One of the first things I did after I was diagnosed with manic depression, when I finally had a name to put on the destructive set of behaviours I had been living with, was admit myself into a hospital the first time I became suicidal. It was my decision… I thought at best it would be a place where I could learn something about adjusting the behaviours or simply something about the disease. At worst I’d get a new pair of slippers.
Between diagnosis and being admitted into the hospital I also decided it would be best to break up with my girlfriend. It wasn’t easy, I was eighteen and in love. I didn’t know what the disease was or what it was going to take to control it, but I knew it wasn’t something I wanted her to be a part of… from what I can remember I think the recovery process I saw laying ahead was something I had to do without other commitments.
Unfortunately I didn’t learn much during those four weeks, and I proceeded to spend the next fourteen years living untreated and unmedicated. And I still dated. Not often, my brother is the speed dater, I had Relationships. And once I felt comfortable in those Relationships I made sure to explain to each woman I had manic depression. There was nothing about it I could explain because I really had no idea what it meant… I didn’t have the ability to make them understand what it would be like dating someone with a major depressive illness who could also spend several days speeding like a meth addict.
But no one seemed to be scared off, in fact once I had admitted to having some kind of major flaw, a couple of them clamped on to me a little harder. I think some of them saw the poetry and writing I was doing as being the outward expression of the disease, and somehow that made it safe… or “dangerous”. Or maybe they heard “depression” and thought “soulful”. I don’t know. But I wasn’t [always] using the words “manic” and “depression” to score chicks, I was trying to warn them… I was trying to give them an out. I knew what the behaviours were, even if I couldn’t explain them to the potential girlfriend — or anyone else. I knew I couldn’t and I know I wouldn’t date someone exhibiting the same behaviours…
Most of the women I’ve dated were damaged in their own way… I have a substantial history of trying to protect and… I guess ‘cure’ women of whatever crap they’ve become buried in. I’ve chased off abusive ex-boyfriends and tried to give girls then women a safe place to hide from their massively screwed up home life… my point is I’ve taken on responsibilities and tried to solve problems. And I think in any relationship we should take on certain responsibilities… like if she’s going through a bankruptcy, or a doctor finds a lump.
But if she suddenly decides every piece of furniture needs to be taken to the backyard and burned; or maybe only she has the power to stop a comet from destroying Earth so she has to strip naked, steal a boat to get into the middle of the river where the Power is Greatest; or maybe she can’t leave her bed for two days; or she’s inventing problems to justify the depth or her depressions… I’d have to get the fuck out of there.
Being tossed into a situation where I would have to react to any of those scenarios would be too much. Even as someone who is now properly medicated and in treatment and learning about mental illness I could never be in a relationship with someone untreated or someone just starting their treatment. There’s no way. It’d be like two alcoholics getting together… and someone five-years sober is way more likely to relapse when in a relationship with someone who just got their blue two-month chip.
In fact one of the things they tell you in AA is to Not date another alcoholic. I think the same thing should definitely apply to people with a mental illness, but I’d go further and recommend no one date an untreated person… period.
“Patient and persistent people will exhaust themselves and ruin their lives caring for someone with Manic Depression. You are not trained, you are not a nurse. You may be someone great for your friends to talk to and share with and communicate, but communication is not your friends problem, he has a disease…
“If he’s unmedicated and living that life, the only reason you might want to stay is if you have a need to be a mothering nurse to him. Unmedicated Manic Depressives are blackholes for your emotions and energy. There is absolutely nothing you can do to fix them, and there is absolutely nothing they can do to get better without medications and a good doctor.”
On any average untreated depressed day we are shiftless and moody and cranky and depressed and dark and tired and really, really fucking annoying. But as much as we’ll play self-serving games of “Pity Me”, we’re not as likely to physically hurt someone else as on our manic days when we are a danger to ourselves and the people around us… ever been out driving with someone in a full on manic? Ever hung out with someone who believes they can fly?
Quite frankly someone exhibiting the manic mannerism of ‘forgetting the consequences of every action’ would drive me fucking crazy… while I was in the hospital I met a news photographer who bought new furniture when he went manic. His wife would come home to a yard filled with that mornings living room set, and a living room filled with the new stuff. When I go manic I can’t stop fucking talking, even when I can see I’m being patiently tolerated…
My manics aren’t such a huge problem as the downs, however. But imagine dating someone who can’t wash themselves for a week because they’re too crippled by depression, or who can’t speak to your friends, or who can’t be outside… or imagine having to contemplate your lover has committed suicide because they haven’t responded to your phone calls this week. The women I’ve dated while untreated went through each of these over and over because they became stuck in my gravitational pull…
I’ve had a few people ask me through this blog, and in my Offline life, if they should take a chance on someone who has either just started treatment or who hasn’t yet started treatment for a mental illness… and, based on my own experience, there’s no way I could ever give that recommendation. I really don’t think it would be fair for either person.
Eventually the women I’ve dated while untreated realized the complete lack of motivation I exhibited was not a lifestyle choice and moved on… I believe they came to the realization the time they spent trying to motivate me or urge me forward or listen to my stories or put up with my crap was a complete waste of time for both of us. At the same time it’s interesting to look back and see how much they grew during our time together while I acted like a signpost for where they started…