“I want you to show me the way…” ~ Peter Frampton

So, I got an e-mail a couple of days ago from a guy I dated for a while around a year ago. We didn’t end on great terms which bothered me a lot because we started out as really good friends. Anyhoo, what he wrote made me cry but in a good way.

In his message, he said he had gone back and watched the TedX talk I did about being bipolar and also thought about things I told him about this mental illness. And this is some of what he said:

“The combination of your past experiences, coupled with the struggles you deal with every minute of your life, made our entire interaction both too impulsive and too similar, from your perspective, to past abusive experiences. 

I know you have times where you say things differently than you would at other times. Another part of your struggle. I see many of the things you said to me as heavily influenced by those times and your illness. My hurt and pain over some of those things was real. But, when I take all things into consideration, I realize that you ARE the sweet girl I remember from school. You suffer from bipolar disorder that causes things to be said and done in a way that the sweet girl wouldn’t ordinarily say or do them. It can’t be helped. And it’s not intentional.”

I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that this man diligently worked to understand what being bipolar is like and how it affects my interactions with others. I also think it’s insightful of him to see how my past experiences have shaped me as well. BUT, I know that being bipolar doesn’t justify what I said or did. Justifying means proving yourself right…and I was NOT right in so many things we struggled with. However, understanding bipolar sheds light on my behavior but doesn’t absolve me to not take responsibility.

Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly

Being in a manic phase does make you feel ‘high’ so to speak, but can also make you irritable and touchy (😳). Couple that with racing thoughts, impulsive behaviors, and incessant talking, you can see it’s a recipe for disaster in any relationship (BTW: did you know that 90% of marriages with a partner having bipolar end in divorce? Hmmm… 🤔). Another issue with mania is delusional thinking; for example, feeling extra important and talented (my Oscar speech is ready to go…all I need is to get a ticket to Hollywood, find an agent, learn to act, get an audition, make the film, and then walk up on the stage. Very do-able…right?? 🙄) . What this can do is make us feel better than others, and as we all know, this is the foundation of passing judgement on others. It makes me sick…literally (I hate this word…except it actually fits right now)… to know I’ve been that way. I am the FIRST to say: “Hey! Don’t judge me! It’s not my fault I have fucking (sorry, ma 😐) bipolar!” Yet, that same bipolar has caused me to judge others at times…something I would never do out of that manic state. I feel horrible for that and have tears in my eyes as I’m reflecting on this.

On the other hand, being depressed makes you feel hopeless and worthless. You don’t feel like having sex, going out, or doing anything fun; plus, you see the world as being one big disappointing poop-fest (which right now, it kind of is…🤨) and feel pessimistic about everything. Charmed, I’m sure.

But I’m not always manic or depressed and I’m just ‘me’. Kristi. My brain is calmed and I can be much more in control of who I am, what I say, and what I do. These breaks of euthymia can last from days to months. So, in a nutshell, the people around me have no idea ‘who’ is going to show up on any particular day and how long that Kristi will last. Will it be manic Kristi…Oscar winner extraordinaire? Depressed Kristi who wants to hide in a cave and never come out? Or just Kristi? Average, mousy, plain old Kristi? It’s a crap shoot and I know how confusing that can be! It confuses me as well!

Me and Pop when I thought I was great at photo editing!

My dad, step-ma and I were having breakfast the other day and talking about mental illness since it’s such a cheerful subject to peruse over omelets and pancakes at Perkins. Pop is mentally ill himself and also has bipolar. I knew he did because I can see what I go through in him, but this was the first time he said it to me directly. When I look back at my life with pop growing up, I was always wary of which pop I’d be getting on any given day. Sometimes pop was the funniest, most energetic parent ever and other times, sissy and I would walk on eggshells not knowing what was going on. I know he understands how bipolar has affected his relationship with his daughters and I also relate since it’s certainly affected my parenting as well. Pop is a great parent…actually a very kind, helpful, generous man in general. But he’s mentally ill…and it’s going to affect his life and relationships regardless. (I love you, pop! 🥰).

Now, I also have anorexia which isn’t too surprising since there’s a pattern of comorbidity (I just love using words that make me sound smart 🙄) between eating disorders and bipolar. This makes sense since both have genetic components and we can see similar symptoms between them like compulsiveness (over-exercising for me), loss of appetite when manic, feeling worthless when depressed which causes me to be very hard on myself in terms of how I see me, and then being more touchy overall. One comment that I’ve put on a few pounds will reverberate through my brain again and again until I take action. I also think it’s a control/dysregulation issue as well: emotional dysregulation with bipolar and eating dysregulation in anorexia both involve the pre-frontal cortex as well as the neurotransmitters of serotonin and dopamine. In many ways, these 2 illnesses go hand in hand.

So, what effect does anorexia have on my relationships with others? Well, among other things I can be judgmental of the weight of others. It truly doesn’t come from disdain but from envy. I would absolutely love to eat something…anything…without thinking about how many calories are going into my body and how that will affect my weight. When I see bigger people, I am wishing I could eat more freely and with more enjoyment, and not beat myself up if I choose to have a dessert. This jealousy has caused me to say some pretty bitchy things; however, using that judgment against others might once again be understandable but it’s definitely NOT justifiable. At all.

You know, having this fucking bastard (ma…you know if I say it once, I’ll say it again…🙄) of a mental illness, times 2, makes life hard for me, but I also realize life is so much more difficult for others. Believe me, I know how blessed I really am! But honestly, bipolar sucks balls and sometimes, when I’m feeling sorry for myself, I wonder why in the name of all that is holy, I have to have it. Why I have to go through so many ups and downs and problems and breakdowns and horrible thoughts of suicidal ideation and times of self-mutilation, etc. Why I have to be at the mercy of a brain that seems to not know what the hell it wants. But I think I’m finally beginning to understand the purpose of it. At first, I thought it was ‘simply’ to do what I could to help break the stigma of having it. But now, after reading the e-mail I got, I realize this: it’s more important to promote an understanding of the disorder. Breaking the stigma means getting rid of the ‘shame’ associated with bipolar (and all mental illnesses!) and that’s such an important thing to do! But understanding means to be empathic, considerate, and forgiving of the people and associated behaviors of those who have a mental illness because you’ve learned what these illnesses entail. And peeps, that’s what I need to promote. See the difference?

Yes, I have mental illness and it affects all of my interactions the vast majority of the time. And to have someone understand that, and then apologize for not recognizing that earlier, humbles me. But it’s really not their apology to make. No matter what is going on in my brain and how bipolar (and anorexia) affect me, I still am responsible for me. For what I say. For what I do. And to anyone and everyone that has been affected by that, I’m truly sorry.

Kristi xoxo

Author: Kristi

Just a bipolar Professor working to end the stigma of mental illness.

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