You lost it. Maybe you had a complete breakdown, were diagnosed with a severe mental illness such as bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, and were institutionalized for a period of time (Read: You were placed on a 50/50 hold at a hospital). Or perhaps you were in such a major depression that for a while you just shut down and didn’t—couldn’t—do anything; even the basics like washing and working consistently. Whatever it looked like, that incident changed your life forever. Life after a breakdown may require medication, recurring psychiatric evaluation, support groups and periodic check-ins with loved ones. There’s no need to be ashamed.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
While it’s easy to think folks are attempting to placate you when they say, “You are not alone,” in this instance it’s true. According to a 2013 survey conducted by SAMHSA, approximately one out of every five individuals is coping with mental illness in some capacity. And while much emphasis is placed on dealing with the tough challenges brought on by the condition, with treatment and support many folks are able to thrive. That means after brief—or long—stints down, people do snap back and begin to interact with their families and friends, pursue careers and romantic interests again.
Too many folks easily lump all mental health diagnoses into one huge category— ‘crazy.’
DATING WITH A DIAGNOSIS
Dating can be daunting for those who don’t have a history of acute personal challenges, but opening up can be even more intimidating for those with mental illness. Frankly speaking, the fear can be warranted. Too many folks lump all mental health diagnoses into one huge category—crazy. The term, is easily thrown around however it minimizes the differences between conditions while simultaneously ostracizing those who are working through diagnoses. Everyone wants to stunt a bit when getting to know someone he or she likes—leading with, “I was hospitalized once,” doesn’t quite cut it.
So when do you come out of the closet?
The answer won’t be the same for every situation but a good indicator is when you’re starting to feel like your history is a secret you work at hiding. The reality is you may never be “ready” to share, but this isn’t just about you. The time to disclose should be determined by the level of emotional and physical intimacy your are developing with the other individual.
•How integrated are you becoming in each other’s lives?
•How big of a gap in “your story” does your mental health issue leave in your partner’s understanding of who you are?
•How in the dark will your new bae feel when he or she finds out you haven’t shared this part of your life?
It’s not easy. It’s not fair. It is your reality. And you can handle it. If you are dealing with mental health issues and are committed to leading a full life, which includes finding or having a significant other, having “the convo” will be part of your journey. Your mate has the right to be fully informed about the potential highs and lows that accompany being your sidekick in life and love. Thinking about taking the leap? Go for it! Here are three final things to remember:
1. TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The right time is solely based on the kind of relationship you’re building, so the key is knowing your partner. For example, is your boo the type to handle sensitive info over a mixed drink at his or her favorite restaurant? Or would the intimacy of a post Netflix and chill convo be better? Figure out what’s best.
2.ADDRESS FACT V. FICTION
Most folks are wildly misinformed about mental health conditions. Help bae out. Send an email with a few good links—he or she can go on from there. Your goal is to paint an honest picture of what you’ve experienced and what can be expected.
3.TALK IT OUT
There will be questions… some may be awkward. Be open to them and answer truthfully. This doesn’t mean you have to offer every detail of your story. Create boundaries that feel natural and fair based on the relationship—and relationship goals. It’s absolutely fine not to touch on anything that feels too uncomfortable to discuss…as long as you’re clear about the potential consequences.