LIFESTYLE
24/09/2015 17:32 BST | Updated 25/09/2015 14:59 BST

Channel 4's First Dates: Woman With Bipolar Disorder On Why She 'Feels Sorry' For Potential Boyfriends

Dating is hard. Dating with bipolar disorder is a different story altogether.

This is something that Rebecca, 28, knows all too well. The foodie and fitness-lover is set to star on Channel 4's series First Dates on 24 September.

In an insightful interview with HuffPost UK Lifestyle, she opens up about what it's really like to date when you have a mental illness and why she "feels sorry" for potential love interests.

"I often feel like I have to wear a mask," Rebecca reveals. "But why should I? I know people say that the stigma is going, but I still feel like people have an old-fashioned opinion of bipolar disorder."

first dates rebecca

Rebecca will star on Channel 4's First Dates at 10pm

Bipolar disorder is a condition that affects moods. People experience two very different sides to it: depression, where you feel very low and lethargic, and mania, where you feel very excitable and high.

"It's hard, it's tiring and you're always worrying about something," explains Rebecca. "I worry about what people will think of me when they know I have this illness.

"Will they think of me as weak? Or less able to do the job or make the correct decision? Will they think I am mad?

"I wouldn't wish this illness on my most hated enemy. But, somehow, I get by without people noticing. That's thanks to my medication and my amazing family."

Rebecca was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago.

"I've been suffering with depression since I was 18," she explains. "I had been in and out of therapy for a while, before I was finally diagnosed with having bipolar disorder."

Rebecca suffered a nervous breakdown following the breakup of her parents. Worried for her health, Rebecca's sister urged her to go to the doctors who then referred her to a psychiatrist. They then confirmed she had bipolar disorder.

"I think the reason why it took so long to be diagnosed with having it is because no one really reports their 'happier periods' or their manic cycles," she says. "It's great, why would you think anything would be wrong?"

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When it comes to holding down a relationship, things can become very difficult.

"It has affected relationships in the past," she says. "I carry a lot of guilt, I feel like my partners suffer more than me, I can be so nasty and unrecognisable.

"I say things that are so mean, I hate myself so much and I want them to hate me as much as I hate myself, so I do horrible things. I push them... I want a reaction.

"My last relationship ended very dramatically and it was before I was diagnosed, but looking back now I can see that it was a classic case example of bipolar."

At the time, Rebecca was living with her partner in Dubai.

"We were all very happy, but I was in one of my moods one evening and we started talking," she says. "Forty five minutes later we had broken up and I was packing all my stuff up.

"I got on a flight to London that same evening."

For Christine Northam, counsellor for relationships charity Relate, mental illness doesn't make you undateable.

"If a person has been diagnosed with a mental health problem then it will likely impact a relationship," she says. "But many couples who I've worked with do manage to come through it - however they may benefit by getting support and there is plenty of that out there."

For couples who are having issues Northam suggests, first and foremost, seeking therapy together.

"Look at the bigger picture," she says. "Pick up on all the positive things that there are about the relationship and don't lose count of all the peripheral things that are good about your relationship. Many couples go through tricky times and they come out stronger."

In cases like Rebecca's, where a decision has been made in a heated environment, Northam suggests "giving yourself ten minutes to calm down" by leaving the room and practising deep breathing.

She adds that people should ask themselves: "Is the action that I'm taking the best? Is there a way forward? Because I'm feeling so angry, am I actually discounting that there's a possible way we could take our relationship further without abandoning ship?"

"Make your departure if you really have to," she says, "but in a more positive way rather than in a dramatic one where you've burnt all of your bridges.

"Otherwise you never give yourself a chance to know whether there was a possible way forward because you've flown into anger prematurely."

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Living with bipolar disorder doesn't just affect partners, but it affects friends and family too.

"It's hard because people don't understand what it's like to have this illness," says Rebecca. "There's no pattern to it and you can never predict how you will feel in a week's time.

"Friends don't understand when you bail on them and loved ones feel helpless. Oh and did I mention the guilt you feel with having to bail on your friends and making your loved ones feel helpless?!"

Rebecca is set to star on Channel 4's First Dates on 24 September at 10pm. She says that having bipolar is a huge part of her life, something which she wouldn't want to hide on a first date.

"I would always tell someone I have bipolar on a first date," she says. "It is who I am and it does come out to play a lot. It's not fair otherwise. I would like to think that my date would tell me if he had an illness."

She says that while her illness hasn't discouraged her from approaching a date in the past, she does end up feeling sorry for them.

"I feel sorry that they are going to have to deal with me," she adds.

But despite the emotional turmoil of dating and the need for honesty that comes hand-in-hand with it, things are on the up for Rebecca who now has a boyfriend.

"It could be my First Dates boy! You'll have to watch and find out," she teases.

Rebecca also has out some sound advice for those in a similar position, who might be disheartened by the dating scene.

"You're not the only one out there," she says.

"Dating is a game, remember not to take it personally. Surprisingly, I find that once you open up you find that people have been affected by it in one way or another.

"If someone is so close-minded that they can't accept bipolar disorder then you're better off without them."

Rebecca will be on Channel 4's First Dates on 24 September. Watch the series every Thursday at 10pm

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Samaritans, open 24 hours a day, on 08457 90 90 90
  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994; email: help@getconnected.org.uk or visit the website getconnected.org.uk
  • Young Minds offers information to young people about mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pmand 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41
  • HeadMeds - a straight-talking website on mental health medication