Jenga. The Great Relationship Metaphor

There are a lot of great metaphors for life and life balance but when I think about my own personal experience, especially when it comes to love and relationships the idea of a jenga tower comes to mind. First it starts out pretty solid as you build it up piece by piece starting with a stable foundation. You want to make sure those bottom pieces are aligned just the way they should be.  You carefully place the blocks one at a time following the set pattern. Going rogue or off book will inevitably lead to a quick crash. Once you’ve finally built your tower it looks perfect, strong, stable and you have it made! Like nothing is going to take it down. But as you play the game, remove pieces and stack them back on you’re changing the game. Adding instability, danger, challenge. It’s a rush until one moves makes it all come crashing down. You instantly regret the choice but the damage is done. The tower is splayed out on the table pieces everywhere. When this happens, there’s two kinds of people. The ones who build it back up again without a thought and the ones that put it away and save it for when their head is back in it.

Which type of person is right? I guess it depends on their motivation.  Are the rebuilders building it back up because they are resilient and willing to jump back in and correct what might have gone wrong the first time? Or are they blindly building doomed to make the same errors again?  What about those who promptly put it away? Are they throwing in the towel too soon avoiding the chaos and the mess from happening again? Or are they taking the time to process, think of their game plan carefully before returning to it?

Which type of person am I?  Both and neither really. I’ve played a dangerous game when it comes to relationships. I’ve added instability, danger, challenge. I’ve shown resiliency, and tried to correct mistakes and fix what went wrong. I’ve jumped in without thinking of the consequences and impact. I’ve avoided chaos and mess but I’ve also given myself space, time to reflect, to process and return.  The problem is once I return I find myself still feeling unstable like I can’t trust that the whole thing isn’t going to crumble yet again. So I push and back away. The rest of this post is a pretty explicit account of my past relationships. It could be triggering or disappointing so this is a good place to stop if you worry about that.

For being almost 40, I haven’t actually had many relationships to base my experiences on. I started dating quite young and pretty much jumped into longer term “serious” relationships. It was a critical time when I should have focused on discovering myself and findinging what brought me happiness but instead I felt like happiness was related to a sense of pleasing someone else. It was tied to not being alone and feeling like I was part of a larger community. This would remain a constant theme throughout all of my young adult and adult years.

My first longer relationship was pretty standard in terms of a young teenage relationship. He drove, was interested in things I wasn’t but I gave up my interests for his. His family was lovely and they included me in family dinners and activities. He was also the first person I was sexually active with. I don’t want to paint the wrong impression that I was forced because it wasn’t like that. But we weren’t taught about consent and what that meant. He never asked me if I wanted to and I never said that I didn’t. I don’t actually know what the outcome would have been if we had that discussion but it makes me a little sad to know that it didn’t necessarily have to go the way it did. It did because we were uneducated that there could be another way.

Him and I broke up but not before I “cheated” on him at a party with another male that I sort of knew. I use to say it just happened but experience has taught me that things never just happen. When you partner alcohol (especially underage), low self esteem and little understanding of self this can easily happen. But even then I was already engaging in self-destructive behaviour and I wanted out of a relationship I felt stuck in so this seemed like the perfect way to make it happen. Even then the signs of emotional dysregulation and bipolar disorder were evident. I would later on return to this exact situation for the exact same reasons.

My now ex-husband and I started dating approximately 2 weeks after this relationship ended. We both jumped in with strong intensity. It was a few months before our 18th birthdays and it was a pretty serious “adult” like relationship. I was still a confused, lost young girl with no sense of self, dealing with mental health issues I had no idea were issues.

A year later we were making living arrangements because we had decided to go to the same university. At the time it was exactly what I wanted. Again his family was lovely and included me. I felt a sense of community and the loneliness had ceased. I was building a strong, secure, stable base for the life that I thought I really wanted. But I was still a child, we both were and we didn’t give ourselves space to grow into the adults we weren’t meant to be. We had personal issues neither one of understood in ourselves or each other. Mine were extreme emotional highs and lows and his were anger. The combination together was catastrophic. We kept building the tower because the dream was more important than the underlying issues. He doesn’t like me talking about him on here. He’s asked me not to and I’m torn between wanting to respect his wishes – as he is the co-parent of my children-  and wanting to tell my story. He tells me he’s dealt with the things that have happened between us and moved on. I feel like he hasn’t. That he is embarrassed by it and isn’t ready to own it, to be accountable for it and say this is what I am doing to repair harm. I’m also a little envious because if he has actually moved on than what is wrong with me that I’m still so haunted by the things that transpired?

When the tower fell, it fell hard!  My ex husband didn’t know (he does now) but I was having an affair and i’ve talked about this before on my blog. I don’t even pretend that it “just happened” because again experience has taught me that nothing just happens. This “relationship” was was with someone I was friends with. He was one half a couple friend. The four of us were close but hindsight shows me that we didn’t actually know each other well, just versions of what we wanted one another to be. I knew the affair was wrong, I can tell you that the communication between us very early on hinted at being inappropriate. A little too flirty, a little too often. I can tell you the exact moment when the interaction definitely crossed the line. It was April. I was out with girlfriends for an overnight trip in Toronto and I posted a photo on my social media where I was wearing red lipstick and felt pretty. A feeling that I didn’t often have about myself. I didn’t exactly know where things would go between us but I did know I was willing to completely let it go wherever it was going to. It was also an adrenaline rush which now I understand was tied to bipolar mania.  Again he gave sense strong sense of community. His family was lovely, they included me in activities. We had mutual friends and I felt like those friendship were my whole world. His attention made me feel like I was loved and belonged. But it was still linked to my low self esteem, little understanding of self and mental health issues I didn’t see. I also think it is important to mention that I would tell this person imaginative stories about illicit, sexual relationships I had engaged in with others. But imaginative was the key. They didn’t happen but I realized he wanted me to be the kind of person who did. So again I sacrificed my interests for his.

My tower blew up. It didn’t just collapse but it scattered into thousands of pieces like the small glass cubes when a window shatters. While on vacation with our friends and our respective families my ex would walk into a sexualy compromising situation on the beach between myself and our friends. This collapsed his tower too and his anger response took over and he hit me in the face and when I got out of the ocean he continued and I hit him back this likely caused me to break my hand. I remember falling to the ground hard asking for help and watching the person I thought cared a lot for me walk away with his partner. Once again in that moment I felt very a strong wave of loneliness and I wished the ocean could have swallowed me up to release me from that feeling.

I wish I could say the affair ended at this moment but it didn’t. It would continue for another year or so. It was definitely an imbalance of power and while it didn’t cause my mental health struggles or eventual breakdown it was certainly one of the key pieces.

I use to think that in all of these relationships I lost myself. But the truth is I never actually knew who I was. I was able to shape myself and become who the people I was around needed me to be. That was all.

I’ve been doing a lot of work to build my tower back up again. The process is slow and it certainly isn’t linear. I may build a few pieces, knock some or all down. I repeat the process and learn why it didn’t work that time. I’m learning a lot about myself, my challenges but also my strengths. I have a strong sense of empathy. I see things from all angles and shades. I have a gift for creativity and making my space functional but beautiful. I have a strong motherhood instinct and I’ve created a loving, supportive home for my children. I advocate for their needs and I’ve become confident in the parenting decisions I make. I have a talent for baking and cooking and it’s been trial and error with a lot of of error but that makes me want to do it even more. I have a gift for writing and I’m not afraid to share my story even if it makes people uncomfortable. I say “I refuse to stay quiet so you can stay comfortable.” I’m an advocate for mental health and social justice and I have no space in my life for bigoted and close minded thinking. I’m creating a life that is authentic and at the moment I don’t want surface friendships. There’s a time and a place for that but right now isn’t the time for me.

All of this does have an impact on what it means for me moving forward with a new relationship. I’ve tried dating on and off again and it goes the same way. I sign up or start. I have some interesting interactions  and some pleasant.  The pleasant ones make me the most uncomfortable so I push back and abandon them. I’m not sure I’m in a place where I can trust that someone isn’t going to inevitably hurt me. Or I’m not going to shape myself into someone I think they want me to be. How do I bring up my past struggles and my mental health. I’ve tried immediately bringing it up but then I’m left feeling too vulnerable. I’ve tried not saying anything but then I feel the weight of a crushing secret. So I don’t actually have an answer at this time. But maybe that’s ok too.

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About IT…

I have this recurring dream.  It started when I was probably 17 or 18.  It’s neither scary or happy, it feels kind of empty. In this dream I am at an art gallery. It’s fancy and everyone is in black, there is music playing. Soft classical piano. The art changes. Sometimes modern paintings, sometimes sculpture, often photography black and white. In the dream I am there but I never see my face. I know it’s me because I’m present in my body but I’m also detached and watching from over head. It’s this really strange two perspective sensation. I always look the same. Hair is up, pearl earrings, black dress that is backless. I am always thin even during times of my life when I am not. My hair is always blonde. I’m looking at the art work and I have a glass of champagne in my hand, a delicate tall thin flute. My nails are perfectly manicured. I’m looking at the art work but I don’t actually see it because I’m not paying attention to it.  I’m waiting. For someone. I assume it’s the artist but I can’t really say because I never actually meet the person I am waiting for. The dream ends in different ways.  In some versions I finish the champagne and leave and I wake with such a heavy feeling of sadness. Sometimes I study the artwork and then the dream just dissipates. Sometimes I feel a hand on my shoulder. That’s my favourite version because I know it’s who I have been waiting for even though I never get more than that feeling of their presence.

I feel like this dream infiltrates my awake world. I often feel that sense of detachment. Like I am in my body but at the same time a spectator watching my life unfold from above. I usually have the feeling of sadness because I am alone. It always feels like I’m waiting for someone, anyone. Just to notice me.

I mentioned before that not all of these posts would be comfortable. For me to write or for others to read. This is going to be one of those.

**Warning**  I am going to talk about sexual things that may challenge your values, attitudes and beliefs. If this makes you uncomfortable especially if you are a family member or friend then I suggest you stop reading.  Browse another blog post like this one, or go back and analyze my dream.

I’m terrible at interpersonal relationships.

With friendships I can come on too strong. It’s like I miss the social cues. I may come for a coffee but stay over too long. I’ve been told by someone else that this is an issue that others are too polite to mention. I can get slightly obsessive and focus all my attention on a particular friend or group and basically ignore my other friendships. I struggle with balance and boundaries and take it personally if a friend tells me they are busy or don’t respond. A good friend of mine, who has been with me every step of this journey said to me, “silent just means busy.”  But I read into and catastrophize the silence. I often have difficulty seeing others needs and take this a personal attack rather than understanding that other people are dealing with their own struggles.

During a manic state it’s all about what is fun, daring and risky and little attention to consequences is paid. I’m the “life of the party”.  My libido is intense and my extroversion is sky high. After the inevitable crash I’m left with a sense of shame for acting outside of my core values. I’ve crossed boundaries and lines sometimes it’s just a toe over. Something like a hug that lingers, extra held eye contact, a brush with my hand on a leg or an arm. Sometimes I go a little further over that line. I might bite an earlobe during a simple goodbye, make overt sexual comments, grab and hold a hand, lap dances because really it’s just “fun”. In some instances I’ve not only crossed the line but crumpled it up and stomped on it. I’ve put myself in some potentially dangerous, compromising situations with individuals that are little more than strangers. And… I’ve had an affair.

Why? I don’t know, I don’t understand it.

I’ve always felt a little like something is wrong with me. That I lack values or maybe I’m a sexual deviant. But I struggle with that idea too because I do have values and this behaviour contradicts what I value.

Recently I came across a term for this – Hypersexuality. 

“Hypersexuality tends to occur during mania or hypomania and it creates the need for sex such that it seems you could claw through a wall if it meant getting to the sex on the other side. Picture being turned ravenously on by a dish towel. Or a floor lamp. Or a piece of tuna fish. And then needing to sate that need with the nearest warm body. Hypersexuality sort of like that.

(Of course, the opposite phenomenon also occurs. When in a depressed phase a person with bipolar may want nothing to do with sex at all.)”

Also:

  • People with bipolar are more sexually adventurous than the average
  • People with bipolar are more likely to have had sex with both genders
  • People with bipolar may or may not identify as bisexual, regardless

I do know that impulse control, especially during a manic state is a thing.  Some people will struggle with drugs and alcohol, shopping, gambling, driving too fast, hypersexuality. Or some people all or many of the above.

Being bipolar means being insatiable. The high of the mania is never high enough. There is always a desire, a need, to push the high to the next level, in the same way a drug addict constantly requires more and stronger drugs. For a person with bipolar disorder, risky behavior can be the best drug of all.”

Hypersexuality is a struggle for me. When I’m manic it’s like I don’t have an off switch.  Jess Melancholia in her post puts it to words better than I could. She says,

“When I’m hypersexual, I get intense cravings for sex. It’s similar to the sort of “butterflies in your stomach” feeling when you fall in love. It’s an intense high that gives me a massive boost in self-confidence. The temptation to act out is so strong I can practically feel it on my skin and taste it on my tongue. The worst part about hypersexuality is I’m never satisfied. I have to actively resist what my body is essentially trying to do on autopilot. If I’m not careful, then I’ll do something I’ll regret.”

And I’ve done things I regret.

But I’m also trying to forgive myself.

And learn to be better.

This is one piece of my bipolar disorder puzzle.  It’s not simply hypersexuality. It also comes from my fear of being alone. So the attention seeking behaviour fills that need. It makes me feel that by being desired that I’m not alone.  It kind of works the same way with friendships.  If I constantly lend myself out, offer to help, and go out of my way it fills that same need of not feeling alone. I guess it goes back to that dream.

I also struggle with boundaries. Not just other peoples boundaries but my own. Someone will ask me to do something (personal or work related) and my head is saying no but my mouth instantly says yes. Then I feel guilt for saying yes when I don’t want to. I’ll take it on and pile my full plate a mile high or I’ll last minute make an excuse why I can’t actually fulfill the commitment. Recently I had an oil change for my car. I had to reschedule it and the day she gave me I knew it didn’t work but my mouth said yes. I then tried to cancel it but I couldn’t so I just didn’t go. Now they are calling me to rebook it but I feel humiliated that I just didn’t go.

Here’s what I am learning.

I’m learning to change the behaviours.  That doesn’t mean I’m always going to get it right. I’m learning to value my time alone and find joy in that time. I’m training myself to love the space I’m in by creating a structured routine of my day, much like I would do when I have the children or am at work. I’m learning to respect my friend’s boundaries and show empathy toward what they are going through. I’m trying to ask them how they are doing instead of launching into a rant about how I am. I’m understanding that silent often does mean busy and not get out of my life. I’m learning to respect my own boundaries and establish for myself what those are. I’m learning that “love” and manipulation are NOT the same thing. I’m learning that I am who I am. I can be me in a way that is risky, fun and exciting but is also safe and doesn’t harm others too.

On Friday I went on a date.  Like a normal, lets have a drink and a bite to eat kind of date. He seemed nice, conversation was great and I was thinking I’m not sure if he’s what I’m looking for but I thought if he’s interested I would go out again.

However, before I left I set up the following boundaries for myself.

  • A kiss is fine but that is all. But ask me, even ask me if you want to hold my hand or hug me. It’s all about respect and consent!
  • I don’t want to be called “beautiful, gorgeous, honey” etc.  Those are presumptuous  terms from someone who is basically a stranger. They make me feel icky.
  • I don’t owe you an explanation so if you ask me something and I politely decline or say that’s a story for another time, it needs to be respected and not probed deeper.

He didn’t follow all my boundaries. And to be fair I didn’t share them but I am kind of looking for someone who just is naturally that way. Someone’s who values and boundaries align with mine.

When he texted me the next morning I instantly felt compelled to agree to meeting up again, because he was nice enough and I was feeling guilt for not wanting to disappoint him. I also felt maybe my bar is too high I mean let’s face it I’m a risky investment. Getting caught up with me – who would even want that? I also told myself I don’t want someone who is nice, I want daring, risky, dangerous. But really that wasn’t any of it. I went back to the boundaries I established for myself in the first place. He didn’t follow my rules. Period. I can change my mind, I have choices. So I thanked him, politely declined and wished him luck in his search (thanks to my awesome support network for helping me through it).

So I am learning, and I do want to change my behaviour.

I also think, that this week I’m going to go to the local art gallery, and I’m going to let my hair down lose and wild and i’m going to take my time and really appreciate and soak in every single art piece that is in there.  And I’m going to go it alone!

xo

 

Angry

I’ve had a dip and I feel a little bit like I’m losing ground. Mostly this dip is making me feel all sorts of angry.

I’m not a negative person. But negative thinking and self-talk are a by product of Bipolar Disorder and I’m learning to counteract them but keeping a wellness journal and reminding myself that in spite of everything I’m still a good person. But sometimes even when I have best intentions and even when I try all of my strategies I still feel angry.

Here’s why:

I’m angry at myself for going my entire life and not recognizing that what I just assumed was who I am was actually symptoms of bipolar disorder.

I’m angry at friends who have turned their backs on me. Sure what I’ve gone through, the choices I’ve made, the reactions I’ve displayed, the secrets I’ve kept are uncomfortable. They may challenge your values, you might even judge them. But here’s the thing why would you walk away from someone during their darkest hours? For the record judgement is just fear. So you’re not better than me but something about me elicits a fear response in yourself.

I’m angry because I can’t shake feeling angry, and being emotional even though I’ve been in a really good place since my hospital stay.

I’m angry because my medication increase happened on Friday and I’m not feeling calmer just tired and angry.

I’m angry because I cried on the phone when a friend called me and asked how I was doing and for one of the first times I wasn’t able to just put on a brave face and say “pretty good.”

I’m angry because in a heightened emotional moment this afternoon my travel coffee mug broke on the driveway… confession, I threw it on the ground because the actual mug when I picked it up triggered such strong physical response that I felt like I was going to be sick so I acted without thinking.

IMG_2082

I’m angry because I’m struggling with past choices. I want to just forgive myself, make peace with my past and move forward but I can’t.

I used my journal today to remind myself to breathe. To show myself compassion and self love and pray that tomorrow is a new day and I feel less angry.

 

 

 

My Underlying Story

 

Yesterday a friend posted this on Facebook and shared her underlying story. I was fascinated by the concept and proud of her for being vulnerable and sharing her underlying story. I asked her if I could use this for a blog post and share my underlying story.

Besides having Bipolar Disorder, I do have an underlying story. Mine is one where I feel like I am never quite good enough and if I let my guard down and let you in to see the true me then you might not like who that is and then I am alone.

Fear of people not accepting me and therefore being alone, that’s my underlying story.

I’m an oversharer, and I am passionate about life but I often keep my opinions to myself and keep things a secret.

These aren’t things like my favourite types of music, food, political allegiances, feelings about sexuality, gender equality, spirituality and so on.  But darker things.  Once, I opened up to someone. For someone reason I felt a security, a rapport an affinity to this individual and for whatever reason I was able to reveal things. I even shared a dark heated moment when my spouse had hurt me and left a very large, visible mark on my shin. I needed the perspective from someone else, an outsiders point of view and I can’t tell you how much courage and strength it took me to share that.  I also shared with this person when I was having passive suicidal thoughts. I felt safety with this person but as it turns out it was a false sense of safety. But here’s the thing, everything that has happened, happened to bring us to the moment we are in now, “there are no wrong decisions. When you’ve done millions of pro/con lists, and you’ve flipped coins hoping you’ll know which one is the one you want before the coin hits the ground, but you’ve come up empty handed, you might need to know there is no such thing as a wrong decision.”

So when do I feel like my true self?  When I am running. When I am creating something beautiful. When I paint my nails, or choose what I think is the perfect outfit. When I take time to really see my surroundings.  When I am on a beach. When I watch my kids run and laugh and enjoy each other.  When I don’t care if someone thinks my sweater with the flowers on it is ugly, or that my hair looks better long.  When I get another tattoo because I think they are beautiful and a great way to express things that are meaningful even if everyone around me thinks I already have too many. When a book ending leaves me in tears, or when I hug a friend so tight I feel like my heart might actually explode. When I put words on a paper and they string together with eloquence and beauty. When I let my heart lead the way instead of worrying that emotions mean I don’t have good business sense.

But mostly as I am learning – I feel like my true self when I am who I am. When I’m not worried what others think or when others choose to see a version of my that they have created and edited in their own mind.

So fear of being not accepted and fear of being alone is my underlying story but “Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten.” – Natasha Beddingfield

 

 

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