Hot Topics: Love and Intimacy
(Column: Sex and Relationships)
The sex and relationships column
Question: I met a woman and we've been seeing each other for three months. I want to get more serious, but she knows nothing about mental illness. I don't know when or how to disclose my condition to her. I feel by disclosing, I take a big risk, but it's the only way I'll know if she's right for me. If she's understanding, she's the one, but if she isn't—she's not. Please explain the best way for me to disclose.
Lance: Good to hear that you have been dating for three months. Too many of us disclose too soon in a relationship. Enjoy the process of discovering who this person is. This is a magic time and should be kept light and fun at first. After having built up mutual trust and it is apparent that you both have a desire to be together, shortly thereafter will be a good time to tell.
The most effective way of communicating your diagnosis is by educating your partner. I do this by having my friends meet my date at fun places. My friends are very interesting and have varied levels of mental challenges. The topic of our illness invariably comes up. However, I do not get specific out of respect for my friends nor do I get specific about my own condition…yet! My intent is to show I still can have a good time around people.
Telling her the ways you've had to adapt in order to live with your diagnosis while still having a decent life should earn you a permanent space in her heart.
See if she would consider seeing the movie Shine with you. It's a true story! Also educate your love interest by giving her books. My favorite is Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison. There are many books on mental illness. I recommend some like the Jamison book because they are written by consumers and offer a personal perspective.
Fiona: I commend you for taking a very big step in your new relationship. Healthy relationships are based on trust and honesty. If either of these elements are missing, it is unlikely that the relationship will survive. I think you are correct in feeling that your disclosure will represent a significant milestone in your relationship. However, I do not think it is as black and white as you believe it to be. Try to remember the first time you disclosed your mental illness to a friend and or loved one. They probably had many questions, fears, and doubts. Be prepared for your mate to respond similarly. She may be angry that you withheld this information for three months and express feelings of betrayal and distrust. Of course she may also be completely understanding and supportive. All of these emotions are valid and you should be prepared to respond to your mate with patience and understanding. Answer her questions as openly and honestly as possible. Provide her with online and written resources on mental illness (NAMI and MHA have great websites). Education is the best way to counter people's fear and misunderstanding of mental illness. Finally, be prepared for the possibility that no amount of education and/or support will keep your mate in the relationship. Rejection sucks but being in a relationship that does not meet your needs is far worse. Rejection is an unfortunate reality of dating that we all must face. I believe having a mental illness does add an additional layer of complexity to dating, but it is certainly not insurmountable. I am a firm believer in the idea that every failed relationship brings you one step closer to your soul mate.