Telling Your Soon-To-Be Boyfriend That You’re Bipolar (Essay)

Words by Gabrielle Pharms. Art by Sam Liacos.

Me: I have a potential deal breaker for you. I take antidepressants.

Him: OK. Is that linked to anything else besides depression?

Me: Um…no.

(Yes, Gabby. It’s linked to something else–that “anything else” is bipolar disorder.)

Him: My mom is bipolar.

Me: Oh, cool! So am I!

‘”Oh cool! So am I!”–Is that really the best I could come up with? Whether yes or no, this conversation with my new significant other needed to happen. I always vowed that I could never enter a serious relationship with secrets. Even super heroes eventually reveal their true identity to their romantic interests. Akin to the stellar powers that affect select fictitious characters in their everyday life, the symptoms of bipolar disorder touch the person that manifests the illness 24/7. In this life—since there is no cure—this particular disorder is part of you for the rest of your existence. Welcome to an elite group of super heroes.

I’m 10 years into my diagnosis and still learning the complexity of it. Though at times its ugly side effects have affected my self-esteem, thankfully I’ve been able to maintain relationships; perhaps it’s because I’ve never reached the point in a romantic relationship where I needed to reveal I was bipolar, until now. Well, once before. “No one will ever love you like I love you,” my first boyfriend said. No, I’m not remixing the lyrics to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps.” That guy did attempt to obliterate by self-worth after finding out I was bipolar. His statement still haunts me when I’m feeling unlovable, but I don’t allow it to define me. Millions of people on a global scale are affected with some form of a mental illness, yet many of them are in healthy relationships. Since I’ve left my first ex-boyfriend, that has been my ultimate relationship goal, and I think I might’ve hit a home run with this new gent.

I know I’m eating my words again because I’ve proven to myself and the world that those who are bipolar can indeed experience a lingering love affair of sorts. This one’s different, though. The new guy asked for my number. He pursued me. The kicker is we haven’t exactly met yet. We’re intertwined by both URL and almost-IRL connections. He’s in SoCal. I’m in Texas. Our friendship and subsequent relationship has gotten closer thanks to technology. When you leave the light-hearted land of “what’s your favorite band?” questions and enter the world of “how long would you want to be engaged?” a measure of accountability creeps in. I feel accountability for this man’s perspective of me. If I really want this relationship to go somewhere, he needs to be able to love the real me which includes my flaws and my bipolar disorder.

As time has progressed onward—we’ve been in like for nearly three months—he’s told me about his past exes and family woes along with his own personal challenges and triumphs. On an evening we were having one of our more serious conversations, the moment felt right to tell him about my bipolar experience. Days prior to this pivotal conversation, I played every possible rejection scenario in my head. I was saddened to think our burgeoning relationship could potentially come to an end as a result of my truth. Let’s face it: Society hasn’t made it easy for those who have mood disorders. Ignorance has led many to think we’re all unstable and capable of committing monstrous crimes at any given time. It took my dad years to accept it, so how will the new man in my life take the news? Will he buy into the media’s stereotypes of what a bipolar person is? All of these both reasonable and absurd thoughts about the imminent conversation plagued my mind.

Finally working up bravery after a little prayer, I took a deep breath and presented my bipolar identity in the form of a potential deal breaker. To my surprise, he took the news quite well in part because his mother is bipolar. He also expressed how much he appreciated my honesty and courage. I suppose after chewing on the thought of having a bipolar girlfriend, he came back to me voicing his sensible concerns a few days later. As he fired off the questions about how I’m affected and the frequency of the roller-coaster ride of emotions, I gave him the candid feedback I’d expect if I were in his shoes. That dialogue was two weeks ago. Victory.

Be clear, I am not ashamed of being bipolar. It’s every bit a piece of me as much as the curly coils on my head to my inimitable high-pitched laugh. Therein lies the key: I truly believe that when you’re comfortable with who you are and take care of your health responsibly, your potential partner can’t help but respect and love you for it. Most importantly, you gain a level of self-respect that no one can take away from you.


  1. It’s awesome you want to be honest with your partner about your mental health because it’s not easy at all considering all the negative stigma surrounding mental illness and I’m so glad he was cool about it because not everyone is!

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