I Believed Romance Was Off-Limits Because Of My Mental Illness. Not Anymore.

by Jeremy

A few years ago, I found myself in a bathroom stall furiously trying to remove a Bumble sticker from a sanitary product bin. I’m not sure how much time I spent there ― pants around my ankles ― picking away, but by the time I left the stall, the sticker looked like a wild animal had clawed it.  I remember being enraged that there was no place I could go ― not even a college library’s bathroom ― where I wouldn’t be reminded that I was single. Worse, I believed that as a woman with a bipolar one diagnosis, no one in their right mind would ever want to date me.

I remember receiving my diagnosis clearly; it was May 2014. I was 33 years old. I was seated across from a man I’d never met before after being involuntarily hospitalized. I discovered one way to get involuntarily hospitalized is by attempting to flee the ER, wearing only a hospital gown and men’s tube socks, possessing the sudden belief that humans can fly. 

My sister took me to the ER after I announced on Facebook that I had a crucial meeting with then-President Barack Obama; we would discuss health care. I was uniquely qualified to talk about health care because I was, hello, mentally ill. Who better to chat with him about the gaps in coverage? 

The man, my doctor, tried to explain that Obama wasn’t coming. 

“You have bipolar 1,” he said flatly. Instantly offended, I told him I was undoubtedly not bipolar; my life just sucked. While hospitalized, I’d lost my job and internship, and I would soon be homeless. My previous diagnosis had been clinical depression, and I didn’t want to accept something more severe.

He brought up that I had taken off all my clothes in the hospital’s standard room the night before. 

“Performance art,” I shrugged. What I didn’t explain was that I believed, at that moment, that I had to be in my birthday suit to be reborn the female Jesus Christ.   I’m a bit embarrassed to admit how long it took me to accept my six-year diagnosis. I thought my involuntary hospitalization was a one-time fluke until I started to experience symptoms again in February, triggered by the stress of winter storm Uri. 

I thought to myself: “Maybe it’s time to learn about this thing I have.” Unable to focus enough to read, I listened to audiobooks. I learned that people with bipolar one experience manic phases (at least one), including psychosis and delusions. My manic episode lasted two months ― during that time, I went three weeks without sleeping and believed that the hospital I was committed to was purgatory.

Because bipolar one disorder has a genetic component, I asked my mom about our family history. My grandmother, it turned out, liked to dress up like Liberace and ― without having had a single music lesson in her life ― “play” the piano. When my aunt was a teenager, she wholeheartedly believed that David Cassidy was in love with her. She swore they would meet up on the beach and that he drew a heart in the sand with their initials.  

Dressing up in wigs and pounding on the piano sounded fun, but my aunt’s flights of fancy deeply worried me. In my research, I learned that being in love can trigger or coincide with bipolar episodes with all its euphoric goodness. So, too, can heartbreak. This only added to my fear that I might never be mentally fit in a romantic relationship.

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