Dating can bring joy and passion or make you feel lonely and misunderstood. When you add a mental illness into the mix, things can get even more complicated — if you let them. But you’re hardly alone in your confusion.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in any given year, roughly one in four adults experiences mental illness. Of these, many are enjoying loving, stable relationships. Many others don’t even know they have a mental disorder.
Mental illness is a medical condition that can be treated with medication and therapy. It doesn’t have to limit your social life, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t look for a partner.
To help you navigate the dating scene successfully with a mental illness, here are five key tips to consider. (Five more will be discussed in a forthcoming post.)
- Recognize that dating is stressful. As with any stressful situation, dating can exacerbate existing issues or stretch your coping methods to the limits — with or without mental illness. The uncertainty of fledgling relationships doesn’t help either; any negative thoughts can start a downward spiral or inadvertently sabotage the relationship.So how do you present yourself in a positive light and deepen your relationship? Try speaking to a therapist about your concerns. He or she can offer a neutral sounding board, help you catch potential problems before they come up, and work with you to expand your coping strategies.
- Don’t let mental illness define you. Bear in mind that mental illness is only one aspect of a rich character, just like personality, background, or profession. You shouldn’t be any more ashamed of your illness than you would be about your job, race, or home. And remember that people don’t have to be exactly like you to offer empathy or support. As you search for a compatible mate, don’t limit yourself. Having a mental illness doesn’t mean that you have to change your standards.Instead, look for someone who matches well with all of your aspects, who makes you feel good, and who helps you become a better person. A lot of couples mix different religions, backgrounds, political views, and even medical conditions. If it works for them, it can work for you, too.
- If your doctor recommends medication or counseling, follow through as directed. When things are going well, it’s easy to think that you might not need medication or therapy anymore. It’s good to feel more confident, but remember that life always has ups and downs. If you don’t take care of yourself adequately during the “up” phase, you could trigger or worsen a “down” phase.Besides, your physician is the best person to decide whether you should continue or stop taking medication. He or she has the medical training, experience, and outside perspective to help you manage your condition effectively. Even if your doctor agrees that you don’t need the medicine, you might have to gradually decrease the dosage over a few weeks to avoid unpleasant side effects caused by stopping suddenly.Think of it this way: When you’re on a date, you probably want to present yourself in the best possible light. So you wouldn’t want to swear like a trucker or talk about the uncle who was arrested last week. In the same way, taking your medication and working with qualified health care providers helps you stay healthy and balanced. This harmony will come across during your dates, and it can help you get to know the other person more intimately and accurately.
- Write a list of desired attributes in your future mate. Do you want a significant other who is funny? Down-to-earth? Organized? Outgoing? Write a list or a description of your ideal partner. This exercise will help your mind focus on what you’re looking for in a mate and bring your subconscious mind on board with looking for the right person.You may or may not find someone who fits your description exactly, but it’ll be close. Either way, it will help you evaluate potential dates more quickly and accurately because you know what you want.
- Be open-minded to your date’s own issues. Everyone brings personal issues into a relationship. Yours may be mental health, but your date might be dealing with a family issue, a difficult upbringing, or even his or her own medical condition.The good news is that your experiences have given you a better understanding of what it’s like to go through challenges and you’ll be a better position to empathize with your date. Remember, too, that if you want your date to accept your issues, you should do the same for him or her as well.
Look for Part Two of “5 Tips for Finding Love with a Mental Illness,” coming soon.