The Gremlin Speaks

There is a voice in my head that spits bile into my brain and tells me horrible things; she calls me names like pathetic, worthless, hideous. My therapist refers to this voice as The Gremlin.


I’m sure all of you have little gremlins of your own; it is not unique to mental illness to have a negative voice in your head that beats you up. I wouldn’t try to say that my gremlin is any worse than yours, but she did make a pretty spectacular showing last night and in the interest of full disclosure, I’m going to share what she said.


If you read my last post you know that I’m getting into the dating world again. I had a first date with a guy I really like. (So far) he seems kind and like a genuinely “good” guy. I had a great time with him and was hoping he would call me to schedule another date; he did yesterday afternoon.


Later, last night, my gremlin appeared and started whispering poisonous things to me.


My gremlin told me that this nice, good guy shouldn’t have to deal with me and my crazy. This nice, good guy doesn’t deserve to have his life ruined as my life has been ruined.


I have seen how my illness has drastically altered the lives of my parents and, according to my gremlin, I’ve done enough damage to other people.


My gremlin says I should stay single forever. I should protect nice, good guys from me. I should suffer this disorder alone.


My gremlin insists that even if I get close enough to this guy to tell him about my bipolar disorder, it’s impossible that he’d want to stay with me. My gremlin speaks for him: “You’re insane and I don’t want to see you anymore.”


My gremlin is a nasty old bitch. I picture her as tiny, with a hunched back. She has green scaly skin and fat warts on her nose. She has no hair, except for huge tufts coming out of her lumpy ears. She certainly doesn’t look very trustworthy. Why should I listen to her?


I tell myself I won’t listen to her. I had the urge to call off my date without explaining myself and I didn’t call it off. I am keeping this date and damnit, I will go on it.


I can fight the gremlin. I can yell back at her to shut the fuck up. I can counterbalance everything she tells me using a skill in DBT called “checking the facts.” I can prove her wrong.


However, I cannot kill her. She will always be there, cackling and spitting in the corner. I wish I could banish her permanently, but she’s here to stay. The best I can hope for is that the longer I fight her, the weaker and quieter she gets. Here’s hoping.


Dating is Crazy (and so am I!)

I am dating again. I am both excited and terrified to be dating again. I’m excited because this feels like the right time. I’m very content as a single person, but now I want a partner and am ready for him, so I joined a dating website. Saying I have not had the best of luck with online dating is a major understatement, but I refuse to sink into cynicism and despair: “Maybe, just MAYBE this time will be good!”


This is also the right time because I really have my shit together. I’ve got a very healthy mindset; I engage in healthy practices; I’m taking great steps toward my career goals—in other words, I’m a catch! I think I would make a great partner to the right person. Of course that all depends on the one GIANT INESCAPABLE BLARING HORN OF A QUESTION: Can he deal with my bipolar?


I am terrified to be dating again because of this question. I agonize over that question and the various what ifs that come along with it.


Here’s one: What if my date asks me point blank why I am living with my parents? (If you don’t know, though I think you could guess, the reason is I had a really major breakdown [well, several over a couple of years] and as such am unable to work and support myself. My parents extremely generously took me in and now we’ve got a pretty happy, healthy communion going on.)


What if I try to answer him with at least some honesty? Even if I soften the blows of “major” and “breakdown,” he might want to follow up with a direct question about just what exactly happened that made me have to live with my parents. What if I don’t want to lie? I might feel compelled to reveal my disorder, which I ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY DO NOT WANT TO DO. Not for a while, anyway.


If I say nothing at all, or say “You know, it’s pretty personal. I’d rather not talk about it just yet” would he find that mysterious, alluring, and not necessarily a red flag, or would he be worried by what that could mean? To him, it could mean any number of things. (I murdered someone and I’m in hiding at my parents’ house! Katie is not even my real name! They’re not really my parents!) He would then have to sit, wait, and ruminate about that until I was ready to tell him—assuming he stuck around that long. What if I finally tell him and the news is worse than he imagined?


What if the news is not worse than he imagined and he is totally okay with it, in fact so okay with it, that he completely doesn’t understand the severity of my condition? (This has happened to me before. Afterall, I really have my shit together. If you don’t know me well, you might be lulled into a false sense of security in my sanity.)


Now, all those what ifs cover only one facet of my nervousness. The big what if questions multiply and branch out all over the place, like a giant tree of fucked-up-ness. For example, in addition to being anxious about revealing my disorder, I’m also incredibly nervous about my appearance.


One particular antidepressant I took for many years, Abilify, did some major damage in weight gain. Weight gain is its most common side effect, in fact. When I started taking Abilify, the shitty-ness of weight gain was dwarfed by the hope that this drug would help stop me from being suicidal. It did help. A lot. But it also helped me gain weight. Now, to be fair, I haven’t always had the best eating habits, and until recently I haven’t gotten regular exercise, but my doctor believes that the major cause of my weight gain was the Abilify. Eventually, I got to a point where my doctor felt it was safe to switch Abilify out for a different drug to keep my weight gain from getting worse.


I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit something embarrassing in the hopes that this might help/inspire someone somewhere someday: at my highest I weighed 192 pounds. I was almost 200 pounds! Holy shit! Keep in mind that at my heaviest in college I was under 140.


After the Abilify was out of my system completely, I lost some weight, and then when I started dieting and doing Cto5K I lost some more. Right now I’m between 168 and 172. So big improvement, but I’m still overweight and very self-conscious about my body. I’m afraid my lack of self-confidence will come across on a date and that can’t be sexy.


Having bipolar disorder drastically changed my identity and enforced many limitations on me. In college, right after I got sick, I was constantly butting my head against those limitations because I couldn’t accept that my life would be forever different. I tried to keep doing the things I was doing before I got sick and kept dropping the ball and failing miserably. And that completely shot my self-esteem. I have made great strides since then in regaining some confidence in my capabilities, but I am not quite the confident, forward, driven, proud person I used to be.


Long, long, long, story short, I have many reasons to be anxious about dating. Honestly, I could go on further about all the little paranoid what if questions that keep worming themselves into my brain, even as my mind attempts to combat them with phrases like “Just wait and see,” “Don’t have any expectations,” and “The right person will accept and support you the way you are.” My mini mantras are helpful, but right now the ratio of anxious thoughts to positive affirmations is depressing. All I can do is push forward and hold on to the one mantra that has helped me more than any other: “I can stand it.” Even if this whole experience is awful, I can stand it. Even if I am rejected and it lowers my confidence more, I can stand it. If the first date I have tonight is so horrible I burst into tears and have to flee the scene, I can stand it.


Wish me luck!