Dealbreaker: The Unmedicated Guy

It didn’t take long for me to figure out something about Nick* was different. Everything about him was outsized, super-charming and a bit impulsive. For our second date, he seriously considered whisking me away to Atlantic City for the weekend to go gambling. After only two weeks of dating, he told me he thought I was “the one.” He chatted a mile a minute, exhausting one topic and moving right on to the next without missing a beat. On our earliest dates, I literally felt as though I was his audience — though I didn’t exactly mind, because he was charismatic and bright and his life story fascinated me. I’m not the life of the party at all, so to be with someone who is the life of the party was extremely fun. When he finally told me after several dates that he had bipolar disorder and ADD, I nearly smacked myself in the forehead. Of course he does! I realized. He’s textbook!

My older brother Eliot* also has bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression). Eliot’s behavior when he has not been taking his medication is almost exactly like Nick’s. He’s just as impulsive, if not more so; a few Christmases ago, he tried to persuade me to ditch our family and drive to Foxwoods to go gambling. Eliot is also very charming, charismatic, bright and the dictionary definition of “the life of the party.” Our personalities are so different that our friends can hardly believe he and I are related.

So when Nick mentioned that he is not taking medication for his bipolar and ADD, I nearly smacked myself in the forehead a second time. Of course, of course, I thought. And then: F**k. Mental illness is just a fact of my life. I have three loved ones who are really close to me with bipolar disorder: Eliot, a friend from home’s mom whom I consider my surrogate mother, and an ex-boyfriend from many years ago. Through my relationships with them, by age 14 or 15, I could recognize the behaviors of people who suffer from this illness. (Eliot was not properly treated for his bipolar until he was in his mid-20s, so now I may well be an expert!)

But mental illness is a fact of my life because I have suffered from it as well. I’ve had bouts of some terrible depression (some call it unipolar depression) from my late teen years onward. A few years ago, during a really serious bout, my mom and my sister and one of my friends persuaded me that it was time to get serious about taking care of myself. I started seeing a therapist again, taking anti-depressants daily, making sure to get at least eight hours of sleep every night, and conscientiously trying to exercise better judgment with my life choices. For the past three years, I’ve felt beyond great. I even went through a craptacular breakup in January and managed not to plunge back into a depressive state. To me, that was a huuuuuge and important sign that I am caring for myself properly.

Let me be clear that I do not believe that everyone has to cope with their mental illness the same way I do. First of all, people have different diagnoses. Second of all, even amongst people with similar diagnoses, every single person has different life experiences. I know many, many other people with mental illnesses as well. My ex-boyfriend who was bipolar and I used to attend a mood disorders support group for young adults at Columbia University. It was there that I met many lovely people with all kinds of different life experiences. I know that “one size” does not “fit all.”

That being said, I have been around the mood disorders block enough times to get the “Danger, Will Robinson!” message loud and clear.

When Nick* first told me how he wasn’t taking meds or seeing a therapist, of course I interrogated him as to why not. His reasons are his reasons. They are not mine to judge. However, the repercussions of his choice in that regard continued to play out in our interactions. There was his manner of speaking that I already described, as well as complete differences in energy level. Some nights when I slept over, I would be ready to go to bed at a “normal” hour — like midnight — and he’d want to stay up for many hours more. If we traipsed around town on a Saturday afternoon, I would need some time to rest my feet and relax while he’d be ready for, like, six straight hours more of exciting activities. I felt like the difference between Nick’s energy level (without coffee) and mine (with coffee) was 300 percent. I guess you could say he was very “raw.” And frankly, it was exhausting for someone like me.

He mentioned this to me, of course. He wasn’t oblivious; he could tell I seemed irritated and tired by him sometimes. He phrased our divergent behaviors as a potential personality difference: he is very, very extroverted and I am very, very introverted. I admitted to him that it’s true our personalities are different. It’s true I’m an introvert sent from Central Casting: I’m somewhat shy, generally pretty quiet, and would rather crawl under the table and die than draw attention to myself in a social setting. (I will never, ever, EVER do karaoke.) It’s true that I do not always feel at ease around other people who are the complete opposite from me in this way, mostly because I don’t understand why they feel comfortable behaving in a way that I don’t. But I respect people are all different — we’re all God’s special little rainbows, so to speak — so it’s not a big deal that not everyone is just like me.

With Nick, though, it did feel like a big deal — at least to me. When he’d suggest something impulsive (Let’s go on a trip! Right now!) or chatter on for 20 minutes straight about five different topics without pausing for me to speak, I would think back to what he said about the bipolar and the ADD. I’d wonder if he’d want to do these things if he were taking medication, or whether this was just him, and then I would feel guilty about wishing he’d be on medication. Am I a hypocrite for being depressed myself and not wanting to date someone who struggles with similar problems as me? All those questions were difficult and heartbreaking to turn over and over in my head. But I don’t feel like it is my place to tell other people how to treat their mental health, especially not someone I had only known for a month.

It wasn’t easy to tell Nick that I did not think we would work out as a couple. I miss hanging out with him, because I truly adore Nick as a person. We only dated each other for one month (hanging out several times a week) and yet we formed an increasingly-intimate connection with each other that I know is truly uncommon in the demoralizing dating world. When Nick and I told each other that we wished each other the best and wanted to stay friends, I believe we both really meant it.

I have other hopes for Nick, as a friend. I hope he suffers as little from his illnesses as humanly possible. I hope he manages to cope with them as best he can. I hope he finds a woman who loves him better than I ever could have. I couldn’t date someone who didn’t treat their mental illness the way I do and the way my loved ones do. Perhaps another woman — a better woman? — will.

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