We’ve all been in a bad relationship. Despite our best efforts, we found ourselves mixed up with someone who didn’t have our best interest at heart or was just a bad match in general. I, of course, have been there a few times. When I’m feeling well and generally in my right mind, I can end a bad relationship as soon as I identify the signs of it. But when I’m feeling depressed or on the verge of a mental illness relapse, my judgment goes out the window, and I end up sticking around in an undesirable situation longer than I should.
I was friends with my last boyfriend — henceforth to be known as “Ronald” so as to protect the guilty — for many years before we became a couple. More accurately, we were friends for a while, then friends with benefits for a while and then, I would say five years later, we started dating. Everything was great between Ronald and I. We talked several times a day, had lunches and dinners every week, and the sex was terrific. Eventually, we had sleepovers, spending several hours in bed talking, reading, and making love. That’s right, I said hours. He said, “I love you” first, and I responded in kind. I was happy.
Anyone who has ever started a relationship with a friend knows the comfortable sense of intimacy you feel when you know someone well on many levels. Being with Ronald made me feel comfortable. Despite knowing each other for quite some time, we still laughed at each other’s jokes, remembered details about each other’s families and finished each other’s sentences. For me, the most satisfying thing about being with Ronald was that he knew about my bipolar disorder, and it didn’t change his opinion of me. He still thought of me as smart, successful and beautiful in spite of my disease, and even brave for being honest about my condition and fighting for normalcy. Being accepted with bipolar is a big thing for me, given the stigma that many people place on those with mental illness. We are thought of as universally broken, crazy, incompetent and any number of qualities that would be undesirable in a relationship. So being with someone who didn’t think those things of me, and who treated me like the person I am was perfect, most of the time.
Things with Ronald moved into bad relationship territory after about a year, when he started to become less communicative. Instead of him immediately returning my texts and phone calls, he’d go a day or two without contacting me. We’d see each other for lunches, but our dinners and weekend sleepovers turned into Ronald leaving my house after sex and requisite cuddling. I tried not to think anything of it, attributing the change in his behavior to the natural ebb and flow of a relationship. I thought about asking him what was up, but I was afraid to bring up the topic. Like a lot of women, I suppose I didn’t want to confront Ronald about the changes because I was afraid of what I might learn. Instead of talking about it, I ruminated and became depressed.
In the midst of depression, I did things that I would not have ordinarily done. I ignored my instinct to bring up my concerns to Ronald, preferring instead to wonder what I’d done wrong to change his behavior. I told myself that as long as I never said anything, I was in a relationship and having someone was better than being alone. I told myself that I’d never find anyone else who cared about me as much as Ronald did because of our history together. And I lied to myself, believing that I’d never find another man who’d accept me with my bipolar disorder and that I needed to hang on to Ronald as long as possible, no matter what. After all, he wasn’t exactly treating me badly, and he still told me that he loved me, so there was probably no reason to worry. He was probably just stressed out at work or something like that, and since men can’t multitask, everything would eventually return to normal.
As often happens in these cases, my relationship with Ronald never returned to its initial, happier tenor. We still talked and texted frequently, but we saw each other less and less. For months, I still held on to the belief that Ronald was my boyfriend, even though we were more like friends who had sex every time we hung out. I realized that while he’d frequently come to my apartment, I’d only once seen where he lived. And I noticed that he’d become increasingly vague about his whereabouts, particularly when rejecting my invitations to get together. I suspected that he’d begun seeing another woman and still I didn’t confront him because I thought it meant losing the only person who really accepted and understood me. I remained depressed, trapped in a series of negative thoughts about my self-worth and my relationship prospects as someone living with mental illness.
Of course, Ronald eventually confessed that he’d begun pursuing another woman, even while maintaining a romantic relationship with me. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to tell him never to contact me again since I don’t do liars and cheats. I know for sure that I never confronted Ronald because I was too depressed to think highly enough of myself to do so. I’ve been in other relationships in which I’ve felt good enough to end things when they went south, so I know that I can be honest with men about my needs. It was my mood that enhanced my feelings of self-doubt and the belief that I was unlovable, and those feelings made me stay in a bad relationship.
“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.