoming unbearable. It was like the smallest thing would send him over the edge and I couldn’t handle it. Even after finally getting settled in, having our sleep schedules back, our place coming together, and time to ourselves… NOTHING was going right. I was doing everything I could to understand but these string of arguments were so new to me that I couldn’t figure out WHAT exactly it was that was causing him to feel the way he was feeling.
It wasn’t until I finally had enough, to the point where I was on the brink of calling it quits, that I realized what exactly needed to be done to help our relationship. I had to go back to the basics and remember what we have both learned so far about his bipolar disorder. We’ve learned that the top triggers for Michael’s manic episodes are stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep. And after re-realizing that, I was like, “Oh…yeah! Omg.”
I remember reading online that bipolar disorders are super manageable in relationships if you have the help of therapy but I never thought too much on it until we started fighting consistently. After that I realized, “Wait… we don’t want to treat his bipolar disorder.. but what about his anxiety??? That won’t change his personality and it will probably help him feel a lot better in his day to day and help him ease up over the small things.” After it getting to a certain point that we both couldn’t handle, Michael felt like therapy and anxiety medication could really help.. and after finding the right doctor and medication for him.. it has worked WONDERS for us!!!!! Seriously. I will recommend it to all couples experiencing this. It’s like our relationship did a complete turnaround and our day to day has been drastically better ever since. Anxiety sucks and I’m so glad Michael doesn’t have to deal with it as bad as he once did. It’s definitely still there, because it’s who he is, but it’s now manageable.
I will say this for couples dealing with mental health in relationships: Alcohol is the WORST. I can’t speak too much on this because Michael quit drinking several months before we met and he refuses to get drunk ever again (thank god). But he has told me that the most suicidal and darkest times in his life was when he was drinking heavily. Alcohol does nothing good for you if you are dealing with mental health and I can’t imagine how terrible it would have made situations for us if Michael did drink. There’s no way it would be helpful to the obstacles we’ve had to face together. You need to be sober, you need to be active, you need to be focused on things you love to do, you need to be healthy mentally and physically, and you need to constantly be surrounded by people who love and support you.
Up until last week, Michael had been “hypo-manic” for over a month. This is where you’re running on 110% of energy constantly and having the unhealthy tendencies and behaviors of being manic, but somewhat being able to control them. So it’s like a mild case of being full on manic. I can always tell when Michael is in this stage (it happens often) because his speech changes, his energy levels are higher, he can’t finish his words sometimes, he focuses on new random things out of nowhere, and he feels like he needs to buy random things.
It’s super possible to be hypo-manic without going manic, if that makes sense. It comes in waves. You just have to be cautious of your activities and what you say, basically. I try to not over exert Michael in a lot of social activities because it will wear him out and I try to be very selective at what I complain about when it comes to things around the house. And this may seem like a lot to think about and worry about, but it’s seriously not. I literally couldn’t care less that I have to watch these things and be cautious. When you love someone it just becomes second nature that you have to be aware of things like this.
Last week, during this hypo-mania, we had the worst week of our entire relationship. Worse than Italy. Worse than anything we’ve been through. And it all started because I frustrated the house wasn’t clean. (My version of clean and Michael’s version of clean are two very different versions haha).
Like I said, I’m usually cautious about what I complain about during this time but I also have my moments, too.
Without going into too much detail, my complaining about the house being dirty sent him over the edge enough to make him spiral into a manic episode that was as bad as it had been since he lived in Memphis and drank heavily. He was so pissed at himself for letting something so small cause him to be THAT angry. He had to get as far away from me as possible, left the house, came back, slept in a different room that night, cleaned the entire house the next day, left, came back, and the mania was still bad. This lasted for about 36 hours instead of just a few hours like it usually does and we barely spoke the entire time. I couldn’t say anything helpful to him… I was so pissed, again, that I was dealing with this especially after I felt like we had come so far.
To get him out of this mania that was starting to feel like forever, his doctor recommended he take a medication called Seroquel to knock him out of it… and it did.. sort of. It immediately put him to sleep several times throughout the day and he went to sleep at 7pm and slept until 8am the next day. The only bad thing was that the side effects put him in a full on depression the next morning and we had plans to go to Chicago to see Michael’s favorite band perform. So after experiencing what felt like 2 full days of a manic episode and then now having to handle depression, we were both just trying to keep our head above water and I had a mental breakdown. I felt drained and helpless because it felt like all the good parts of our relationship and everything we had built emotionally since we moved in together had just come crumbling down. I felt like I was back at square one and I was so exhausted with dealing with this.
As much as I want to go into detail about how bad last week was, I feel like it’s something that’s so hard to put into words. But imagine the worst fight you’ve ever had with someone about the dumbest thing you’ve ever fought about and then add bipolar disorder and divide it by a manic episode and then you have exactly what we went through.
I went from angry to numb the morning of Chicago. I felt defeated emotionally and I knew he did too.
In our spare bedroom I just laid there with my face in my hands and he came and just laid there next to me. We were both so drained.
I laid there and thought about a lot. I thought about the idea of what it would be like to date someone who didn’t have bipolar disorder and for some reason that just didn’t really appeal to me. Despite everything we have gone through, I never TRULY felt like leaving Michael would be the best option for me. I don’t know why. It could be love. Or it could be because Michael is, without a doubt, the best boyfriend I have ever had in my entire life and the only “baggage” he has… is this.
Last week only reminded me that we have such a long way to go. Michael felt so lost because we both thought taking anxiety medicine, going to therapy, and reading even more about it would be the cure to him having manic episodes and we were wrong. Everything was going so great for so long but it still happened… and we were stupid for thinking it would just disappear.
When I felt like I was completely done and drained.. I got us up and we went to Chicago. I needed us to both focus on something else, like this trip, and to be in a new environment to see if that would help our relationship. And it did.
Michael told me he silently prayed on that drive for the first time since he was a kid. He was so worried that he was going to lose me after how the past few days had been and we were both an emotional wreck.
We barely spoke the entire 10 hour drive to Chicago but when one of us would grab hold for the others hand we wouldn’t let go for what felt like forever each time.
Being in a new environment with a different head space definitely helped us. I had been thinking about the past week a million times over and over again until it just consumed me. It wasn’t until we were standing in the middle of a dive bar in Chicago at 11pm that night that I realized what I needed to realize all along.
I realized that this is something we will always have to deal with. When it comes, we just have to accept it. We don’t need to try to “fix” it, we don’t need to expect it to be gone, we don’t need to do anything except for prep ourselves and get better at dealing with it every time. This is who Michael is. Bipolar disorder is not something that we have a cure for.. so why are we trying to focus so much of our relationship on thinking we can cure it ourselves? Manic episodes, mood swings, the suicidal thoughts and feelings are absolutely terrible and I wish so badly he didn’t have to experience it but there’s nothing he can do about it and there’s nothing I can do about it. All I can do is learn how to better handle it each time it happens and learn new and proper ways to be there for him when it does. This is just something we will have to come face to face with at random times in our relationship.
I got this. I can do this. He can do this.
Even though I’ve talked a lot more on bipolar disorder than I have depression, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. There are three major signs that happen immediately on the mornings where I know Michael is going to be depressed that day. The first one is if he sleeps longer than me. The second one is if his arms feel weak or heavy. The third one is if his appetite is gone.
How I try to understand depression is I try to compare it to the worst breakup imaginable. I think of the worst breakup I’ve been through and I think about how I was so emotionally down/drained that I couldn’t get off the couch for what felt like months. Again, I know depression is a league of its own but when I imagine one of the hardest emotional experiences I ever had and what it did to my energy and mood.. that’s the best way I can put myself in Michael’s shoes so I can better understand and be there for him.
In the beginning of our relationship I handled his depression TERRIBLY. Like I said, I have never dealt with it personally with myself or my friends or family. I remember one time he was laying in bed, so emotionally down out of nowhere, and I was trying my best to put him in a good mood by just smiling at him and trying to be goofy. That was probably the worst thing I could have done and it only made things worse. I learned very fast that if your partner is depressed, that’s just how that day is going to be. All you can do is be there for them and love them. You don’t have to be sad too, and you don’t have to stop what you’re doing or how you’re feeling, you can just be there. Listen to them, love them, and know that it will pass. Because it will. It just will.
There was one time in particular that I got to experience first hand Michael’s depression and what depression does to people. Michael and I wake up every morning around 7:00 (Michael usually wakes up at 6:30 or before me and plays around on his phone until I wake up) but on this particular day he slept until 8:30… and I knew something was off. I sat next to him on his side of the bed and tried to sweetly wake him up and he started moaning. He said to me, “My entire body hurts, Stephanie. I can’t get up. I can’t do this. Please.” I said, “Do you want me to leave?” And he said, “No.” I said, “Okay here’s what we can do… I’m going to get you dressed and we are going to walk and get coffee together. How’s that sound?” I got a long pause from him along with a sigh and he said, “Okay, I’ll try.” After he got up and got dressed, we walked around outside and to our favorite coffee shop — Meteor Cafe.
(Now, I’d like to say that Michael and I have a better hold on his depression now with some home remedies that were also applied to this walk to the coffee shop. It’s not exactly something we are comfortable sharing yet though, but hopefully one day we can when/if it can ever become legal).
After walking around for a little bit Michael looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Thank you. I needed this today.. so bad. I love you so much.” And I’ll never forget that moment. That’s when I realized to myself, “Okay.. maybe I can handle this.”
I don’t want this blog post to be something that shows to everyone, “Omg we are going to get married and be together forever yayyy!” No. It’s just that in this year and a half of being together I have learned and gained so much respect for mental health and I absolutely needed that. Everyone needs to be more educated on mental health and what it’s like to go through this. I am SO THANKFUL for Michael for many reasons but especially this. I am so glad that I am now no longer blind to how serious mental health is and what it does.
Big thank you and shout out to Myranda Randle for taking these photos of us in our first real place together. I’ll forever cherish these.