On Loving A Person With Mental Illness

I am a lot of things; some people might think I am too many things. I am also worth loving.

I am a lot of things; some people might think I am too many things. I am also worth loving.

I am hard to love.

Well, I’m easy to love. I’m kind and generous. I'm intelligent and funny. I’m an environmentalist and humanitarian. I am really good at baking cakes.

I am those things.

But I am also hard to love. Or, I should say, I’m hard to be in love with.

I know this because I’ve heard it from people who love me. I imagine that it must be difficult to love someone whose moods can be unpredictable, whose emotions are unexpectedly labile.

Loving me is not a tranquil affair.

There is very little about me that is tranquil.

I am 100% or nothing at all.

I am all in or completely out.

I am bipolar in every sense of the word.

I am mentally ill.

The thing about being mentally ill is, the psychiatrist gives you a diagnosis, and the DSM gives your behaviors a name, but the behaviors never needed either of those things. They would have been there, doing whatever thing they do, whether you wrapped them up in a tidy patient file or not.


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Before a psychiatrist told me I was mentally ill, I was still mentally ill. The only difference was there was no record anywhere that said it. There wasn’t a pharmacy in my medicine cabinet. There wasn't a stigma yet, because I was just really energetic or really sad, not really crazy.

That pharmacy of medications in my bathroom keep me mostly stable, but sometimes I forget to take them. This is a failure on my part, but one I often can’t, or won't, acknowledge. When I miss a dose, or two or three, I probably won’t know that I am acting like I’m off my meds.

The cocktail of meds I’m on make me look “normal." But that person, the medicated version of me, isn’t me. “Me” is the person under the SSRIs and the mood stabilizers and the other thing and the other thing.

Sometimes, when I forget to take my meds, I catch a brief glimpse of the me I used to be — unmedicated me.

I love her.

She has energy and vitality. She is a frenzy of ideas. She is creative and vivacious.

She is unstoppable.

I do not know that I am not supposed to love her — at least not in that moment.

She is destructive. She makes poor decisions. She spends too much money and drinks too much wine. She is too much of everything.

I don’t see her coming, mostly because I don’t want to. She sneaks in when the meds wear off and before I know it, she's doing the things she does. When you ask me if I’ve forgotten my meds, I’ll become enraged. I'll become enraged both because I have forgotten my meds and because I have forgotten who I was under those meds. I am angry because you are right. I am angry because those goddamn meds are the only thing standing between me and getting everything done — including the bad things I have conveniently forgotten about. 

It is only once the moment has passed that I am able to look back at that person and see her for who she is — a disaster. By that time, you might be sick of me, and sick of loving me.

I bet it’s really scary to love someone who wants to die. I’m sorry about that.

Loving me is hard for you, but it’s even harder hard for me.

I want you to know — I know this, because I feel it, too.

I am too much. But if you come close enough to me to see how much too much I am, I will love you back. I will love you back so hard. I will love you until it breaks me or you or both of us.

I may also scream. I may max out your credit card. I may cry all the time. I may not be able to get out of bed today. I may be up all night tomorrow. I may cost a fortune in co-pays, even if I never end up in the hospital. But I may end up in the hospital.

I will be the best person you’ve ever known. I may be someone else entirely. The problem is, I don’t know who I’ll be on any given day or week or month. I wish I could tell you because that would mean it was predictable, but it’s not.

I may want to die. I may want to die a lot of the time.

I bet it’s really scary to love someone who wants to die. I’m sorry about that.

It’s also really scary to be someone who wants to die. I’m sorry about that, too.

I’ve spent a long time being sorry.

When do I get to stop being sorry for being a human being?

The thing is, I’ve been told enough that I’m too much. For as long as I have memories, I remember the world telling me, either directly or indirectly, that I’m too much. My teachers. My friends. My lack of friends. My own mother. It was apparent to me, very early, that I was too much.

I talked too much. I wiggled too much. I read too much. I just existed too much.

But I cannot live as if I am too much. Believing I am too much makes me not enough.

I’ve been made to believe that I am fortunate to be loved. I am fortunate that someone will "put up with me." I am more fortunate than "normal" people because I am crazy, and therefore must be less lovable. Feeling less lovable is easier for me because if I don't get the love I give, it's easy to explain why. Feeling less lovable is also easier for the world because the less we are, the more we are profitable.

The less I feel I am, the more I feel I need to have.

I will never have enough, so I have to work harder than you to be lovable. This applies to all of humankind I suppose, but imagine if your starting block is "hard to love" or "fortunate to be loved." How far would you have to go to be deserving of affection?

I already know that I started at a disadvantage. I've known that for a long time. I've wept about my worth. I've lamented my illness. I've hated my mother for making me sick and the world for making me feel even sicker. But those feelings, regardless of how powerful they are, will never make me "normal." Whatever "normal" is, I am not that thing.

No, but I am all the things that you are just the same. Those things manifested in me look more powerful and more dangerous, more of everything good and more of everything bad. But they aren't new behaviors; they are just dominant ones. I am a lot of things, including hard to love.

I am a lot of things, including worth loving. 


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