How to tell him that you have bipolar disorder
by Chitra Kalyani
You want to explain your absence.
Your first love blames you for the months of silence in which you had fallen in love with someone else. You receive a hand-written letter from him saying that he will let go.
You did not know he had called your father. He had asked if he could fly down to your hospital, to be of help, to be there by your side. Your father tells you he had said, ‘No thank you. I think I can manage.’
Later, much later, you realise that you had wanted proof of his love. He had wanted to be there, he had tried to be there. Not just your ex, but also your father.
You call your best friends around. ‘There is something important that I have to tell you.’
They are already colouring the paper that covers the table. It is one of your favourite regular haunts, you’ve had cappuccinos here many times. Yet this time when you walk in Eva says, ‘You look like you’re in love.’
Your eyes meet his, this golden boy, and you both look down. Eva is uncanny: she perceives what no one else does, and then she points it out loud. These are two reasons one should be very afraid of her, but in fact it is probably why you love her.
Eva laughs her loud laugh when you tell her, ‘Oh, that’s it? I have bipolar disorder, too!’
Golden Boy is also unfazed. ‘My best friend has it. He goes through some hard times, but then he’s okay.’
You feel a strangeness: what you thought was secret is actually banal. And what you thought would drive people away, pulls them in closer to you. Or are they close to you because they must have perceived it already?
You dress up magnificently for your birthday. You are meeting up at the riverside and then going for a boat ride. Eva says, ‘It looks like you’re getting married.’
You do feel like a bride. You want him to know that you love him. You are wearing the jewellery he once gifted you. You know, he knows, you know. This love is ripening like a moon getting fuller and fuller. You get drunk without alcohol. You are high on poetry. You have also been here before.
You write him an email in small-caps, shrinking with confession:
i think i like you. while eva may believe me when i say so, parents and doctor think i’m hurrying the issue too much. i do seem to be in a lot of hurry. the irony is while i want to spend tons of time with you, i have been asked to reduce my exposure to things that would excite me too much. the irony is i can’t see you as much as i want to because i may get excited around you.
perhaps it has nothing much to do with the nature of my feelings, but the speed with which they manifest themselves. i may say or do something i regret, or wouldn’t normally do.
so there. it is all out. i would like to know about your feelings towards me. is a relationship possible here? i’m sorry if this is awkward or hurried.
His reply betrays his confusion. He gives you an opinion, then another, and finally admits he does not know either. It is absurd: how do you think through love, rationalise feelings?
A beautiful relationship develops. It ends, because some relationships do. You still remember him. When no one else shared your dream of a cycling club in a city riddled with traffic, one golden boy had drawn you a bicycle in blue crayon, at your favourite restaurant.
Work brings you together with a man from another continent. Though hours divide you, he responds to every message. Soon messages become frequent, and soon they are not all about work. When Christmas comes, you ask if he can be your gift. You have never seen his face.
Skype is your confession booth, you exchange stories instead of caresses. Between pieces of your biography you tell him what it means to have bipolar disorder. He asks if there is something that he should learn: to do, or just to know.
You had an answer then. Now you just marvel at the sweetness of this unassuming gesture.
You learn to slip it into conversation. You simply tell him why you need to get off the phone soon.
‘And why do you go to a bipolar support group?’
‘Because I have bipolar disorder.’
‘Oh God,’ he starts hyper-ventilating, ‘Oh God, Oh God, Oh God.’
You did not expect this.
He’s been there before. His ex had bipolar disorder, she was suicidal. They broke up. You gather it’s all coming back to him.
You loan him your go-to Bible on bipolar. Months later, you take the book from his bed; he had barely turned its pages.
You want and find someone ‘serious’, marriage-serious. You meet over a dating/marriage app. Before he bridges the distance to see you, you quickly abridge your histories. You learn his brother has a condition. You tell him of your own.
Being one with him is becoming one with his family. After an argument, you call his sister to understand what he is saying. In passing, she says he had mentioned your condition, but that you seemed ‘normal’.
Towards the end, he says he sometimes does not understand your reactions, or how to respond to them.
Sometimes they never ask for the book.
Sometimes there is no book.
You remember all the times you did not make sense. When you picked up and threw a large rock on a wall. When you snapped, and when you snapped, and when you snapped. And you did not stop till you killed whatever was between you. When you opened the car door while he was still driving. When at the hospital, everything — that you loved him, that he was Jesus, that you were Jesus — made perfect sense.
Sometimes they will not understand. And sometimes you cannot explain.
Chitra Kalyani is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. She is interested in mental health, and wants to return to writing poetry and fiction.
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