When I first met my partner I was well aware of my bipolar experience and I was learning how to manage it better. I had not yet considered or become aware of the parts of me that were closer aligned to Borderline Personality Disorder. I thought all my symptomatic moods, thoughts, feelings and behaviours were related to bipolar disorder.
As I became more adept at learning my triggers and recognising and managing my symptoms, I started to realise that some of it didn’t fit with bipolar. I had these really dysfunctional and fucked up behaviours that repeatedly and invariably reared their ugly heads whenever I perceived relationship problems with my significant other.
We could spend hours and hours together, blissfully and contentedly in one another’s presence, but not long after he went off to do something else, I’d become anxious. I would fret and fixate on his “absence”, even if he was in the same room as me. This state of anxiety and distress would turn into full blown panic. “What if he’s lost interest in me? He doesn’t really love me. What did I do wrong? I’m so unimportant to him. I should break up with him before I get too far in”.
I would become filled with anger. I would sulk, storm out of the house, slam doors. He would ask what was wrong and I would always say “nothing” and continue to seethe at his lack of interest, affection and undivided attention. I would pace the house and compulsively rub my forehead. Then I would withdraw into myself, a feeling of detachment and numbness would come over me. I could sit for long periods of time staring into space, not moving, not feeling. I’d think about killing myself. I was either clingy and needy or completely emotionally unavailable and distant. It was hell for me and it must have been hell for him too.
I had behaved in similar ways with my previous partner. I recall the first time he snapped at me. I felt like my heart was in my mouth, the reaction was so visceral and powerful and I was overwhelmed with shame and distress. It was unbearable. The following week, we fought and he left the house. I didn’t know where he was going and I panicked. I had no idea how to manage the tsunami of emotion that overcame me. I took the largest knife I could find in the kitchen and sliced a long, thick cut into my thigh. The rich red blood that seeped out felt satisfying as though I had hurt him by hurting myself. I had many other cuts but this one was the deepest by far and it represented the level of despair I was experiencing. But my ex-partner was so extremely dysfunctional that I seemed stable and calm compared to his rages and tantrums.
Having never experienced a healthy romantic relationship before now, I had no reliable baseline to compare myself to. But this time around, I do have a partner who knows how to connect with people he loves. I have a partner who has experienced healthy attachment to significant people in his life, who has a loving and supportive family and he knows how to love and be loved.
I don’t know how he endured me or how he endures me still. I still experience some of what I described. I still struggle to change my lifelong pattern of dysfunctional behaviour. I have not known how to love or be loved. But he has taught me lessons about love and life that are invaluable and that will enrich my life forever more. And he has taught me these lessons through showing his love for me in the good times, but more so in the bad times.
Every time I behave badly, he forgives me. When I am depressed or withdrawn and sullen, he comforts me. When I lash out, he tries to understand me. When I withdraw, he tries to reach me. When we fight, he mends the bridge. He encourages me to be assertive in our relationship and he teaches me that it is safe to tell him what I am thinking and feeling, what I need and want. He teaches me that it is okay to disagree with one another. It is okay to be miserable together for a day. It is okay to spend time apart or have a mediocre date or mediocre sex sometimes. I used to think that these things were sure signs of an impending breakup. I found it simply intolerable and when I say that it would make me feel like dying, I mean that quite literally.
He teaches me that there are ups and downs in relationships, but when love, commitment and communication coexist, then relationships not only survive, they thrive.
He did not intend to heal me or help me but nonetheless this is what he has done. I am still healing, recovering from early trauma, learning how to participate in a romantic relationship as a whole, functioning, healthy person. He has unintentionally uncovered a part of me that I thought was damaged beyond repair.
Since I have become aware of this process, I have spoken to my psychologist and psychiatrist about it. They both agree that at this time, I have borderline traits but don’t meet the diagnostic criteria. I have had a number of friends whom I have been extremely close with and then cut off and grew to dislike intensely. I have a history of self-harming and risk taking behaviours like cutting, overdosing on drugs, taking illicit drugs and having unprotected sex with strangers. I have a fractured notion of self in the sense that I think very highly of myself in professional settings but very lowly of myself in relationships. I react quite strongly and emotionally to incidents. I have a childhood history of abuse and neglect. And of course, I panic when I think that someone will leave me.
So this is why I am grateful not only for all the good times between my partner and I, but also for all our fights, disagreements and falling outs. I am grateful for his insight, compassion, commitment and unconditional love. I have gained a deeper, more nuanced understanding of myself and am healing every day.