Navigating Broken Relationships After a Manic Episode 

One of the most painful aspects of living with bipolar is the way in which it can wreak havoc in our personal relationships. During mania we are more likely to make social faux pas from making promises in moments of grandeur we can’t keep to tearing people down during our unbridled rage. When we emerge from these states, we may have mortifying flashbacks of those moments we took up too much space, we’re too loud, cussed too much, and made ourselves the center of the Universe. In other instances, we may not even remember what we did to hurt someone or lose the trust of someone we love. It can be a rude awakening to navigate our social world after an episode when we unintentionally or unknowingly did so much to change it. 

Here is the million dollar question:

How do we start to pick up the pieces when we face the wreckage that our episodes leave behind?

Part of the healing process is accepting that sometimes we can’t. As a society, we have not come to a collective understanding about how altered states of consciousness, such as mania, depression and psychosis affects human behavior and relationships. 

After I went through my last and most devastating episode the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, I mistakenly spent my energy lamenting about the ways in which I felt the people had failed me. I thought to myself, My friends should have known I wasn’t myself. And for those who knew that I had been deteriorating I thought, Why didn’t anyone say something? One of the most perplexing aspects of bipolar mania is that the manic individual is usually the last person to know they are unwell.

Mania feels fan-frickin-tastic! I feel on top of the world when I’m manic. I feel the happiest I’ve ever felt. I feel like the smartest and most good looking person in the room. And unlike the brief moments that we all feel this way after we get good news or wear a cute outfit, the feel good feelings of mania last a looong time. This high can last days, weeks, and even months putting us in a vulnerable position where we’re super impulsive for better or for worse. While some people around us may respond well to our elevated state as they live vicariously through us, this positive regard usually doesn’t last. The longer we stay in this state, the more opportunity for destruction, especially in our close and intimate relationships.

Looking back I really wish I had people to extend honest compassion and have the hard conversation with me that I was manic and behaving in ways that were harmful to me and others. ESPECIALLY, since my diagnosis is something that I talk openly about and disclose early on when cultivating relationships.

But alas, I learned to let go of how I so desperately wished others had responded when I was in crisis.

I learned to focus on what I can control.

I couldn’t control how I behaved during my episode, but so can control what I do next once in a more regulated state. I soon discovered that there is only so much a flood of apologies can accomplish. After making amends, I had to leave the ball in other person’s court. The work of relationship repair and restoration requires the willingness and effort of all parties. After beginning the conversation, some people chose not to respond or continue the relationship despite how much history we had.

As life resumed in-person interactions after the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had to accept the discomfort of being in the same space as someone who interacted with me during the most intense parts of my psychosis. I welcomed the opportunity to re-engaged as my new self that had transformed through surviving mania, psychosis and suicidality while pregnant and then navigating my postpartum in a global pandemic. When the person chose not to engage and chose to ignore me entirely, I had to accept their choice.

What I know four years after that life altering episode is that I’m in an entirely new context. I am a different person with more self-awareness, -knowledge and -mastery than I could have ever imagined. It took me a while to be as open about my mental health as I was before my crisis in 2019. I thought I would be heavily judged and I so desperately wanted to pass for neurotypical. However, the more I stand in my truth and tell my story through my writing, art, advocacy, and scholarship, the more I find power in all that I have been through and who I have become because of it.

I’ve learned to stop explaining myself to people and instead proudly be out and open about my Mad identity and lived experience in ways that bring me joy and set me free.

After all the apologizing, I’ve been able to look back at old relationships and see how they were not supportive to begin with. How they didn’t have the depth to hold all of me. So now I forgive and make peace with their wounding which inadvertently hurt me too.

In this new phase of life, I am more discerning about the people I allow around me and who I give my energy to. I am learning to manage my expectations and also put safety and crisis plans in place as a guidebook for those who do want to support me in my time of need, but may not intuitively know how to do so.

Now, I am meeting folks and maintaining relationships with people that get it. Why? Because I am investing my time in people who are taking more time and care to get me.

Image Description: A hand assembling broken pieces of tile to form a mosaic.

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