In the past, this is how I felt when starting a relationship with someone. Of course, it is not a topic you disclose when you first meet someone: having dinner together, or watching a movie. It is probably not something you talk about three weeks later, but it is something that needs to be discussed.
At twenty-six years old, I can state that, yes, I have bipolar disorder−I suppose putting my face and words online makes that impossible to avoid, but part of my recovery has been heavily influenced by the ability to talk about mental illness, and connect with other people who share some of the same experiences.
Relationships, however, are a different story altogether.
Opening Discussion About Having a Mental Illness
I have met people, intelligent people, kind and caring. People who liked me for me. And so while we spent time together doing things that couples do, kissing and holding hands, I counted down the days until I would have to End The Relationship because I assumed that my illness separated me from others, it made love impossible. Others could not love me. I was damaged.
I have told potential partners about my illness within the first few months of our relationship, and some of them have stopped calling me despite telling me that it’s okay, I still love you. Feeling dejected can make recovering from a mental illness difficult. It can make you feel as though you are without a name and simply a disease.
My current partner and I took a different approach. After spending time together for three months, I told him we needed to have a talk (very few people like this phrase, and rightfully so). After months of rehearsing what I would say, I looked him in the eye, and stated:
“I have bipolar disorder.”
I had planned to say more than this: I had statistics ready, and a mind full of answers to questions he might have. I assumed the conversation would take place over dinner, perhaps span a couple hours, but those four words summarized more then I could muster. I expected him to be surprised; perhaps angry that I had not told him earlier.
“Oh, well that makes sense” and kissed me on the cheek. After asking him what that makes sense meant, I tried to explain what the illness was and what my experience with it had been. I told him that I was in recovery, but that I might not always be.
Educating Your Partner on Your Illness
You cannot dismiss a serious mental illness. I felt that he needed to understand what bipolar disorder really was, and that if we were to move forward together, life might be a bit rocky from time to time. I presented him with books and with literature; we went to my psychiatrist together so she could explain the disease and provide him with information.
Three years later, we live together and our lives move smoothly (most of the time), I work to stay recovered and he works to understand my illness and help me when I am not well. I support him as well. After all, we all fall down from time to time, regardless of whether or not we suffer with a mental illness.
It is crucial that people understand that having a mental illness does not mean that we cannot be loved. Like anyone else, we just need to find the right partner. Educating yourself on the illness is important, but it is equally important to inform and educate those who care for, and love you. Without a common ground, an understanding of the illness, relationships and, in turn, recovering from mental illness can be more difficult than it already is.
Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.