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Lifting the Veil off Mental Health: The Art of Negotiation

July 29, 2009 Leave a comment

(cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that negotiation is a part of every romantic relationship. That dynamic changes quite dramatically, however, when one of the parties involved is bipolar.

One of the questions both Jim and I have been fielding a lot lately has to do with how we negotiated doing this project. There is very obviously a level of disclosure that could create stress for all involved and I am always mindful of that whenever I sit down to write.

Where this blogging project is concerned, though, the negotiation process was fairly benign and focused more on what I should say rather than what I should not. Like I said in my last post, this is part of my pursuit of understanding bipolar disorder. And, if there is one thing that Jim wants from me it is empathy for how he feels and an understanding of why his moods are sometimes out of his control. This idea, while it required Jim’s permission, was not as contentious as those questioning may have thought and it has provided the perfect platform for the outcome Jim and I have both been working toward.

These questions did get me thinking, however, about how the both of us negotiate and make compromises on other issues. The issues may appear to be trivial in nature, but in a relationship made up of two men, one of whom is bipolar (and both of whom are stubborn), these “trivial” negotiations suddenly become much more meaningful.

A perfect example of this involves my reputation for spontaneity and Jim’s necessity for planning. Part of this need for planning has to do with his need for routines. For someone who is bipolar, a regular routine is crucial because it provides stability and structure. This is integral to maintaining a happy medium for the brain. If that routine is disrupted in some way, it can be bad news for themselves and for those around them, especially if they are in the midst of an episode.

I can’t tell you how many routines Jim has, as there are probably a number of different ones for different situations. They are all very personal and I trust that I know of the ones I need to know about.

One such routine that I learned to accept as necessary is that which requires him to know what we are doing before we leave the house on any given day. I don’t just mean an idea of what we are doing or where we are going. I mean a plan. Specifics. Where are we going first? What do we plan to do when we get there? How will we be there? How does this plan mesh with any later plans we have in the evening? As you can tell, there may be any number of questions depending on the situation and they must be answered before we walk out the door.

For my part, I have never required much planning, especially when it concerns what I’ll be doing for any random Saturday or Sunday. Part of the allure of a free weekend has always been what unknown adventures lie ahead. In the first couple of years of our relationship, we both engaged in some pretty bad arguments that stemmed from my obstinacy to making a plan and from our mutual ignorance of Jim’s condition, which was keeping both of us from talking about the real issue at hand.

In the last year, I have come to better understand why Jim needs these details. I have made compromises and I have become much more amenable to making plans for our days. Where before I would pop out of bed and be rearing to get out the door, now I take my time and come up with a number of ideas to float by Jim that we can talk about together. Then, I let him know when I think we should be out the door, what bus or metro we will take to get there and what we should do when we arrive. I know things are good when I hear Jim say “I think that will work.” This is the process we have negotiated and it has worked well for us for quite some time. Of course, it would be dishonest of me to say that I’ve learned all I need about how to deal with this one aspect of bipolar disorder. Relationships are organic and require constant vigilance. In short, we’re both still learning.

This is merely one negotiation we have made, but it has mitigated one of the more pernicious aspects of bipolar disorder. It is only negotiation, but it has brought us closer to a more peaceful and happier life.

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