Moving on from a bipolar ex
July 6, 2011 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Recent break up, ex is bipolar, need some help.

Just over a week ago I ended a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend of 9 months. She is biploar, and is untreated/unmedicated. As a result, there was a lot of drama and frustration, and I ended up feeling quite terrible about myself. For example:

- Before my first visit she 'disappeared' and didn't speak to me for two weeks. Got angry and told me she was just too busy with a new job to talk or text.

- When she sent me a Valentine's Day gift it arrived a few days early. I opened it. Apparently, although I was not told so, I was supposed to wait till the day of to open it. She didn't speak to me for three days and told me she might never be able to love me the same after that.

- Told me I never loved her, that it was all a lie, and I was never to speak of love again.

- Told me it was up to me to end the relationship because she felt it was all about me. I was selfish, and this was *my* relationship, so I had to end it.

- The final straw was my most recent planned visit to her. She read my flight times wrong and thought I was getting in earlier than I was. When I corrected her, she got mad that I was on a later flight, decided to cancel all her time off and work the whole visit. Told me I shouldn't bother to come at all. That's when I ended things.

I had my issues too, that I will admit. I have anxiety issues, and tend to need a lot of reassurance or signals that everything is ok or I assume the worst. It's hard for me to trust. During this time I tried to deal with my own issues by going back on meds and talking to a therapist briefly. But clearly this relationship was a disaster in the making for both of us.

All the manipulation, hot and cold, head games, etc. have really screwed with my sense of self-esteem and self-worth. A lot of times I took the blame for things that weren't my fault, or otherwise pacified her so as not to cause problems.

My question: I need resources on how to deal with the impact this has had on me. Are there any books or other resources about recovering from a situation like this?

Just in case it's relevant, we are both female, in our 30s, in Canada.

Oh, and I don't want to imply that dating someone with bipolar disorder is always like this, it's just that her disorder was clearly not being managed.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can't diagnose her, but I would like to gently suggest that resources about people with bipolar disorder will not be as useful as resources about people with borderline personality disorder.

They are often misdiagnosed as one another.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:24 AM on July 6, 2011 [11 favorites]

I'm sure there are support groups, and you mentioned a brief therapist, which if you're looking for help would be a good thing to stick with for a bit. A support group would give you more first hand accounts and perspective.
posted by rich at 11:37 AM on July 6, 2011

Some of the traits/reactions you are describing sound like something a bit different than bipolar by itself. The hot/cold, head games, etc. that you describe sound more like borderline personality traits. You might find these books helpful:

Breaking Free From Boomerang Love

Stop Walking on Eggshells

They both talk about being a partner in a situation with someone who shows similar behaviors. Good for you for taking the steps to take care of yourself both in and out of this relationship. Be well.
posted by goggie at 11:40 AM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Forget about ex gf's drama! The real questions you must ask yourself is: Where are my boundaries? Why did I put up with that??

At first I was going to respond that you didn't detail how this effected you, you just detailed (vented?) about all the drama. Then I realized you actually wrote that all this damaged your self-esteem, so I guess this counts as an effect.


I've got news for you, placating folks when they act like that towards you should hurt you. That's how you learn.

The next time someone behaves inappropriately towards you, recognize it as a giant turn-off, let the realization kill any positive feelings you have towards that person, and RUN.

Develop zero-tolerance for those sorts of shenanigans. Put your own well-being first. That should cure your self-esteem issues. It's hard to feel badly about yourself when you are making a conscious habit of honoring and prioritizing your own health and safety.

(once you have boundaries mastered, you can work on feeling compassion for abusive folks you meet in life. for now, tho, you just work on recognizing these behaviors and creating distance between yourself and anyone who treats you poorly - ok?)
posted by jbenben at 11:42 AM on July 6, 2011 [14 favorites]

I was going to say the same thing about borderline, but a lot of the behavior can affect YOU the same way.

Someone recommended I Hate You Don't Leave Me a bunch of years ago.
posted by Pax at 1:27 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

She genuinely feels what she feels; it's intense and painful to her. But it's not your job to manage her feelings or her illness, it's her job. Be as honest and kind as you can be without accepting blame or abuse. I have family members with bipolar disease, and that's the only thing that has ever worked.
posted by theora55 at 3:31 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just popped in to nth that bi-polar is not an excuse for treating people like shit, and that this particular head game is quite common in unpleasantly selfish people who are not bipolar. My sister's husband was an unmedicated bi-polar (he killed himself last summer), and would not have treated someone like this even on a bad day.
posted by Ys at 6:20 PM on July 6, 2011

Just as a different-- complementary-- tack, I suggest stuff that doesn't address bipolar/etc individuals specifically but rather meditation/mind-clearing/self-love books, and more importantly, practices. You're in a place where a book might push you in a certain direction, but you're the one that needs to walk it. I suggest you can begin with a lot of 'standard' stuff for what I think of as general purging/mind-clearing-- restrict your diet to low carbs/natural foods/no processed sugar, take long walks and/or other exercise (swimming may be especially good if you react positively to water immersion), and meditation. A lot of the time that people talk about boundaries, they mean them in a way that often feels unnatural or off-putting, especially to certain kinds of women, ones who are naturally open listener types. That's why meditation (wedded to any kind of spiritual practice or not) encourages a different approach: permeable, flexible boundaries, where you learn to let the world come through rather than within you. Ironically, letting go of your heightened but suppressed ego-awareness helps with low self-confidence. So look into various meditation practices and see which one works for you; yoga is the popular option, but there is also something called 'Open Focus' (more non-spiritual and guided therapy-like), and many others. Take this opportunity to focus on yourself rather than her, and whatever her issues are/were.

However, I will say that it may help to realize just how much she was lashing out blindly in all those instances; fully realizing it was the behavior not of a person who was reacting to you or anything you did, but someone who was reacting to her own inner demons. That doesn't excuse her behavior, but it frames it as internal to her and therefore no longer relevant to you. She was simply unable to deal with disappointment or stress in a positive matter-- she couldn't process these minor set backs, like someone with a violent allergy, so she took it out in unhealthy ways on the closest person-- you. Think about that final situation with the airport: it was really quite minor. Think about what it was to her: a huge, humongous, intense blow, one that she 'struck back' at by denying herself something she doubtlessly wanted on some level, since its lack upset her (your presence). Think about how toddlers react when their mothers don't show up on time for any reason. Think about how she reacted. Think about how deeply wrong that response it, and how genuinely far from okay she was at that time. Not a simple word that you must have heard many times, like 'bipolar', but look for that intuitive realization of 'wow, she was really not functioning properly at all', and realize that it was simply where she was at, then. Are all bipolar people like that? No. Was she like that, though? Pretty clearly, yes.

For me, moving on takes time (number one thing is to give yourself that), self-focus, and realizing that the person who hurt me so much wasn't on the same level that I was. People who are that unhealthy are trapped in their own private worlds, their inner dramas, and hurting others and themselves may become conflated in a rejection of their own pain, a dramatic but hopeless gesture in that unbearable inner drama. Regardless of whether it's true, it may help to think of her as a child in certain ways: a helpless person. I'm not contradicting people who talk of responsibility and blame; I'm just talking about a different axis entirely. If you can accept that this is her hellish inner drama, and now you're free of it, it makes perfect sense to focus on yourself, to cleanse, to meditate, to see what you need and start figuring out how to attain that for yourself.
posted by reenka at 7:23 PM on July 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

I was the original poster of this thread. It's been 3 months since I posted, and to be honest I'm not quite sure why I posted anonymously. Perhaps because at the time it felt like everything was my fault. Like I had failed to be patient enough, like I should have been a better partner. If I had just *tried* a little harder.

I'm doing better now. I'm still heartbroken, in a sense. I wanted to be the one person who could survive her tests. Who could be there no matter what.

And it was hard for me, when I wrote this post. I've dealt with my own demons. A history of abuse and anxiety really made me the 'perfect' person for her. In that I cannot totally blame her 100% for the impact she had on me. Her problems and interactions were abusive, but she happened to find me, who was inclined to put up with things like that.

A terrible mix. I still wish I could have been better for her. If I had just been stronger, I could have dealt with it. But, I'm not. I am who I am.

Like I said, I just...wish.
posted by aclevername at 8:54 PM on October 14, 2011

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