I Use My Relationships To Judge My Mental Illness Recovery

July 15, 2015  |  


Most of us can probably look through our romantic past and formulate some kind of opinion about ourselves based on the people we’ve dated. You might say, “Ooh, that was my blue collar period” or “I was really into locs then.” It is probably natural to classify dates and relationships into periods corresponding to one’s preferences or frame of mind at a particular time. But I look back on my relationships, whether in the recent or distant past, to help gauge my mental health and mental illness recovery.

This year, I went out on a few dates with Matt, a guy I knew from high school. I had been several months into mental illness recovery and thought that I was ready for romantic endeavors when we started dating. We initially connected via text and had great conversations about our shared past. Our exchanges became sexual in nature, and I learned that he was into polyamory — having simultaneous, committed relationships with multiple people. He asked me if I was cool with that, and I said that I was. I guess I was caught up in having someone interested in me after a long dry spell. But even though I agreed to go along with Matt’s way of doing things, I had a bit of trepidation about seeing a man who I knew was involved with other women. Would I be the primary person? Was I allowed to get jealous even though I’d agreed to be part of Matt’s erstwhile harem? I squashed my doubts with the hopes of having regular sex and dinner dates again.

As weeks went on, I spent days agonizing over my “relationship” with Matt. I wondered who he spent his nights with when he wasn’t with me. I questioned what I said to him and whether it was better conversation than that of his other dates. This continual torturing of myself wasn’t necessarily due to Matt, though. It was because I’d agreed to something that I didn’t want or need to do. I agreed to relationship terms that were both undesirable and bad for me. Not only did I not want to share a man with anyone, but I also didn’t want to have to convince myself that it was a good idea. For me, acquiescing to an undesirable situation — and one that made me anxious and over reflective — was a sign that I hadn’t fully recovered from my last bipolar episode. I’d willingly put myself in a place where I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied, where I’d beat myself up for my choices and make myself even more depressed. When Matt ended the relationship I was initially distraught, but soon realized that being out of the relationship was the best thing for me and my mental illness recovery.

Right now I’m seeing Roger, someone who doesn’t push my buttons, nor does the situation we’re in make me feel stressed or depressed. While it is true that Roger is a different person than Matt, and I know him better, I can see that my behavior is different with him. It’s better. In the time between dating these men, my mood has improved, and I feel more confident stating my desires. Instead of settling for an arrangement that was damaging to my mental health, I’ve been proactive with Roger about what I want and need from our coupling. I’m also very clear with myself about what I want from a relationship at this point in my life and feel like I can walk away from something that isn’t healthy for me. In this frame of mind, the thoughts that I have about Roger aren’t ruminating about what’s wrong with our relationship, but rather, they are the positive thoughts of new beginnings with an interesting person.

It has been a small amount of time since I stopped seeing Matt, but I can see big differences in the way I see myself in relation to the men in my life. I’m not sure if I’m 100 percent recovered from my last bout with bipolar depression. However, I do know that I’m moving in the right direction with respect to my moods and my choices in romantic partners. And those two factors alone will make it easier for me to get to the healthiest place for me.

“Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.

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