February topic: notion of understanding how to provide support for someone who is suffering from a mental illness and how to go about finding/keeping love when one has a "diagnosis"
When you're living with a mental health condition, you may wonder whether or not to talk about it with your significant other. And if you’re single, you may wonder if having a mental health condition rules out romance for you. It’s important to know that many people with serious mental illnesses have strong, supportive, long-term relationships.
A good relationship provides valuable social support during difficult times, whereas a bad relationship can worsen your symptoms, particularly in cases of depression. Here we discuss a few of the questions people with mental health conditions ask about romantic relationships.
Should I Tell My Partner?
Because of the stigma and misunderstandings surrounding mental illness, many people are reluctant to tell their partners. You may think that “what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
If you want a long-term relationship, however, you and your partner will eventually want to share health information. You need this information to support each other through health crises. If you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s better to disclose your health condition when you are well than to conceal it until an acute episode.
As you begin a new relationship, you don’t need to share your health history right away, but as your relationship grows more committed, think about starting the discussion.
How Should I Tell My Partner about My Mental Health Condition?
If you’re worried about disclosing, remember that many people with mental illnesses have strong relationships. Your partner probably already appreciates the personality qualities that have helped you live well despite a mental health condition. By sharing your health history, you share insight into not just your challenges but also your strengths.
Because of the fears and misconceptions that surround mental health, even well-meaning people may not know how to react to your disclosure. Three kinds of reaction are possible. Some people won’t consider your mental health condition an issue. They know that everyone has struggles and that a long-term relationship means supporting each other through difficulties. The fact that your challenge is mental illness doesn’t matter.
Other people may not be able to handle their concerns, leading them to end the relationship; this is a reason not to wait too long to disclose. And lastly, a large proportion of people will respond to a partner’s mental illness with uncertainty or curiosity. As they learn more about the facts and your treatment plan, they’ll grow more comfortable and learn how to support you. Many relationships grow stronger through this process.
To talk to your partner, choose a time when you aren’t actively experiencing mania, anxiety, depression or psychosis. As for many important conversations, you may want to start with “process talk” to introduce the fact that you want to share something difficult. (For example, “I want to tell you something important that I’ve been worrying about. This is difficult for me to say, though. I hope you can listen and understand.”)
You may also want to use the “sandwich” strategy: sandwiching “bad news” between two pieces of “good news” can help calm people’s fears. Start by saying positive things about your relationship. Tell your partner that because of your love and support, you have to share something potentially difficult. After describing your mental health condition, finish on a more positive note by describing what treatments you’ve followed, what has helped you, and what you’ve learned about yourself and other people as a result of mental illness.
If you have books or know of websites that provide more information about your condition, have them ready to offer your partner. Allow them time to absorb the information.
How Can I Start a Relationship Now?
Having a mental health condition can make it more difficult to date and meet people, largely because you may not feel like connecting with others when your life is unstable. Depending on your condition, you might be dealing with impulsive behavior, irregular moods, a desire to withdraw, trouble feeling empathy, or anxieties about other people. Following your treatment plan to care for your health is thus one important part of building a healthy relationship.
To attract a new romantic relationship with a mental health condition, think about what qualities you’re looking for in a partner. How can you strengthen these qualities in yourself? Show your positive qualities to the world and you will meet people who share your values. Above all, don’t get discouraged. You deserve a loving, healthy relationship whatever your health history.
What about Sex?
Mental illness can disrupt your sex life in many ways. In particular, the side effects of certain medications may reduce your desire for sex, your ability to get aroused and your ability to maintain an erection or achieve orgasm.
If you experience these side effects, it’s important to recognize that they can damage your quality of life and your romantic relationship. Talk about the sexual side effects with your partner and your doctor.
Do not stop, however, taking your medication. Mania or psychosis will likely do worse long-term damage to your relationship than a low libido. Take your time and work with your doctor to reduce negative side effects. Second-generation (“atypical”) anti-psychotics have fewer sexual side effects, for instance, and sometimes simply changing to a different medication can reduce or eliminate side effects.
As you and your doctor work to get your sex life back, don’t forget to show affection and love for your partner in ways other than sex. Remind yourself and your partner that neither of you is to blame for sexual side effects, and that this set-back is temporary.
How To Tell The Person You’re Dating About Your Mental Illness
By Amber Madison
One out of every five people in America have experienced mental illness. More than six million adults live with bipolar disorder, 16 million live with major depression, and 18 million live with an anxiety disorder. So, if you have a mental illness, you’re in good company. But, that doesn’t change the fact that disclosing your mental illness to someone you’re dating can be quite the challenge.
“The fear is rooted in the stigma that usually surrounds mental illness and the uncertainty about how someone will react,” says Bob Carolla, the director of media relations for The National Alliance on Mental Illness. Geralyn is a 27-year-old mental health counselor in Tampa who lives with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Although she embraces these diagnoses as part of who she is, Geralyn definitely gets nervous about telling new partners.
“It’s a moment of vulnerability, and you never really know how someone is going to respond, but I’ve found it’s very freeing when I do open up,” she says. “I’ve had people tell me that I don’t look ‘crazy’ or even that ‘we all have that.’ I’ve also had people tell me that they think that I’m strong and resilient, and I’m grateful to say that response tends to be the norm in my life.”
Regardless of the response you get, opening up about a mental illness can take your relationship to the next level. “It can actually be a great litmus test regarding the quality of the relationship,” says psychotherapist Meg Batterson. “It can also help you begin to establish truthfulness and intimacy.”
When do you tell?
Talking about struggles is a deep issue and a truth that deserves to be shared only when the person you’re dating is sharing deep issues of his or her own. You wouldn’t share private family matters with someone you didn’t fully trust, and disclosing your mental illness is no different. Whether you decide to talk about it on the first date or not until months in, the important thing is that you have a connection.
“If you’re dating someone, and it’s healthy and genuine, I think you’ll know when it’s the right time to disclose because you’ll feel safe,” says Geralyn. She recalls a guy she dated who, on the third or fourth date, opened up to her about his brother, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was addicted to heroin. “He let out a big sigh of relief afterwards saying that he doesn’t talk about this much, but for some reason, he felt that I would understand.”
Geralyn appreciated that “he didn’t speak about his brother as if there was something wrong with him — there was no hint of judgment.” That was the moment when she felt comfortable opening up about her own history.
Kiki, a 35-year-old culture and communications manager in San Francisco, tends to tell the guys she dates right away — within the first few times they hang out. “I have borderline personality disorder (BPD), which makes it tough to be in romantic relationships,” she says. “I tend to be an over-sharer anyway. But, the guys who are attracted to me are attracted to that. I actually haven’t had the experience of scaring any guys off by telling them about my disorder.”
Of course, not everyone is comfortable telling someone right off the bat. An important thing to keep in mind, says Kiki, is context. “If you’re mostly talking about surface level things like your jobs, where you grew up, or places you’ve traveled, then it’s not the time."
What do you say?
Since there is so much misunderstanding around mental illness, it’s best to be prepared. “Have information about your diagnosis and how it is treated ready to share if the person doesn't know much about mental illness and is thrown off balance,” says Carolla. He also recommends being prepared to answer any questions about your personal history with the illness. After all, everyone’s experience with mental illness is different, and your partner may be wondering how it affects you, and what it might mean for the relationship.
“I told one guy about my BPD on our first date, and he actually went home and researched it,” Kiki recalls. “The next time we hung out, he wanted to know what living with it had been like, how it affected my daily life, and what he could do to make me feel comfortable talking about it. It wasn't something that seemed to scare him, but rather interest him. He just wanted to know more. Though our relationship only lasted a couple months, we always had an open and comfortable communication channel about my BPD, and most everything else.”
Based on her experiences, Kiki recommends you don’t just tell the person what your diagnosis is, but you also explain what you do to stay on top of it, whether it’s therapy, exercise, being careful about sleep, psychiatric medication, or any other management technique. Not only will this assure your new partner you’ve got it under control, it will also mean he or she can help support the lifestyle choices that keep you feeling good.
What if it backfires?
Unfortunately, there is always the possibility that the other person will have a horrible reaction. For Geralyn, this happened in a relationship where she waited longer than usual to disclose because there was never a moment when she felt truly safe to do so, which is warning sign number one.
“After I told him, he just looked at me blankly and said ‘I always knew something was wrong with you,’” she says. “Then, he called me ‘crazy’ and told his friends and also people that I knew.”
As if that weren’t bad enough, he would blame every disagreement they had afterward on her bipolar disorder. Fortunately, she got out of the relationship. “Never date someone who is going to throw living with a mental health condition in your face, belittle you, or make you feel inadequate for it,” she says. “That person is not for you, I promise.”
“Remind yourself that this isn’t about being accepted or rejected,” adds Batterson. “This is about you deciding if this person is a good fit for you. Their response to your disclosure will reveal a lot about their capacity to be a loving and caring romantic partner.”
Do you really have to tell?
We all know we shouldn’t date assholes and that a person who doesn’t accept you isn’t worth it, but when you’re really into someone and deciding if you’re going to tell them something you worry could jeopardize the relationship, those platitudes just aren’t that comforting. So, is it ever okay to keep your mental illness to yourself? Probably not.
For one, it’s part of who you are. Without opening up and being willing to show who you really are, you’re cheating yourself out of an honest relationship, says Batterson. And, Kiki warns, it will likely come out eventually.
“If it’s something you experience even semi-regularly, it’s important to share sooner rather than later because once you’re in a depression or feeling intense anxiety, for example, it’s harder to communicate,” she explains. “This isn’t something you want coming out for the first time in a fight, when you’re feeling insecure, or in any intensified emotional state.”
By deciding when you want to tell someone, you get to disclose your mental illness on your terms and in a calm, collected frame of mind. Being vulnerable can be scary, but when you take that leap of faith, it gives your partner license to do the same. And, says Batterson, vulnerability becomes a strength when it comes to relationship building. Besides, you know the person you’re dating has something going on that’s not textbook-perfect, either.
Resource content: http://www.refinery29.com/talking-mental-illness-and-dating
How Do I Get A Relationship When I Have A Mental Illness?
By Marquaysa Battle
Relationships can already be complicated, but when you are also struggling to keep your mental health in check, they can sometimes feel really impossible. It's so hard to adequately care for yourself and dish out attention to your partner at the same time. Your partner might also feel additional stress since dating someone with a mental illness has its own difficulties and requires more patience.
But you aren't destined to be alone or unworthy of love just because of the mental illness that you're fighting. Depression has threatened every single one of my romantic relationships at one point or another. For a long time, I didn't have a name for how I felt and definitely no clue about how to manage it. All I could do was be surprised at my own self and apologize over and over.
Today, I'm navigating things way better and I'm done apologizing for my reality. I've not only gotten myself into a much healthier place, but I've also figured out exactly how to have a relationship. And while I'm not an expert on mental health, nor making scientifically backed suggestions, here are just a few pointers on dealing with love when you have a mental illness that have worked for me.
1. You can talk about it.
Honesty upfront is the proactive move that can save your relationship. Don't let your partner walk into a situation with you without knowing exactly what they will have to navigate. If you already know that you battle with anything like depression, anxiety or any kind of disorder, just tell them.
It's not easy, but take a deep breath and dive into that conversation. Whether your partner decides to be out or to stay yours, you will be glad you got that moment behind you. The National Alliance on Mental Illness stresses the importance of partners not delaying that talk about mental health. The site says, You need this information to support each other through health crises. If you're in a long-term relationship, it's better to disclose your health condition when you are well than to conceal it until an acute episode.
2. Educate your partner.
This is different from simply telling them that you're dealing with depression or that you have OCD. Once you've come out and told them what you are dealing with, explain to them what that experience is like for you.
No one has the same experience and unfortunately, the media has created many false narratives about what mental illnesses look like. Your partner may have never been with anyone in your situation, or they may think they know and have no idea.
3. Try to get into a regular therapy habit.
Five years ago, I would have not even mentioned counseling because I always felt it was something rich people did. I also didn't see it as such a helpful tool that I would recommend everyone try. Today, I do.
Six weeks of therapy (I'm going back, promise) changed my life and helped me get through the tough time I had when trying to finish grad school, navigate my relationship, survive living in New York City and sort my feelings out about all of the racism I experience and witness every single day. I was a mess on the inside for all of those reasons, so I reached out to New York University and had them connect me with a therapist for free. I also asked for one who specialized in "identity" and also required I be assigned a therapist of color.
Walking into that first therapy session, I had no clue what to expect, but I sat in her seat and forced myself to open up. Today, I know that was the best decision and definitely why I graduated on time. Counseling is still a privilege not everyone has access to, so double check your health care package to see if it covers therapy. If you do not have insurance, then many therapists offer income-based sessions so look one up in your area. If you are a college student, double check with your school because often they provide free therapy sessions whether or not you have insurance.
Taking advantage of services your church might offer is also an option if you are a person of faith. This is more for you than for your partner, but your therapy sessions are also a place to bounce your thoughts about the relationship to your counselor.
4. Be more committed to your self-care than your relationship.
Truth bomb: Self-care is the most important part of living with a mental illness.
It is imperative for every person, but it's even more so for people like us. It doesn't matter if your self-care is yoga from YouTube or writing raps — you need it. Some days, you probably need more.
The best thing you can do is give that to yourself. Just let your partner know what things you do to deal. Communicate even if you switch things up.
If you find yourself giving up all of your time to "relationship things" and rarely doing things that you know keep YOU going? It's time for you to recalibrate, and it might even be time for you to release your partner if they oppose you doing what you need to do to survive.
5. Be mindful of how you treat people.
I admit, I haven't always gotten this one right and it has certainly cost me. You aren't going to get everything right every day, but be wary of treating people in a certain way that reflects how you're feeling, and not how they're treating you. I have certainly been guilty of lashing out at my partner or withdrawing from him because I'm in a funk—without even explaining why.
Therapy has helped me to process my emotions better. I have also developed a communication system that allows me to keep in contact with not only my partner, but also my friends and family — even when I do not want to be bothered.
For me, it's taking advantage of my walks from the subway station. I usually use that 15-minute walking time to call my immediate family and close friends briefly. I start each conversation with, "Hi, I'm just calling to tell you to have a great day today" — and then I get off of the phone and breathe. That short conversation makes all of the difference and my relationships are no longer suffering. If you find yourself making other people pay for how you're feeling, then figure out a better way to engage that still works for your mental health.
6. Don't let people use your mental illness to their advantage.
Having a mental illness does NOT make you crazy nor does it invalidate your feelings. In the same way that your mental illness is not a pass to mistreat the people around you, the ones in your space also should not be allowed to wave it in your face as a way to undermine your feelings.
If you find that the person you're in a relationship with is always pointing toward your mental illness as a reason for the things they have done, get out of that relationship ASAP.
Not only is that partner not for you; they're straight up evil.
7. Know that you are no one's burden.
It definitely can feel like you're burdening other people with your "problems," but you've been handed a life to deal with just like everyone else.
Your mental health struggle does not define you and it doesn't take away from the great person that you are.