The Bipolar Fatal Attraction
On the "Ask" feature here at BipolarConnect, Rockyrizzy observed:
"I only seem to get on with people who have the same [bipolar diagnosis] as me, even if they have not been diagnosed as such …"
Very interesting. I have the exact same fatal attraction. This came out loud and clear for me after a break-up late last year with a very lovely and lively woman. My romantic interests have always involved women of seismic disposition. As for my friends and acquaintances, "steady" is not the first word to come to mind.
What is going on, here?
Flashback to a year ago. I was delivering my first (and last) grand rounds to a group of psychiatrists and therapists at a hospital in Princeton. Compared to the patients I was used to talking to, these guys were bumps on a log. It was as if someone had mass-injected their brains with novocaine. I’ve experienced seaweed with more personality.
In my talk, I mentioned that bipolars often experience the world in different (and very healthy) ways and don’t necessarily want to be treated according to someone else’s version of normal. I noticed the surprised looks in the audience, and blurted out: "Look, we don’t want to be like you."
Then I added: "To me, you all have flat affect."
Frozen stony cold silence. We are talking Kelvin grade cold, as in the cessation of all molecular motion. At this point I should have tossed away my script and tried to engage them in a dialogue. "Why should this be a surprise to you?" I should have asked. "Let’s talk about this. Tell me where you’re coming from."
Okay, here’s what I think is going on:
We’re obviously a lot more animated than the general population, but the way I see it is that not all of this is pathological. Quite the contrary - the rest of the world should be more like us.
Yesterday, I was in LA touring the brand new Grammy Museum with a good friend of mine. Louis Armstrong happened to come up on the film display. "I love this guy" I enthused. I practically levitated off the floor.
My friend does not have bipolar, but, for lack of a better term, I would describe her as having a "bipolar personality." She sparks and sparkles. Not surprisingly, she is drawn to similar people. My over-reaction to Louis Armstrong was music to her ears. She wasn’t dragging a block of wood around the museum with her.
"Look at that!" she blurted out, several exhibits later. "Three of these people had Martin guitars!"
Yes! I had just noticed the same thing!
From my point of view, I felt emotionally safe. I did not have to worry about a disapproving reaction. I could be myself. I could experience the moment. More important, I had someone I could share the moment with.
Earlier, we just happened to be talking about the very issue that Rockyfrizzy had raised. Neither of us have time for boring. Smart, funny, intellectually curious, creative, and lively are just some of the traits we are drawn to.
But we both acknowledged the downside, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. Explosive, angry, moody does not begin to describe it.
But life with the "flat affect" people? I can’t even begin to imagine it.
After I was diagnosed ten years ago, I made every effort to dial in my "bipolar" behavior. Trouble was, I was passing myself off as someone I was not. Over the years, I finally figured out that "a little bit crazy" was my true baseline, and that my life was far richer for it. So I stopped living the lie.
Paradoxically, now that I’m more relaxed in public I come across as far more normal. Funny thing, even the flat affect people are drawn to "a little bit crazy." It’s as if they need a jump start from people like us. Yes, I have to watch myself in public and have regard for others, but first I have to be myself.
It’s been a long journey …
John is an author and advocate for Mental Health. He wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression and Bipolar Disorder.