BIPOLAR ESCAPISM: PUSHING PEOPLE AWAY & DISAPPEARING

When a person in a relationship—whether platonic or romantic—has bipolar disorder, the symptoms can often affect both people. These interferences will arise in a variety of situations—whether manic or depressed—and they will manifest differently based on the personalities of the persons involved and the situation at hand.

One thing I have noticed across the board, though, in both my personal life and the lives of the bipolar individuals around me, is what I’d like to call an escapist tendency. This tendency can manifest in any mood or altered state, but I see it creep up most often in romantic relationships—particularly when the relationship seems to be going a bit ‘too well.’

I know—that doesn’t really seem to make sense. If things are going well, isn’t that good? Yeah, of course it is. But for people with bipolar disorder, for those of us who are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, being in a romantic relationship that makes us so incredibly happy also often reminds us that there is a big downswing waiting just on the other side. Because we live cyclically. And that’s destructive thinking, yes, but, sometimes, we can’t pry ourselves away from it because it’s all we’ve ever known. Up, then down. Up, then down. Over and over again. And the more encompassing the high, the mightier the fall.

So, when things are really good? We have a tendency to run. Because it’s better to remove ourselves from the situation than it is to watch such a beautiful thing come crashing to the ground, right? Especially if we feel that wonderful thing is crumbling because of us and the way that we exist.

What I’ve noticed, then, is that, instead, we disappear. We push people away, and then we exit their lives slowly—casually. Or, we forgo the pushing them away stage and just straight-up ghost them, leaving them to wonder whether or not we were ever even real. And while that is nowhere near fair to the people that this keeps happening to, I cannot say that it makes us any less prone to be “runners.”

I don’t think any of us ever look at leaving as an attempt to harm the other person. We’re just trying our best to survive, and, sometimes—with our minds the minefields that they are—escaping feels like the only way how.

Loving Bipolar

Now, by the title, you may think that this article is about learning to love your bipolar diagnosis, and, in a roundabout way, it sort of is. But more so, this piece serves as a reminder that having bipolar disorder does not make you unlovable.

Content warning for parental abuse and neglect in the first paragraph and for mildly graphic mentions of self-harm and suicide at the end of the first paragraph; mentions of death and domestic violence in paragraph three.


Some backstory:

When I was young, my biggest fear is that I would grow up to be exactly like my bipolar mother. And this scared me, not because of her diagnosis, but because of how she behaved. She did not take medication. She did not go to therapy. I watched as she pushed every person in her life away and then cried. She manipulated people. She abused drugs and alcohol, often to the point where she chose those things over her own children. I was neglected and traumatized. At age eleven, I even watched her slit her own wrists and listened to her tell me that if I left in response, she would kill herself. And the last thing I ever wanted was to have kids because I couldn’t bear the thought that I could ever even possibly make them feel half as bad as I did.

As I drifted through life from age twenty-one to age twenty-seven, I lost my ability to self-validate, and I forgot exactly how I used to self-soothe. I was, instead, dependent on others for consolation and for authentication, and, while I was aware of how unhealthy that was, I didn’t know how to stop it.

At twenty-seven, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, too, and the fear that I would “end up exactly like my mother” resurged—only this time, it sprung to life with bonus atrocities because now, I also feared for my relationships. My mom was in an on-again-off-again abusive one until she died. My examples of relationships, then, showed me that “people can’t love me without being intoxicated” and that “no one ‘normal’ will love me because I’m ‘crazy.’” I internalized these from a young age and carried them with me through adulthood. It was only with the help of therapy and medication that I was able to unlearn those negative thoughts and begin to relearn healthier ones. That said, small parts of me still very much hated other, much larger parts of me. And, with all of my self-discontent, I couldn’t see how anyone would want me. Because dating people with bipolar disorder, I thought, was a life-sentence. I knew that it was difficult, excruciating—even, from both first- and second-hand experiences, and because of that, I knew that if I didn’t have bipolar disorder, there was no way in hell that I would ever date someone who does. That warped thinking came from a special form of self-loathing.

Fast forward to twenty-eight:

I have just suffered a hellacious ankle injury that left me immobile for months. I’m going through the worst depressive episode of my life after a year-long manic episode, and my partner—whom, for months, I had been absolutely petrified and paranoid was going to break up with me because of my mood disorder—breaks up with me because she cannot “handle” me now that I’m so “down.” Cue: homelessness and the sad reassurance that everything awful I feel about myself must be true.

But I’m almost done with university, and I have friends who—thankfully—will always have my back. So, I keep showing up. Despite this gaping pit of depression I can’t seem to claw my way out of, I continue going to classes. Most of them. Somehow, I do my course work, even if it’s not 100% my best work. I let it come down to the wire, and then I force myself to write my 74-page capstone. I keep going to therapy. Every session. I keep taking my medication—every day, like clockwork. I am on autopilot, and while I do not feel even the slightest bit human, I am, surprisingly, still managing my life in a way that does not lead directly to destruction.

Until I met him, and then…suddenly, I didn’t have to just “manage” anymore. You see, E’s the first person I’ve ever been interested in who also has bipolar disorder. And while I was not looking for him, he still found me—as love often does.

In his bones, I found shelter—not from the outside world, but from myself—and with his unknowing aid, I unraveled parts of myself that I thought were so far gone I would never see them again. Through his words, I discovered that I was capable of restitching the fragments of myself that I used to keep hidden away beneath my floorboards. As he grew, I grew, and as he learned, I did, too. In E’s eyes, I began to see the reflection of a me that I had missed for so many years—a me that I didn’t even think existed anymore. Because he has bipolar disorder and I am so madly in love with him, I revealed to myself that people can and will have the capacity to love me—even if I’m bipolar—in the same exact ways and to the very depths and intensities that I so love him.

And that revelation was life-changing for me. But this is not one of those stories where the princess is rescued by a knight who receives all of the glory, despite the efforts she may have put in. Instead, this is an allegory for how other humans may serve as beautiful and necessary catalysts for your own love and hard work. Because while I could not have done this anywhere close to as easily or as quickly—or, hell, maybe even ever at all—without him, it is still I who had these epiphanies. It is still I who connected all of these dots. But, don’t get me wrong, I am forever grateful to E for putting me into this specifically aligned place where I was able to view through him an entire future that’s so much happier and more well-adjusted than any future I had dreamt up before.

What these last few months have taught me is that bipolar self-love is magnificent. It’s awe-inspiring, all-encompassing, and transcendent. Bipolar romantic love is very much the same—passionate, cavernous, transformative.

To all of my bipolar babes who feel that they are unlovable—you are not. You are not something to “deal with.” You are not someone to simply “handle.” You are a force to be reckoned with, and despite what anyone says about how bipolar disorder makes one “unfunctional,” you are living proof that that is not the case.

You are enough.

You have always been enough.

And you will always be enough.

Hurricane Marie

Below is a poem I wrote about a friend—who was also my roommate—after she got her bipolar disorder diagnosis in 2015. This was long before my own diagnosis, but I remember her getting her test results, coming home, and then sliding down the wall and sitting in the hall floor in silence for the remainder of the evening. I wanted to do anything to help—but I couldn’t.

We were never romantic, but I romanticized the work below because it seemed more impactful that way. She was, however, one of my best friends. About two months ago, I re-read this poem for the first time since receiving my own bipolar disorder diagnosis, and I let her read this work for the first time since its creation, too. When I did, and I was discussing it with her—just after a hugely depressing break-up that was the result of my having bipolar disorder and my partner not being able to “handle” that—I wept at the hopeful thought that someone could love me like this in the future, too.

And no, her name is not actually Marie, but she did give me permission to share this.


The shuffle of plastic against ceramic as I sit echoes through the open door and out into the hall.

When the haze clears, my eyes settle upon personal care items strewn across wintry laminate tiles—the color of which has been watered-down with the contents of each bottle, over and over again, at altered intervals. I sit her items back upright and into the places that she can never seem to find on bad nights;

last night was a bad night.

Peeking in as I pass by, bleach-stained rug in hand, she looks so pure. She rests on her stomach as curls cascade down the gradients of the cheeks I’ve grown so used to cupping, and her body remains spread across as much of our bed as she can tangibly inhabit at once. I drag myself, so used to dragging her, to the kitchen and clean. I wipe up all of her messes, bleach that godforsaken bathroom rug once more, and sweep;

she sleeps.

Then, I mop the bathroom floor—freeing her from having to take responsibility for any of the repercussions of the aftermath that is Hurricane Marie, for she doesn’t need to worry about the stress of cleaning up that which she cannot control.

By 9am, I’ve snuck back into bed. And just when I believe that the amount of love I feel for her is only overcast by my own cosmic levels of exhaustion, soft hands begin pulling at my shirt until her face becomes adjacent with mine;

she is worth everything.