Some of my visitors have been asking what it's like to date somebody with bipolar disorder. It's a difficult question to answer because everybody's experience of the illness is different. Some people, when medicated, live a life relatively free of mood swings but others either don't seek help or do not respond to treatment with the same success.
Dating an oscillating manic depressive is no doubt challenging and it does take a certain type of partner to make a go of it. It also takes a certain type of patient - one who is prepared to seek help outside the relationship.
I'd say that the key to survival in a relationship where one, or both parties has a mental health problem, is the same as the key to managing the illness on your own - awareness. If both partners know what to expect and can recognise symptoms when they occur, and perhaps even before they occur, it takes a huge weight off the relationship. Likewise it is important that a partner knows how to respond to mood swings and understands what help is available and how to get it.
Below is a very general list of the pros and cons about the reality of dating somebody with bipolar disorder but please bear in mind that there is so much individual variation that not every point will relate to every sufferer.
This is not supposed to be a detailed list of symptoms, for that see one of the many information websites such as helpguide.org.
Difficulties dating somebody with bipolar disorder
- seeing somebody you love suffer can be painful
- we can seem unpredictable until you get to know us well
- we need support more often than people without health problems
- you will need to devote time to learning about the way our illness affects us
- joint accounts might need extra restrictions if manic spending sprees are a problem
- bipolar disorder can often co-exist with other mental health problems
Advantages to dating somebody with bipolar disorder
- those of us who've had therapy are often better equipped at dealing with every day problems than your average person, who's never been taught the skills
- we are generally quite creative
- we're generally more sensitive than others
- we've experienced diversity
- after experiencing a major illness we may be less fazed by smaller problems that people with less perspective get wound up about
- we've usually got an interesting past
If you are, or are thinking about, dating somebody with bipolar disorder then talk to them about their experiences, find out what other support they have (e.g. friends, family, medical help) and read up on the disorder. Try to assess your partner's willingness to seek help outside the relationship. Discuss strategies for dealing with difficult times. Only when you've got a full picture of the situation, can you decide whether or not your (prospective) partner's bipolar disorder is something you can take in your stride.
Do feel free to add any points you feel I've missed, this is by no means supposed to be an exhaustive list.