My brain is notoriously glitchy. Whatever the current state of thought about what causes bipolar disorder, I feel the illness as residing in my brain. It’s a mood disorder, of course, but I can’t locate my moods in any place except my brain.
It’s taken a lot of time and effort – and money, to tell the truth – to get my brain to the point where I can live with it instead of in spite of it. It was badly in need of repair for so long that I didn’t quite realize that my heart needed repair as well.
Look, I know that bipolar moods come and go with little to no reason. That’s one of the hallmarks of the disorder. But the combination of depression and a train wreck of a relationship left me shattered. It’s hard enough to come out of that kind of depression, but add to it the fact that my first real love relationship had imploded so spectacularly and I was a total mess in both brain and heart.
I met my future husband about a week before I fled that situation, heading back to my hometown. After a couple of years of long-distance getting to know each other, he moved here, and together we started the process of helping me achieve healing.
Dan had experience working in psychiatric facilities, so he had some kind of an idea of what I had been going through. But he couldn’t help me psychologically – though he tried. It didn’t work. I needed professional help, from someone not personally or romantically involved with me. “Don’t come shrinking at me,” I once told him. If I had to rely on him for mental healing, I would become unhealthily dependent on him. What he could do was support me through the process. He was enormously patient, helping me with the small things like driving me to my therapy appointments. He sat with me when I cried and dispensed hugs liberally. It was a long journey to some kind of mental stability.
But my heart needed healing as well as my brain. I was emotionally damaged, as much as I was psychologically impaired. The two problems were intertwined, of course. My thinking and feeling lived in the same space – inside my head. And healing both problems had to happen concurrently.
There’s not a lot of point in having your moods stabilized when you’re hurting so badly inside. But a therapist can only do so much. I learned a lot about myself in therapy, but healing my heart was largely a joint project between my husband and myself.
It wasn’t quick or easy. After my previous relationship, I was not inclined to trust anyone with my heart. That’s one of the side effects of being gaslighted. I needed to relearn trust and renew my ability to let someone inside the barriers I had established. I needed relearn intimacy.
Intimacy isn’t just about sex, though it encompasses that too. Intimacy certainly relies on physical touch, which I definitely had trouble with. In my previous relationship, my bodily autonomy was not respected. Touch was an issue. Fortunately, Dan never uses anything except gentle touch.
Play was an issue, too. True intimacy involves being able to play together, and at some level play involves trust – trust that it won’t go too far, trust that it’s fun and not mean, trust that everyone is playing by the same “rules.” Dan is nothing if not playful.
Talk was always the biggest builder of intimacy for me, though. Call me a sapiosexual, but I find the ability to have deep, meaningful conversations a real turn-on. Dan and I have the best conversations. Sometimes I wake up when he does at 4:00 a.m. and we have tea and oatmeal and just chat in the morning. He helps me with ideas for my blogs and tells me things he read in his Archaeology magazine. We look up songs online and play them and sometimes we chair-dance. It’s play and conversation both, and we build intimacy that way.
So, it has taken a lot of work to heal my brain, but also my heart. Both are much better now.