How and When to Bring Up Your Struggle with Mental Illness
Your struggle with mental illness can be a very hard topic to bring up. Even after years of practice, I struggle with exactly when to talk to people about my mental illness. Here are some lessons I have learned, and some tactics that have worked for me when considering bringing up my struggle with mental illness.
When Not to Bring Up Your Struggle with Mental illness
Sometimes, the lessons we learn are based not on doing things the right way, but on making terrible mistakes. Here are some of the lessons I have learned about when not to bring up the conversation of mental illness.
- I should never have the conversation when I am manic or depressed. In these states, it never goes well. Either I end up rambling on and on, talking about how everything is great and giving someone a false sense of my own stability, or I feel hopeless and begin the conversation with, "I am sure you will never speak to me again," or something similar. I have learned to make certain that I am in a fairly stable place when having this conversation.
- I have learned not to bring up mental illness struggle too late in a relationship. Nobody likes feeling lied to or misled. Waiting too long to have the conversation can lead a potential partner or friend to feel just that. Trust has to be given to a point, and waiting months or longer can lead to resentment (When Do I Tell My Boyfriend/Girlfriend I Have Bipolar Disorder?).
- I have made the mistake of having this conversation over text message. It is way too easy to misunderstand someone over text, especially in the conveyance of tone. Pick up the phone, or even better, bring up your struggle with mental illness in-person.
How to Bring Up Your Struggle with Mental Illness
Oftentimes, health is a topic that comes up naturally. It can be in the form of food allergies, medications, illness, or anything else. If so, it makes an easy bridge. Remember to be understanding when it comes to another person's condition(s) if you expect the same in return.
If it doesn't come up naturally, I will find a way to insert my mental illness struggle into a conversation. I might, when talking about my day, mention that I read an interesting blog post on HealthyPlace, and use that as a way to jumpstart the conversation.
What to Say About Your Struggle with Mental Illness
There is, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all method of bringing up your mental illness struggle that will work well for every potential relationship. I try to come out and say it matter-of-factly. "I have bipolar 2 disorder."
I never say that I am bipolar; my mental illness doesn't define me. Rather, I have bipolar, or I struggle with bipolar. Most of the time, this will lead into a conversation about what bipolar II is and how I manage it. This is a good thing. It allows me to frame the conversation in terms of the progress I have made, rather than someone simply relying on the terrible stereotypes of bipolar that are out there.
I make certain to be honest and open. I will speak candidly about medications and answer any questions I am asked. Most commonly, I am asked whether I am currently stable. "For the most part," I will say, "but each day can bring a new challenge. I have learned to handle those challenges better than ever before, but there will still be times I don't do as well as I would like."
I am frequently asked about suicide, and I will be open about my attempt two years ago, and about my desire during a major depression to go down that path. "However," I will end, "this is not a normal situation, and I am always working to make sure that I don't end up in that place again."
At the end of the day, the biggest lesson I have learned is not to be ashamed of my condition. Everyone has something, and my disease is really no different from someone who has diabetes or lupus. All of these require care and will have good days and bad, but can be managed effectively with a variety of treatments. It is that realization that has allowed me to be as open as I am in a new relationship.
While it can still be a very difficult conversation to have, being prepared for the discussion and having it at the right time has led to better results for me. Some people will still run away, but that is their loss.
Berg, J. (2018, March 14). How and When to Bring Up Your Struggle with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2018/03/when-to-bring-up-mental-illness