Is it love when you’re swept by euphoria, a special connection, erotic stirrings, constant thoughts of another or are those signs of looming mania, with a reckless lack of judgment and over-the-top impulsive actions? Experts from the Human Sexuality Committee of the Group for Advancement of Psychiatry offer this mental checklist:
#1 What is love for you?
Can you identify differences between your experience of love when healthy and when manic? For individuals with bipolar disorder this knowledge may be elusive and change with different stages of life, but reflection should provide you with some guideposts.
#2 What qualities would a loving partner have?
Who would make a compatible mate? Ask yourself this question for three time points in your life: when you are depressed and needy, manic and invincible, and at a point when your mood is even. You will need a partner to all three states.
#3 What about sex?
What is your normal comfort level and how does that change during mania? Sexual discussions are often uncomfortable within families, but should be part of a clinical assessment. Talk frankly with your doctor and therapist about the whole range of your sexual experiences and desires, past, present, and future.
#4 What characterizes your manic states?
Although it may vary somewhat, there’s generally a pattern you can identify when it comes to relationships. Do you embrace romance? Start a friendship group in your apartment? Pursue sexual encounters in person or online? Note other tell-tale symptoms, such as changes in sleep patterns or excessive spending.
#5 Have you evaluated your judgment/impulsivity?
People in love are often impulsive but their judgment remains relatively intact. Have you neglected important value-based issues because your mind is racing and concentration is destroyed? It would be wise to question whether grand impulsive plans, like flying off to get married after the first date, might not reflect the disinhibition or spirituality of manic symptoms.
#6 Do you have the three Cs?
Consider if you have these three things with your new partner: chemistry, compatibility and commitment. There is a tendency for people with bipolar disorder to use romantic relationships as a kind of antidote, at least in the first flush of happiness. You may feel that life is so great and your depression is cured.
#7 Bought anything recently?
Lovers’ gifts, even if expensive, tend to be intimate—a diamond watch because she loved it in the window, a CD that you mixed just for him. In contrast, manic purchases are more likely to be status driven, such as a Porsche you can no way afford, or multiples, such as six similar purses in a day.
#8 Is this about you?
Do you think you are super talented and special, or is it your new lover that is the most perfect thing? People who are manic become full of themselves, or “grandiose.” Lovers are infatuated with the beloved.
#9 Have you done a mental check during a period of stability?
Answer significant questions: Are your feelings for everyone more intense, both good and bad? Are you thinking a mile a minute about just this one person, obsessed and preoccupied or are you just thinking a mile a minute? Do you share the interests of this person only when manic? Is a new love affair the only new thing in your life, or have you started new projects in other areas of your life as well?
#10 What’s up with your personal clocks?
If your appetite, energy, sleep cycle, and response to the season are in your manic pattern, try to be suspicious of yourself, something obviously hard to do as mania takes hold.
From “In the Mood for Love,” Haase and Goldenberg
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