At age 29, I was diagnosed as bi-polar. I love and hate with an intensity beyond my comprehension. My ex-boyfriend always said I couldn't handle my emotions, and maybe sometimes that's true. I'm not always easy to love, but in a relationship, I'm a caring, supportive partner. However, when it comes to breakups, I've never been the resilient type.
Breaking up sucks. Breaking up during the holidays when you've already bought Christmas gifts, a Valentine's Day spa package and a pair of non-refundable plane tickets really sucks. Being forced to accept my boyfriend's choice to move several states away without me and then rebound into a relationship with a 21-year-old sent me spiraling into an unfathomable personal hell. At first, I didn't even mind the burn.
After four years of complete immersion in this comfortable, silly love, I found myself alone in my apartment -- without heat -- in the middle of winter. I quit my job. I cried and obsessed over the minutiae of the relationship I had allowed to crumble. I replayed the details and tried to remember everything he'd said as I attempted to decode his words. Paranoia encompassed me. When I wasn't refreshing Facebook, I ate soup in bed and Googled things like "faking your own death" and "voodoo rituals for beginners."
My supportive friends and family attempted to cheer me up with phrases like, "just focus on you" and "time heals." My mother suggested meditation and said "pick yourself up and move on." But nothing helped.
If you are bi-polar, I'm sure this scenario rings familiar. My moods shift between depressed and elevated states. Sometimes these episodes last days; sometimes, months. During manic episodes, I become hyper-confident. I make hasty, dangerous decisions. Sleeping is rare, which sometimes leads to hallucinations. I get immensely irritated with minor annoyances. During depressive episodes, a permanent, body-shaped indentation permeates my couch cushions. Sometimes I won't leave my apartment for days. I felt a depressive episode beginning just before the breakup. After he left, it was hard to do anything but sleep.
Soon, I stopped eating. I refused to move his keys from where he had placed them on top of the microwave. Yet every time I heard the elevator bell, my eyes would shoot toward the door instinctively as I listened for his key in the lock. I broke down when my mother threw out some paper napkins he had brought home from our last lunch -- absurd relics I had been cherishing as a reminder of his existence in my life. I got drunk and blasted Fleetwood Mac while I tossed kitchen equipment and condiments from my fridge across the floor like a bowling game gone wrong.
I wavered between an intense, passionate drive to love my ex until he realized his monumental mistake of leaving me, and a fervent loathing and resentment of his entire being. I texted him daily to explain how much I was hurting. My sense of self-worth was directly related to how much attention I received from him. Then, feeling desperate and needy, I would force myself to stop talking to him. When I suggested cutting off contact for good, he said he was lonely and anxious without me. He called in tears to admit he still loved me and how special I was to him -- that no one understood him like I did. He was spending his time with the new girl, though he insisted she meant nothing. In the same breath, he asked me not to contact him anymore. My brain pulled me back and forth in what seemed like a never-ending tug-of-war between love and hate. It was a passionate fight, but no matter which side won, I always lost.
I wondered constantly about the nature of his new relationship. Was it sincere? Would they fall in love? I wondered if I would find love again, or if it would find me sinking desperately into my couch, wearing two pairs of pants to beat the chill. I thought being with someone new would make me feel better, but it didn't. Sometimes I thought part of the reason we were together for so long was because he was scared of being alone. Sometimes I wondered if that's why I had stayed.
One afternoon, after almost two lonely months of self-pity, obsession and soul-crushing lunacy, I began to recognize the feelings I'd let fester.
My heartache -- this elusive love -- this was transformative. It wasn't about the dinner dates, the back scratches, the living room dance parties, or even the stash of Valentine's Day cards filled with hearts and silly nicknames. It was about the madness-inducing feeling, the aching void and the wave of loneliness. It was about missing someone so much that you didn't want to face another day without them. It was about the way I felt when it was over.
How lucky was I to have known such a genuine love that was so immeasurably hard to say goodbye to? This was purely another facet of this sweet, sad, intangible thing we are all chasing. Love.
Love is strange, arcane and indefinable. Love isn't about how much you get; it's about how much you give. It's about the courage to love when you're not sure it will be reciprocated. In my case, it was loving past the point of sanity and then loving someone enough to attempt to let them go. That was the hardest transition.
I don't know if he felt even half of the anguish I had. It didn't matter. The breakdowns, the jealousy and the hysterics were all part of my process. It certainly wasn't pretty or ideal, but it was necessary. Skipping over this part or pretending like it isn't happening doesn't make a person stronger; it makes them weaker. And slowly I've begun to realize I am my own person.
For now, both sides fighting the battle in my head have called a truce. I've begun to see our relationship for what it was; something authentic, human and imperfectly beautiful. Being with him was not a lesson that I learned or a mistake that I made, it was an integral part of my story--my life. I will always keep a piece of him with me, and of all the bad decisions I've made, loving him isn't one of them.
There will still be bad days -- I have no uncertainty about that -- but there will also be good ones without him. I only wish someone would have said to me, "You will start to feel better one day, but only when you're ready. Don't rush it."
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, please contact your doctor.
If you or someone you know is in need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.