You fall in love. He’s perfect, brilliant, kind, funny, maybe even has a job and a car. Your parents are thrilled with him. There’s talk about moving in together, merging finances or maybe a ring.
But have you told him yet? That sometimes you go off the rails, sometimes you miss work, cry interminably, and can’t leave your bed?
If you’ve had an episode since you’ve been dating, did you hide it, telling him you had the flu or were busy with a big work project? Did you stay out of sight until the light returned to your eyes?
When, exactly, should you share with your partner your particular challenge, be it chronic anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia?
About five months after meeting the man who would become my husband, I tried to explain my depression.
I had never been formally diagnosed or treated, but intermittently from the age of 10, I had experienced a slow, dark sap moving through me, a dull ache in my frontal lobe making it hard to even open my eyelids. My energy waned, my thoughts conspired against me, contorting logic until I knew I would be better off dead.
When you’ve been dating long enough to start talking about the future, it’s time to have the crazy talk. Three possible reactions follow:
1) He denies or minimizes your illness.
A common response when I tell people I have depression is, “Really? I don’t see that in you.” Exactly. Because depressed people don’t meet for coffee or go to parties. Sometimes they can't even play tennis.
Mark Lukach’s story of his wife’s mental illness, “My Beautiful Wife in the Psych Ward,” offers a harrowing description of how bad it can be. Ask your partner to read it.
When he reads the story, he’ll say, “Yeah, but you’re not that bad.”
You’ll say, “Not today.” The next question is, "What if I were that bad? Then what?"
2) He understands, and accepts you.
Perhaps your partner has a mental illness, or grew up with a sibling or parent who did. This is the moment he tells you so. No big deal. He can handle it. Call the caterer.
3) He understands and can’t handle it.
Again, perhaps your partner either has a mental illness, or grew up with a sibling or parent who did and it scared the hell out of him. He loves you, but he fully understands the implications of life with a mentally ill spouse. He bows out.
This will hurt like the devil. It might trigger a depressive episode. You might feel overwhelmed by feelings of unworthiness. Try to remember he has suffered and has the right to plot his own life. I won’t say it’s not about you, it is, but it is also about your partner’s limits.
Or, maybe he can’t handle it because he has zero understanding of mental illness. He considers mental illness a character flaw or sin. Good people sometimes make bad judgements.
At my very worst, before diagnosis and treatment, when I was making inexplicably bad decisions, our closest friends cut off contact. Permanently. If good people agree you aren’t worth the effort, are you?
Well, no, not to them. And the sooner you let go of a relationship with someone who doesn’t see your value and your potential to be well, the sooner you’ll meet someone who does.
When considering marriage, it’s more important what a man thinks about commitment than about mental illness. If he’s in for the long haul, and can read Mark Lukach’s story without getting cold feet, he’s going to love you when you when you’re moving in slow motion, if at all, and can’t form a single coherent thought.
In the words of A. A. Milne, “Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Relationship satisfaction instability and depression.
psycnet.apa.org. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
Depression and Divorce. WebMd.com. October 15, 2015.
Reviewed October 16, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith