Who Do I Want Me To Be?


Molly Heideman

Illustration by Samantha Schaffer
Featured image by Maksim Goncharenok from Pexels

Every time I meet a possible romantic partner, an uneasiness settles in my stomach. Besides the first date jitters, I am a confident woman for the most part. But after being diagnosed with bipolar II disorder at 20, I knew it would encompass every aspect of my life, whether I liked it or not. Now at 21, I have only learned more about myself and how I live my life. 

The National Institute of Mental Health defines bipolar disorder as “a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” My type of bipolar does not have full-blown manic episodes but a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes that shift frequently. 

Illustration by Samantha Schaffer

This challenge is one I never wanted to go through but am doing for reasons even I do not know; happiness, romance, simply being in love? I often find myself longing for intimacy with someone, as it sometimes fills the void of isolation that comes with mental illness. 

I was in a ten-month relationship shortly after being diagnosed and starting medication. He was very supportive and was always there for me when I needed it. My bipolar heavily influenced our relationship; when my mood would shift, I would go hours without talking to him or picking fights with him over nothing. 

When the lows lasted for weeks, he would come over and clean my room and fold my laundry when I was too sad to get out of bed. Ultimately, the stress of inconsistencies in my mood made it difficult for me to be in a relationship, and I ended things with him two months ago.  

Part of me wonders if I will ever be able to find someone else who could support me and love me for who I am like he did. 

I can be impulsive and feel like everything I do is the wrong thing. I overthink everything I say, everything I do, my facial expressions. I am scared to admit how low my depression can be and how out of control my hypomanic episodes can feel, and I wonder if the next person I date will be able to handle me at my worst. 

I put off telling the people I am seeing I have bipolar. Part of me feels like it will only make them want me less, which is an insecurity I am unable to shake. But in the grand scheme of things, if someone wants to love me, they will accept this part of me, right? 

There is often a shift in mood when I do tell someone I am seeing I have bipolar, some are nonchalant about it, not seeming to care, when I can tell in their facial expression they really do. Others will tell me it is fine. I do not know which is worse for me to hear. 

Getting over the hurdle is the easiest part, explaining why I have not talked to someone all day or apologizing for asking to spend time with someone feels like a never-ending race, and I am in dead last. 

I still have yet to find the right combination of medication and honestly do not know if I ever will. I do not feel like myself when I am hypomanic or depressed, and having as many as five shifts in mood back and forth a day makes me lose track of who I actually am anymore. 

After reading “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am” by Terri Cheney shortly after I was diagnosed, I actually felt like my experience made sense. Cheney’s story, a piece written for The New York Times “Modern Love” series, was similar to my own; she excelled in most things she did and many people in her life did not know about her bipolar. 

She wrote, “In love there’s no hiding: You have to let someone know who you are, but I didn’t have a clue who I was from one moment to the next.” 

That line stuck with me, as I often want to show a different version of myself to each person I go on a date with. Sometimes I wonder which version of myself I like the most and what version they like the most – maybe it is me when I am trying to be as laid back as possible or when I am funny and sarcastic, even singing along to music in the car with them at an unnecessary volume. 

How can I show someone who I really am when I lose track of my core personality every day? When the mood swings become uncontrollable in a given day, that is when I feel my most vulnerable. My friends and roommates see me shift throughout the week, they see me at my worst. But how can I meet someone new if I am so afraid of my brain?

I know that no matter how unlovable I think I am, at the end of the day I am a person deserving of love and empathy. As I learn more about myself and my mental illness, I realize how resilient I am. The mental and emotional toll of having bipolar disorder has taken a lot out on me, and even when I feel like I can not keep going, I know that deep down I can. 

When I do find the right person, I know they will love me for who I am and my anxieties. I sometimes think loving me is not easy, but is anything really?