Dealing with a mental illness and striving to live a normal, productive life is commendable. Having a close support group of family and friends can make it easier to do so. Besides your regular mental health care practitioner, it is important that the important people in your life also understand the challenges that you face on a daily basis.
Part of living a normal and healthy life is to explore relationships with a special someone. Dating is something that everyone does to find that one person who you can spend a lifetime with. Of course, there is the added demand of telling your date exactly what you are struggling to deal with.
They need to understand that there are days when you can’t leave the house, because of the anxiety it causes you. They need to know that when you try to break up with them, it’s because you feel unworthy of their love and want to set them free, not because you don’t love them back. They need to know that you can be needy, selfish and dependent, but that’s only because you forgot to take your pills.
Why it’s important to share this information?
When you are considering building a life with someone, it’s best not to have any secrets hanging over your head. Talking about a mental illness is also not something that you should be doing on a first date. It’s best to see a person a couple of times before revealing such private matters. That way you would have a good idea about the person and if you see a future with them, before you say anything.
However, keeping them in the dark is a severe blow to the trust that should reside in a relationship. Building that trust is important if you see a possibility of ending up in a long term relationship. There are a lot of challenges to dating someone with a mental illness, and your date deserves to know in advance what they are signing up for if you deal with one.
How soon is soon enough to share?
There is no definite deadline to tell your date that you are managing a mental health issue. In some cases it could be weeks before you feel the need to open up with your secret and share your life completely with your partner. In other cases you may be compelled to share these details after a couple of good dates, when you realize that this is the person you are looking forward to spending more time with.
It’s normal to feel some trepidation when you share your secret. After all the social stigma that is attached with mental illnesses, it is expected that some people may not take the news very well. In which case, it’s a good thing to share the information early on, so that if they are willing to stay with you for the long haul, you know you have a winner. If they don’t want to be with you after they know about your mental illness, it’s good that the relationship ends as soon as possible.
In terms of time frame, you should definitely disclose your secret by the time your relationship hits the three month mark. By then you may have had a couple of episodes and they would have seen you through them. If they ask, it’s a good time to share the truth, no matter how long you have been seeing each other.
How should you disclose your secret?
There is never an easy way to say something life altering, so the best thing to do is be completely honest. You can scope out what they feel about mental illnesses by asking how they feel about them. Then hone in on the symptoms of your own illness and express how difficult it must be to deal with them. By now their opinion in the conversation should give you a good idea about how they will take the news.
If they seem sympathetic, go ahead and tell them. It will be nerve wrecking to continue keeping the secret and be in a relationship with someone who pegs you as “crazy”. Their reaction is a result of their attitude and not a reflection on you. If they are not put off by your disclosure, allow them to learn more about what they can expect as your illness progresses through different phases.
Explain each stage of the illness, and tell them what they can expect from you. Admitting you are scared, will not make you any more vulnerable. Give them time to process what you have disclosed. As long as your mental disorder is not so intrusive that you can’t live a normal life with medication and therapy, it should be possible for you and your partner to work out a system that works for your relationship.
It will help your date to know that you are already living as close to normal a life as possible with your mental illness. Discuss your life, what all you love to do, who all you enjoy spending time with, the hobbies you indulge in. Your date knows that you can function normally, and may need help just part of the time. Your independence becomes a good point to prove how living with a medical condition does not make you dependent on others.