Toxic Men Took Advantage Of Me For Way Too Long—Here’s How I Now Protect Myself

As just one of the millions of adults in the US that have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I’ve had a history of always falling for the wrong guys. My mental health condition made me extremely susceptible to toxic men and toxic relationships and it took me a long time to learn how to protect myself.

  1. I suffered from a serious loss in judgment. I was diagnosed with early-onset bipolar disorder at 16 but was only handed anti-depressants and sent on my way by doctors. I didn’t receive the proper mental health care for my particular mental woes for decades. Anti-depressants triggered my manic episodes, which included impulsive decision-making. Men (with the maturity of boys) were my obsession. I craved love and lust, so I latched onto anyone who gave me positive attention.
  2. I turned to self-medication. Anti-depressants couldn’t stabilize my moods so I turned to drugs to self-medicate. My lows were the worst but I enjoyed the euphoria of mania (in the beginning, at least). I turned to uppers to keep that euphoric and superior feeling that I loved so much. This made me gravitate towards other drug users for companionship. One addict in a relationship causes serious disruption. Two addicts in a relationship cause utter chaos and instability.
  3. I didn’t love myself. I didn’t love myself enough to care about the emotional abuse I was on the receiving end of in my relationships. I saw all the signs but chose to ignore them. During severe bouts of depression, bipolar liked to remind me how ugly and useless I was. I was unworthy of real love and I’d never find a better man. Honestly, I didn’t love myself at all so I couldn’t take real love given to me.
  4. I carried shame and guilt. Along with the lack of self-love, I carried shame and guilty by the ton. Filled with guilt that my illness was my fault, I internalized stigma on mental illness. I was fed the “think happy” BS by family members since I was a kid. Carrying all these negative emotions made it easy for the toxic men in my life to gaslight me. Their drug use, their lying, and the stealing from me was my fault because of my illness. I made them do these things to me. Sometimes I was crazy and these crappy events never truly happened. Or that’s what I was told. I believed everything was my fault.
  5. I isolated myself. When depression was my closest friend, I had a hard time gaining the motivation to spend time with my closest friends and family members. Being around people literally drained me of my energy for days. My loved ones weren’t able to see the red flags waving and the disaster bells ringing. They didn’t know I needed them and I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help.
  6. I wanted to be the fixer. I was falling apart at the seams. I couldn’t muster up the courage to take the steps I needed to get better and to get mental health treatment. Instead, I wanted to be “the fixer” of others. I dated projects that didn’t want fixed. I transferred my needing to heal to trying to heal my broken boyfriends.
  7. My reactions were intense. I can’t pretend that I’m some innocent little girl. My reactions to these toxic men, to the drama, to the rejection, and to the broken hearts were also toxic. Struggling with unmedicated bipolar disorder and PTSD as well as never learning the right way to handle my emotions lead to yelling and smashed phones. When a mean spirited boyfriend would belittle or gaslight me, I’d return hurtful words. I found different little ways to hurt him in return because my heart was broken.
  8. I needed to heal. Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. I’m sober and I’ve been getting the help I need, including the right meds and therapy. I’ll always struggle with the inner turmoil of mental illness but I’m now learning the tools to cope. I’ve been with my boyfriend for three and a half years. He’s the one that gave me the kick in the bum I desperately needed to get better and has been my support down the journey to mental well-being. He continues to show me what love is supposed to feel like and it sure feels like home.
Casey Elizabeth Dennis is a freelance writer and part time poet. She's passionate about mental health and horror movies. You can find her either writing or catching Pokemon in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa.