To maintain your mental health, you need your friends, family, and potential life partner's support. It's important to ask questions like, "Who's the better fit?" and "When's the right time to open up?" Educating your perfect match on your health needs may also be necessary. Below are four dating scenarios to illustrate that everyone comes to the table with a different understanding of mental health.
It's not easy to be vulnerable when you are dating.
When I dated an EMT, he thought he was an expert on mental health. I met him in the ER after I fell on a running trail. It was easy to talk about mental health with him. Maybe it was because he already knew, he had seen lithium on my medical chart. He was unphased when I told him my mental health story.
When we talked about how to manage my mental health, he said I was "more normal" than the other psych patients who he saw or picked up in his speedy ambulance.
We faded out when he moved on to another girl. My mother must have scrolled through my contacts and called him when I was hospitalized for a manic episode. I'd usually be embarrassed that my mom remembered a guy that I was trying to forget. He appeared wearing a shirt I had given him years ago. It was a sign of something familiar and a better time. The hug goodbye was the best medicine as he whispered, "You're going to be ok." He floated out of my life, again.
He was unphased when I told him my mental health story.
Lesson: Telling your medical-expert-date might come easy but managing mental health together can be tough when he's moving onto the next emergency.
I never talked about mental health on casual dates. Most of the Chads fell into this bucket. We had a mutual understanding of keeping things light. But some of them stuck around longer than predicted. When we talked about every aspect of our lives, I purposefully glossed over one topic. I learned to naturally skip over being bipolar. After all, no one wants to be defined by a chronic disease.
When we went to the beach or camping, I'd hide my medication by putting my pills in a vitamin bottle, or a few pills in the bottom of my makeup case. I avoided talking about my family's mental health history since that would be a tip that I was either managing something or potentially not well.
I never talked about mental health on casual dates. We had a mutual understanding of keeping things light.
This loafer-wearing guy was hunting for his perfect wife. He was looking for the entire package and that didn't include a pre-existing condition. He was under-informed and misinformed about mental conditions. He made jokes about crazy people. It was too hard to break his preconceived notions of people like me and it wasn't worth the effort because I wasn't going to pass his tests.
Lesson: An omission is not lying, but it can get more complicated to talk about "it" as time passes.
One way to avoid secrets is to date someone like you.
During one group therapy many summers ago, I met a guy. He was a wanderer with a goatee and lived with his mom in the suburbs. When he asked me to hang out after the session, it was clear he needed transportation more than me. He directed me to random places like an office supply place and a hardware store to pick up a gallon of paint.
After running all of his errands, there was little to say. We easily covered the meds I was taking (one) and all of his (many), which wasn't his problem in my eyes. He asked me if I had any side effects from my daily medication. I said, "Not yet."
The chemistry had cooled from earlier in the circle, so I returned him to his mom's house. It was a good try, my only attempt to be with someone who understood me because we were going through something similar.
Lesson: Being the same does not equal a great match.
It's pretty much impossible to locate this person.
No one wears this qualification on their sleeve. My former boyfriend/now husband and life partner had experience with bipolar girlfriends. Plural. He knew the best bipolar recipe of well-being before we met at happy hour, became friends, and then went on our first sushi date years later. He knew the importance of sleeping, taking medication, and seeing a good therapist.
When you feel it's safe to discuss your mental health history, you can outline your trials and how you currently manage yourself.
When I told him about my personal health challenges and family history, he stepped in to support mode. When he met my mother months later, she warned him, "Living with a bipolar is a lifetime commitment." He declared that he would be the one for the job.
Lesson: It might be a long shot to find a guy with this particular experience, but you can nurture a partner through education.
It's not easy to be vulnerable when you are dating.
When you feel it's safe to discuss your mental health history, you can outline your trials and how you currently manage yourself. You can educate your special person about the condition. This conversation can serve as a reference point, when you need help. After medication and following the guidance of your therapist, support from your loved ones is key. When you are open, you might also learn about their medical or mental health challenges and how you might support them.
Managing your mind and moods alone can be scary. Stepping out and talking about it can lead to a healthier relationship where someone else knows everything about you.
WRITTEN BYE.B. Howell