In a previous post, we discussed five tips for finding love with a mental illness. Here are five more.
1. When to discuss your mental illness? It’s a dilemma: When should you reveal your mental illness? The first date should be fun and light so you can find common ground, but you probably don’t want to wait so long that a medical event suddenly thrusts your problems into the spotlight.
As you contemplate a future with your significant other, please remember: Don’t feel ashamed of your mental illness, medication, or counseling. It’s no different from needing medicine for diabetes or having a drug allergy; they’re just different types of medical issues that everyday people have.
So when is the best time to educate your date about your health? Since most people need at least three dates to decide whether to pursue a more serious relationship, this issue should come up during the second or third date — just like other issues that can cause compatibility issues, such as political views or religion. If your health condition turns out to be a dealbreaker, that’s okay. It’s easier for both parties to leave a relationship with dignity before the third or fourth date; after that, you’re likely to have become more invested in each other.
And if your significant other is willing to learn more about your condition and how he or she can help you, then you can expand your support network and feel reassured that you’re not withholding any large secrets.
2. Be open and honest. Being straightforward about your medical condition conveys that you respect and value your date. Remember to include that you are seeking treatment, as it indicates that you are taking care of yourself. In essence, you’re revealing a part of yourself that not everyone knows and you’re extending an invitation to become a trusted confidante. When you treat your date as an intelligent, equal partner, you’re actually giving him or her quite an honor.
Don’t try to hide mental illness, no matter how tempting it may seem. Otherwise, it could come across as a shock to someone who’s unprepared for the reality of your illness.
3. Remember that your date’s response could change. Unfortunately, when it comes to medical illnesses, you can’t always take someone’s reaction at face value. Whenever you explain your condition to others, they need time to learn and understand what you’re going through and how it could affect them. This may change their thoughts on the matter either positively or negatively.
Allow them some time, and space if they need it, to gather more information. It’s one thing to hear you describe a panic attack, but it would be a different experience altogether to actually see you in the middle of one. It’s also possible that after initially talking with you, they may learn more information (or misinformation) that changes their perception of your medical condition.
What does this mean for you? When you discuss mental illness for the first time with your date, remember that even if he or she seems to accept it without a problem, their reaction or thoughts might change over time. If it does, it’s not your fault. It’s better for you both to be honest about your feelings and limitations to avoid getting hurt later on when you’re more invested in the relationship.
On the other side, if they take the time to get to know you better, they might be more inclined to continue spending time with you. Remember, you are not defined by your illness, it is just one aspect of you and your life.
4. Take time to get to know each other. Simply getting to know someone is often more simple than dating someone new. You’re not trying to find someone to fill expectations or a specific role, you’re just trying to connect with someone you like being around. In part, this means not getting sexually involved too quickly.
It may be wise to get to take things slowly before creating a romantic attachment. This creates a more secure environment for you to learn about each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. If you don’t mesh well as friends, then you certainly won’t work as a couple. It’s easier to let a friendship fade with dignity than to break off a romantic relationship.
On the other hand, if you find that you have a new friend, and the physical attraction is there, then you may be ready to try dating each other. After all, the strength of a marriage or other intimate relationship depends on the strength of the underlying trust and friendship. If you two are already getting along great, then you have a strong foundation for forging a deeper bond. Plus, by this point, he or she will already be more familiar and comfortable with your mental illness.
5. Trust your instincts and just be yourself. It is very important to follow your gut. Often, what you interpret as instinct is likely your subconscious mind trying to tell you something — such as whether you should join the dating scene now or wait. Follow your instincts. Your mind is a highly intelligent organ that wants you to be happy and healthy and will give you indications as to what is good for you.
Finally, relax. You are an important person of value and worth and dating you is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly. You bring strengths and weaknesses into every potential relationship and so does your date. What matters is how you feel about yourself when you are with this person and how well your personalities mesh.
You deserve to be happy and healthy. You deserve to go after and create a fulfilling life.
Mental Illness Facts and Numbers (2013). National Alliance on Mental Illness.