And as anyone would, she resented it when I played nutritionist. I eventually decided the only way to preserve the relationship was to let her do what she wanted. As her physical health seemed to deteriorate, I resisted temptations to call her doctor. But according to David Oliver, I should have. Oliver, who is not a psychiatrist, runs one of the internet's most popular sites on bipolar disorder, Bipolar Central. He launched his bipolar consulting business because he was dissatisfied with the professional care his bipolar mother received.

"There's a huge flaw in the system," says Oliver. "They give you fifteen minutes at the doctor, they forget to tell you there are ten to twelve different meds, or to warn you about the side effects you're experiencing."

That lack of professional supervision means people in relationships with bipolar individuals must step outside the normal boundaries, according to Oliver — communicating with your boyfriend's doctor behind his back, for instance. Such actions have saved lives; they've also violated trust, and in the end, I found myself unable to tell where the line separating those two requirements was. "It has been my experience that some people [with a bipolar partner] use the disorder as their immunity card," says Danielle. "Nothing in the relationship is their fault because they're dating or married to a bipolar person." My relationship with Sara was filled with gray areas — the popsicle issue, for instance — in which I could never figure out the right thing to do.

Which is why some bipolar people prefer to date others with the same disorder. Thirty-seven-year-old librarian James Leftwich struggled for years with relationships because of his schizoaffective disorder — essentially

"Personally, I'm in a frame of mind where I'm not sure I want someone with a mental illness," says one bipolar sufferer.

bipolar coupled with schizophrenia's delusions or hallucinations. Tired of being misunderstood by a population generally unfamiliar with his condition, he created NoLongerLonely.com, one of the few dating websites for the mentally ill. In four years, he says, the site has helped produce countless relationships and at least six marriages. But even for someone with a similar illness, another person's mental health is not an easy thing to be responsible for, and Leftwich says even he isn't sure he would use his own website right now. "Personally, I'm in a frame of mind where I'm not sure I want someone with a mental illness," he says.

On the other hand, an issue like bipolar disorder may encourage a healthy sense of compassion. When twenty-eight-year-old software engineer Jil told her husband about her illness on their very first date, she was happy that he seemed a little bewildered and had lots of questions — it meant he cared. "I also wanted to be a better person because of him, and when I feel no other reason to swallow those pills that stabilize my mood, I do it for his sake, not just my own," says Jil.

It was a sunny Saturday morning. Just a few minutes earlier I'd been lying on the couch, reading one of the self-help books Sara had given me to help ease us through our crumbling relationship. Then, without warning, she stumbled out of the bathroom and collapsed on the floor. I think I would have lost it had she not regained consciousness a minute or so later, or if the paramedics had not arrived as quickly as they did. After I gave them the names of Sara's medications and watched them load her into the ambulance, I called her mother, a woman I'd only spoken to a few times. She received the news almost serenely. It wasn't the first time her daughter had been whisked off to the hospital.

Sara's wasn't an overdose, or a suicide attempt — at least, not an overt one. I'd known Sara was severely anemic, that her pills had made her stomach bleed. For months I'd asked her what her doctors were doing about it, and she'd given me cheerful answers about iron infusions and blood transplants. I no longer believed her, but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. I researched her medications and learned all sorts of frightening things. One of them wasn't even indicated for her disorder; it was an epilepsy medication that the drug companies encouraged psychiatrists to use off-label.

She talked about visiting the hospital the way other people talk about visiting their grandparents.

But it was difficult for me to voice my reservations about her care. Sara liked hospitals. She loved Scrubs. She admired doctors, detested any criticism of the medical system, and talked about her psychiatrist as if he were a best friend. When she spent a night at a sleep-study clinic (she thought she was narcoleptic), she talked about it as if it were a slumber party. She kept getting into fender benders from falling asleep on the freeway, yet still insisted on driving to volunteer at the hospital that had saved her after her suicide attempt. It was more than simple gratitude, she admitted; the hospital's rituals made her feel safe and comfortable. She talked about it the way other people talk about visiting their grandparents.

When I told Sara what I'd learned about her medications, she told me she would rather die than get off of them, and pointed out that she knew the cost of them better than I did. She couldn't remember words, for instance — she who had wanted to be a writer. But those pills had given her a reason to live. Did I know better than her doctors did? No, I supposed I didn't. I knew that for us to have a healthy relationship, though, I needed to trust her. The trouble was, I no longer did. At that moment, I decided I couldn't stay with Sara any longer.

That day, when I got to the hospital, I found her looking happier than I'd ever seen her. I was baffled. Five minutes earlier the doctor had informed us that her life was in danger if she didn't find some way to fix her anemia. But she seemed at peace now. That was the worst part about it — in her hospital gown, sitting up on her austere gurney bed, she looked as if she were finally at home.

I have my own theory about relationships with the bipolar: the successful ones are those in which the relationship simply isn't in competition with the disease. Sara seemed to regard the illness as a more intimate part of her than I could ever understand — not just a profoundly affecting experience, the way other serious diseases are, but almost the entire essence of her existence. In the end, I simply wanted there to be more.  



The Top 20 Viral Videos of 2007 by The Nerve Staff
Censory Perception by Gwynne Watkins
Quiz: match the "objectionable content" — as listed by ScreenIt.com — to the film.
The Hollywood Guide to Drinking by Gwynne Watkins
Tippling lessons from James Bond, Marlon Brando, Nick and Nora, and more.
The 50 Best Date Movies by the Nerve Editors
Casablanca, Say Anything, Some Like It Hot, Before Sunrise, and beyond.
An Oral History of Nerve by Various
As told by its founders, editors and contributors. Today: the current editors.

©2008 Justin Clark and Nerve.com


A recent graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Justin Clark has written for L.A. Weekly, Psychology Today, Black Book, Architecture, Fuse, and The Fader, among other publications. He is currently researching a history of the American child prodigy, and writing a mystery novel set in Los Angeles.

Commentarium (32 Comments)

Jan 28 08 - 6:23am

I've been on nerve for three years and have never sent feedback.

This story? I had to.

Wonderful stuff, very well written. Thanks very much, Justin.

Jan 28 08 - 11:39am

Just a thought--the off-label use of certain anticonvulsants for bipolar disorder is not scary. It's saved my life, as well as that of countless others.
Most off-label uses are neither frightening nor lucrative lies created by big pharma. Rather, many of them are happy accidents: heart medicine becomes Viagra, Wellbutrin (as Xyban) helps people quit smoking.
Check out crazymeds.org, a well-researched blog/information source on psychiatric medications.

Jan 28 08 - 7:43pm

Justin, I dated a girl with BPD last year, and leaving her was one of the hardest things I've ever done -- it's a really complicated story, and I still haven't been on a date since. Everything just hurts too much. I guess I'm just grateful to know that I'm not alone. Thank you.

Jan 29 08 - 7:01am

As one who has bipolar disorder, I read this with interest, yet it left me feeling doomed to be alone. Everyone is attracted to me in the beginning; as was written, it's always interesting. Two failed marriages and countless relationships later, I wonder if choosing to stay single would not be a better outcome for all.

Jun 26 11 - 7:00am

Id suggested you to read You can heal your life by Louise Hay and think about why we choose painful relashionship. Gaby from Buenos Aires

Jan 30 08 - 1:42am

I've been dating a bipolar man for two and a half years. We're very happy and plan to get married soon. So there are some relationships that work! I couldn't tell you why his illness doesn't affect our relationship much, but I suspect it's because he never had full-blown manic episodes and he never had suicidal tendencies.

Jan 29 08 - 2:44pm

Thank you, Justin.
Thank you.

Your story speaks to my predicament, and it's no small thing that you made me tear up at my desk. Thank you for writing this article, and helping to remind me what the perspective of hindsight can look like. I wish you well.


Jan 29 08 - 6:17pm

First - saying "bipolar" is like saying "cancer". There are many, many different flavors. Some can be treated with medication + therapy and the person will be in "remission" for the rest of their lives. Some are, unfortunately, fatal because treatment (talk and meds) simply isn't sophisticated enough yet.

Lumping all bipolar people together is doing millions of people a disservice. I was diagnosed bipolar and frankly articles like this, run alone, make me angry. If Nerve is going to run a disparaging and hopeless article like this (which is completely valid because it is one person's genuine experience) then an accompanying article, a success story if you will should also be offered. But as the author here suggests - it wouldn't be as sensational - it wouldn't have the "lookie lou" effect of a car accident and likely wouldn't get 1/4 of the reads.

Please, please keep in mind "bipolar" is a catch all phrase, like "cancer" - treatment can be very,very effective depending on the situation.

p.s.In my opinion a responsible person, with any mental illness in a close, loving relationship will respect their partner enough to give written permission for the partner to talk to their doctor(s). Yes, this takes a high level of trust, but if you are close enough it is worth it. It lowers fear/stress a great deal. A good doctor will have no issues telling the partner if whatever they are expressing or asking about is going too far. A loved partner deserved this kind of security - the ability to express concerns to a doctor if they ever feel the need. Or perhaps I am lucky enough to have a respectful doctor and partner.

Jan 29 08 - 7:25pm

its so hard for me to read a story like that and not get angry. not all bipolar people are the same. i have been medicated for almost 7 years now and have had my ups and downs, but i am nothing like i was before medication. i try to give myself a break. im human. i have good days and i have bad days. but being bipolar doesnt make me damaged goods, but reading stories like this always makes me feel that way.

Jan 29 08 - 8:07pm

At the end of this article, you claim you broke up with Sara because you "wanted there to be more." I have only the flawed perspective of an outsider, but I think that, if you can characterize a person whom you once loved as nothing but an illness, you're the one who's lacking.

Jan 29 08 - 10:38pm

I am left feeling so bad after reading this. I am bi polar...have been my whole life. I, after many years of different medications and doctors, am stable and happy. I am one of the most well adjusted people amongst my friends. Yes I am in therapy twice a week and yes I take "scary" medications- anti seizure included- but this article makes it sound like all bi polars are a heart beat away from suicide. I haven't thought of suicide in 7 years. I have a great job and a bright future. And I am bi polar. It is a small part of who I am. My personality has nothing to do with my disease. If a man isn't going to date me because of my mental illness- well it's his loss, because i see nothing but a happy healthy marriage in my future.

Jan 30 08 - 12:36am

I want to thank you for this very informative piece on what it is like to be in love with a bi-polar person. My husband of the past 7 years has put up with all kinds of mess. From me spending the last 2 dollars to me organizing the pantry in alphabetical order.

I wish that more people understood that being bi-polar doesn't exactly make a person loony, it's just hard to make sense out of daily life sometimes.

Jan 30 08 - 3:46am

Interesting the entire story talked about her disorder. At least she recognized it as such at attempted within the limits of her abilities to do something about it. The burning question that came up for me was "when will the author take a look in the mirror and come to the fact that he is of equal ill health as his lady friend" ?

Yes you are a wonderful writer BUT.... you move in with a person after the first date and then continue for months to fall into her unhealthy world the entire time knowing you were doing so? Cleaning the bathroom with her ? Watching hours of TV? Letting your friends fall away?

I feel sorry for her, I feel pity for you. You sit back and observe and cast aspersions as if your diligent research justifies your ridiculous actions.

But alas I am sure there are medications for you as well. Since you researched the topic so diligently I am sure you came a cross one or two that would be useful for you.

One more observation is that I don't see how this could help anyone except yourself. It came across as you venting, or maybe justify you own enabling of your friends sickness. Possibly a diversion from your own neuro chemical imbalance.

But as I said you are a darn good writer...

Jan 30 08 - 11:45pm

i think that there are many, many varieties of bipolar. it can vary from seasonal cycling in moods to having hallucinations, mania, and delusions. i would hope that readers do not take from this story that every woman with bipolar will behave as this ex did. i have bipolar and i certainly do not! i feel like there is so much stigma with the label "bipolar" -- this piece probably adds to it. with every illness, the person who is ill has some degree of personal responsibility and coping skills. i take my medication, keep my dr. appointments, and re-adjust treatment as necessary. in a lot of ways, it is like diabetes. sometimes, i feel it getting out of whack and i take care of it, it is always there, but it is manageable and treatable. don't generalize all people with bipolar by this experience.

Feb 01 08 - 3:39am

I think some of my fellow feedbackers didn't really get what you were writing. I also believe that some are writing from a pedestal they built for themselves once they started reading Nerve. Each of them had their interpretation of your article. Some of them were even gracious enough to allow you a point of view. Let them continue to look down, while failing to notice the clouds getting in the way, distorting their view.

I didn't think your article was biased in any way. However, I am a biased reader because I've been married to a bipolar woman for 14 years. My experience is nothing extreme like yours, but we've had our share of ups and downs. Compared to Sara, my wife is mildly bipolar, but challenging nonetheless. There's definitely nothing I would share with the critics of this site, so I commend you on your bravery. None of them connected on what you were feeling in your relationship with Sara. I sure did. I've questioned the relationship several times based on her condition...and just like any other marriage I've questioned our relationship based on my individual happiness, too.

Feb 03 08 - 12:16pm

I found it informative and valuable, having been involved with a bipolar for 20 years.

Feb 04 08 - 2:24pm

It is very hard to have a relationship with someone who chooses to define themselves by their illness, be it mental or physical. As cold as this may sound, I think my mother's happiest day was the day she was diagnosed with cancer, because she could finally be the victim she was desperate to be. Its not wrong to want a person to be more than the sum of their symptoms.

Feb 04 08 - 10:44pm

Genuine, well-articulated article, man...but bipolar disorder is only one of a million forms of dysfunction, labelled or otherwise. No matter how carefully we hide or how appropriately we use social convention as a mask, each of us has our own brand of unique fucked-up-ness. Different cultural periods place a different value on each dysfunction; in Victorian England, for example, it would have been considered pathological for a woman to actively pursue certain careers. She would have been medically treated for it, even hospitalized, had she persisted. There are behaviors in our culture that we lump roughly under "normal" that are highly destructive, such as blatant drama-mongering. And yet, behavior associated with BPD does tear people apart; labels can be a handy way of getting a grip on an obvious problem. It's a conundrum, isn't it? I certainly have no answers, and I appreciate the fact that your article attempted to refrain from pat answers too. Nicely done.

Feb 05 08 - 2:46am

You're one of the worst sorts of people. It must have taken all of your reserves of craft and delusion to portray yourself as the victim here. If only the world had more saints like you: you who are so understanding, patient, and kind enough to have to put up with someone like that, someone as ill as that. Did you really think that if your story was well-researched enough, with enough concessions to personal regret, that you would be able to hide the fact that you were, in the end (and in the beginning), so selfish and self-serving; that any objective viewpoint would see that the blame and failings were yours and wholly yours? Hindsight is no excuse, but you do not use hindsight to excuse yourself or apologize: but to prove some point that is ultimately flawed because the facts are 1. You let her move in with you after a few hours 2. You let her obsessions flourish because it was easier that way 3. You let her alone because confrontation would be a sign of courage and faith on your part 4. You use the term "caregiver" as if you ever properly cared for you.

Feb 09 08 - 5:22am

"Love Rollercoaster" is exactly what i called my relationship with my boyfriend who i recently left. Hes bipolar, was medicated then unmedicated... medicated then unmedicated, also an alcoholic. You went thru pretty much what i did for a little over a year and it was incredibly hard to watch him in his ups and downs. I was walking on eggshells most of the time. I didn't want to give up but it started getting out of control. I dont think you should be scared of the person you love so i had to go.

Feb 26 08 - 1:29pm

I can't tell you how happy I am that you wrote this.
Thank you so much.

Mar 25 08 - 11:17am

My ex-wife is bi-polar, as is the woman I later had a serious relationship with for six years. They are both very interesting, intelligent exciting women, and I loved them . However, the emotional swings can be stressful for you both, as this story relates.

BPs seem to have a problem with dealing with strong emotions, and in my limited experience try to avoid them. Medication does seem to help - I'd probably still be with the ex if she had been diagnosed and treated sooner than after 16 years of marriage.

After 25 years of trying to work within someone else's handicap (on top of my own imperfections), I hope that my next relationship is free of this challenge.

May 19 08 - 12:19pm

Enjoyed the article - just as others said the style was superb. People who have bipolar illness range from treated + healthy, through treated + symptomatic, to untreated (or off meds). Unfortunately, the media portrays sensational stories of those who are untreated or still highly symptomatic. For many of us with the illness the only significant symptoms are denial of health insurance and the overwhelming stigma. If we don't choose to reveal our condition, most of our friends and even many of our romantic partners never know.

May 23 08 - 7:14pm

What a great story ! Last year I ended a relationship with the most wonderful person I have ever met in my life. Unfortunately her illness prevented me from seeing a future with her and my children. I don't believe I will ever again meet anyone like her and my recent realationship was marred by her memories. There are so many times I want to call her and try again, but as a friend quated to me: " No matter how mant times you try to refridgerate sour milk it still will stay soured" Was my realtionship sour? Never, and I always remember the good times and have forgotten the endless hours in the emergncy room, disturbing phone calls or abusive chatter. I miss her more than anyone can imagine. My friends and family think I "nuts' to want to contact her and just see how she is doing. Will I do this? No, but it will be hard to find anyone to replace the beautiful mments we spent together.

Thanks for your article...

May 23 08 - 7:17pm

What a great story ! Last year I ended a relationship with the most wonderful person I have ever met in my life. Unfortunately her illness prevented me from seeing a future with her and my children. I don't believe I will ever again meet anyone like her and my recent relationship was marred by her memories. There are so many times I want to call her and try again, but as a friend quoted to me: " No matter how many times you try to refridgerate sour milk it still will stay soured" Was my realtionship sour? Never, and I will always remember the good times and have forgotten the endless hours in the emergency room, disturbing phone calls or abusive chatter. I miss her more than anyone can imagine. My friends and family think I'm "nuts' to want to contact her and just see how she is doing. Will I do this? No, but it will be hard to find anyone to replace the beautiful moments we spent together.

Thanks for your article...

Jul 05 08 - 7:50am

I suffer from bipolar disorder. I have gone through great links to learn to live it.

The following is a true. BUt do not allow stereotypes. My name is Tommy D. Phillipe

and I think a counterpoint should be included. They are the numbered paragraghs.

Love Rollercoaster
Dating with bipolar disorder.
by Justin Clark
January 28, 2008

At the end of my first date with Sara, she moved in with me.

You might think the date was extraordinary. It wasn't. We'd gone to a Hollywood

hamburger stand and gabbed about bands and writers for four hours. Until that night,

we'd only spoken on the phone a few times. It didn't matter. By the time the ice in my

soda had melted, I'd fallen in love.

Sara was twenty-seven, and what people used to call a wag: smart, quick-witted,

encyclopedic. She could recount every failed Everest expedition in mesmerizing detail

Oct 10 08 - 1:16am

wow. i am so glad you wrote that. i am experiencing signs of mania at 21 and used to be something so different. i am trying to learn everything i can so that one day i too can fall in love and not ruin it. thank you for sharing your story.

Nov 06 08 - 10:43pm

Wow, amazing article... I have been off and on with a girl that is bipolar and it has been an extremely painfull rollercoaster as I love this girl with everything I have but I know I have to let her go and after reading This it has given me the confidence to do so.

Nov 09 09 - 11:07pm

I can understand the popsicle thing.

It is very difficult for me to keep to a healthy eating plan. I'm very picky. I have no patience for food preparation - though, I have no patience for anything unless I'm doing it in an obsessive way...so when I'm on a healthy eating kick, it's fine, but once that ends, ice cream is my favorite thing. I have intense sugar cravings that are very difficult to fight off and even seem to induce some sort of hypomania.

Apparently this is common in people with bipolar, as well as more general carb cravings - I would take french fries and potato planks over ice cream any day, but ice cream, for obvious reasons, is much easier to get to.

I would certainly have appreciated someone helping me to eat better all the time, since I have so much difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks if I'm not doing it obsessively. It would not be something I resented. Having someone to encourage me to go on everyday runs or walks would be nice too.

But I'm not trying to get into a relationship so I can have a personal trainer/nutritionist/cheerleader. I don't feel that's fair. I don't know at what point I'll stop feeling that it's unfair to pursue a relationship with anyone.

May 07 10 - 1:18am
low cost links

Cool page.

Mar 06 11 - 11:13pm
Nicole from CA

Wonderful post Justin. I have been dating a guy for the past 1 1/2 years with bipolar disorder and your post struck a chord with me. For the majority of our relationship I haven't even given his disorder a second thought- perhaps it was because we were still in our "honeymoon phase." However, he's become hypomanic over the last 2 months and I don't think I'm strong enough to deal with how its affecting us for much longer. I really thought he was "the one" just a few months in. I don't know what changed, exactly... I just don't find little to no joy when we're together anymore.
When doing an internet search on bipolar disorder, almost all websites on "dating someone with bipolar disorder" emphasize the need for the non-bipolar partner to go above and beyond the regular requirements of a relationship to understand the disorder (which I agree with) and to put their own feelings aside so they can be there constantly for the person (don't agree with). I feel as if a healthy relationship involves equal effort and I don't want to be the one keeping things afloat, nor do I want to lose myself in someone else who ultimately doesn't notice how much time and work I put into "us". It can be so incredibly frustrating being with someone who can be so irrational, goofy, distracted, and scatterbrained. On the other hand, he's incredibly brilliant, impeccably organized, generally even-tempered, has a good sense of humor, and has a good heart. When we get along we're like two peas in a pod. But when things aren't good they're awful. I'm too hard-headed and too much of a catch to let someone bring me so far down with them. I don't even feel like we have our own moods anymore. It's become "our" mood because he's brought me down with him.
How to end it, I don't know. There isn't one particular event or one quirk of his that I could justify as the reason it probably should end. It's the accumulation of the small things- his variable moods and my subsequent insecurity as a consequence. Thank you for writing this, though. You have made things much more clear for me.

Jun 26 11 - 7:18am

Same for me bad moments more than good ones...and his harsh tongue..enough! I read you can Heal your Life by Louise Hay and open my eyes. We have only one life and deserve to life with happiness. Wish this could help