Dating with a mental illness shouldn’t have to be difficult. But it can be. Dating with any illness is a challenge, but illnesses that target emotions and energy levels more directly make relationships hard. For me, the hardest thing is knowing when to disclose my mental illnesses. I have a knee-jerk reaction to disclose quite quickly simply to clear the air and discover the other person’s trustworthiness.
At the same time, this poses a risk of the person seeing me as diseased, faulty or misshapen somehow. To me, it is normal. Through studying nursing and my life experiences, everyone has some health issue or another that they, at the very least, have to be cognizant about. For some people, it’s high blood pressure and bad cholesterol. For me, it’s mental illness and “my mother’s hips.”
I believe there’s a reason “in sickness and in health” is mentioned in wedding vows. It’s likely that at some point in our lives, we will encounter health problems. Mine, like many people with mental illnesses, started young. But so what? So do asthma, allergies and congenital conditions.
Perhaps I have become more accustomed to having mental illnesses because, at 26, I have already battled them for 20 years. To me, when I disclose my health issues to a potential mate or otherwise, it is the same thing as saying, “Just want you to know, in case I get stung by a bee, my epi-pen is in my backpack.”
That’s really all it should be, at least when starting to date someone. As you get to know each other, you get to know what is helpful and what isn’t for the other person. Isn’t that like any relationship?
If I’m angry, don’t touch me. If I’m sad, leave me alone. If I’m crying, give me a hug. If I’m anxious, reiterate positive qualities about me. Everyone is different, and it takes time to know the details. It’s the same as knowing whether your partner likes mushrooms on pizza or not.
Relationships take work. Some people with mental illness are unwilling to work at themselves and their relationship. So are people without mental illness! The important thing is to not write off a potential relationship because of what your past experience with that person’s condition has been. Be willing to learn.
At the moment, I am single. I’m OK with that. When I do meet someone, I’d like them to recognize me, not my illnesses. I’d like them to ask questions! I’d much rather you ask than make things worse for me. I’d like a partner to treat me as an equal. Of course, we’ll be different, but just because I struggle doesn’t absolve me of responsibility in the relationship. When I’m not doing so hot, I’d like them to respect that it is a big deal I am still around, and to know when I need to speak with a professional. I’d like them to know it is never OK to feel bad about my need to reach out for help from an uninvolved person.
Most of all, I’d like this person to know I am more than capable of being a loving individual and life partner, and my mental illnesses, if anything, improve that ability.