Dear Captain Awkward,
I am mentally ill, to date I have spent 23 days on involuntary psych holds. Most of this wasn’t warranted but that is a whole other thing. I am also a stand up comic and when I am hanging out with comedy peers everything is fair game and no one really shrinks from your dark stuff. You’ve been 5150ed me too lets compare notes. I am looking to date through online sites and assume that this dynamic is not universal. I like to get stuff out in the open as quickly as possible but is this something that warrants first date discloser? 2nd Date?
I haven’t even started replying to posts of people I am interested in yet and panicking over what to do when this comes up. Therapy and medication have helped a lot but being committed had me feeling like I am a piece of shit and not worthy of love for a long time. A large part of me just wants to never bring it up, but that doesn’t seem fair. I have PTSD and I want any potential partner to know why something might suddenly upset me out of the blue or cause me to immediately need to leave a certain environment or situation.
When I first started online dating back in Ye Olden Times, I used to use only very “flattering” close-ups of my face that sort of conveniently left out the part where I am a very fat woman. This tactic led to many people writing to me, lots of great conversations and flirting, and enthusiastic plans to meet up, at which time I would start to furiously hint and mention that I was “plus sized” or “curvy” or whatever ahead of the date. Hey, that nightmare scenario where you can see the other person’s whole face fall when they catch that first glimpse of you? That scenario happened to me, more than once. And yet I kept doing the same thing for a very long time before I learned that what I needed wasn’t to apologize for being fat or hide being fat or treat it like a weird afterthought, what I needed was to swiftly identify the people for whom that would be a dealbreaker and to stop wasting my time with them.
When I changed my profile picture to stuff like this:
…something interesting happened, namely MUCH COOLER PEOPLE STARTED WRITING TO ME, including my beloved Gentleman Caller. And I could relax as I got to know people and plan dates, because I wasn’t on edge wondering how they’d perceive me.
I wish I’d done it a decade sooner.
Mental illness isn’t always visible, and the fierce stigma surrounding mental illness means that disclosing it isn’t a cavalier or consequence-free thing. So it’s not exactly the same as posting a picture. Still, I wonder what would happen if you put something in your profile to the tune of “Hey, I have PTSD, and I tend to avoid ______ or leave ________ spaces pretty quickly if they get too ________. If you’re curious, I am happy to answer questions, but I wanted that out there so we aren’t planning our first date at a _______.” Maybe put that in your own funny words and see what happens.
The truth is that some people might see that sentence in a dating profile and pass you right by. They might be scared or put off by it, or they might be dealing with too much of their own stuff, and you’ll never really know why – it could be because you disclosed your condition, it could be because you like playing turn-based strategy games and eating ramen and they only like Rock Band and udon. The heart and the groin aren’t fair, and every single person who does online dating has to deal with the awkwardness of not knowing why people don’t write back or why a promising initial connection goes nowhere. It’s really easy for your jerkbrain to look to your vulnerable spots for the ironclad confirmation. However, I would argue that someone who can’t handle knowing that one fact about you isn’t the right audience for the rest of your story, and if they take themselves out of the running early on they are doing you a favor. Other people are going to dig your honesty and humor in talking about something so personal, and being vulnerable and real will help you find them.
I recently met someone who had the need to mention, more than once, that they “just don’t really understand mental illness.” Like, Every. Single. Time. I’ve seen them they made sure to say it, including when the context was my bipolar boyfriend getting out of the mental hospital a few days before and other people in the room full of close friends talking about some immediate & urgent mental health stuff going on in their lives and their families. The subtext of this person’s comments upon meeting us that day was “you are great, and I’d love to hang out with you, but… your boyfriend…???” and it’s like, oh buddy, you think you’re giving me a compliment because I could “pass” when my acutely ill partner could not, and you think you’re telling me about a shortcoming we have when really the shortcoming is in you and your sighs and goddamn eye-rolling. This person doesn’t have to “get” mental illness or ever talk about it, but they also don’t have to be in my life past the most nodding of acquaintances. So, including those details on your profile may attract unwanted attention or oblivious comments, and that will feel really crappy and you won’t enjoy it. If it happens, remind yourself, please, “This person just showed they are not cool enough to ride this ride.”
I can’t say this will work for you, but this is what my boyfriend and I did about disclosure: We did not put mental health stuff in our online ads, and while we talked about some serious stuff on the first date we mostly kept it light. Not because we were hiding anything or ashamed, just, why spill your entire guts to someone you’re not even sure you want to order a second beer with?
On the second date, which was a go-to-dinner-and-then-stay-up-all-night-talking sort of date after some furious texting, before any physical stuff happened, he said, “I want to tell you something…” and he told me about his bipolar disorder and let me know that I could ask him anything I wanted to about it. I told him I have depression. He carries some visible scars, and he told the basic story and he showed them to me so I wouldn’t be surprised by them. He kept most of the focus on the present and what it meant for him in the day to day. He said either at that moment or soon after that it was a very scary and vulnerable thing to talk about with me because he worried a lot about being rejected because of it, but by now he knew better than to get more involved with someone who didn’t know. Either one of us, at that time, could have pulled back, decided it was too much, too scary, too weird, too whatever. I’m glad every day that we didn’t, and I’m glad every day that he took the risk to just come out with it early. The scars made his illness more visible, and put more pressure on him to disclose, whereas I could have stayed quiet longer if I wanted, but to what end? By being brave and direct, he saved us both a lot of “When do I tell? Do I tell now? Howabout now?”
Everyone’s different, so I can’t give you a perfect strategy or system, but for more detailed descriptions/disclosures, maybe shoot on the timeline between “Hey, you’re neat” and “This thing we have going is maybe going to be A Thing.”
Sorry if I’m talking about my own life too much, Letter Writer, just, your question is really personal to me, and to the person I love, because “I found a psych place that takes our insurance” and “Did you remember to pack your meds?” are normal, routine conversations that are part of our lives together. You are not unloveable because: brain chemistry or because: trauma. You know this, I’m sure, from doing comedy: the best material comes from the most real material. So it is in love. If you are the kind of person who likes to just get things out in the open, keep being that kind of person as you date. You’re going to come across some people who don’t get you, but your honesty is going to reveal all the terrifyingly amazing folks like yourself who were hiding there in plain sight.
104 thoughts on “#716: Dating and Disclosure”
Captain, can I just give you all the thumbs-up for the final paragraph?
Those routine conversations are a part of my life, too, and we have the “meds lineup” in the morning that now includes everyone but SecondKid – FirstKid needs her reflux meds, Spouse and I need our psych meds, and I may or may not need my chosen NSAID of the day depending on how much things hurt somewhere on the right side of my body.
One of the best and most liberating things in the world is knowing I have a homebase where I don’t have to “pass”.
“One of the best and most liberating things in the world is knowing I have a homebase where I don’t have to “pass””
That moment when someone perfectly captures the nebulous thoughts swirling around in your head. Thank you.
CW warning for sexual assault and self-harm
On my third date with my now-husband, I let him know that I’m a sexual assault survivor. He wasn’t shocked, given that one of the reasons we started dating in the first place was that we both mentioned being progressive feminists in our profiles, or that on our previous dates, I’d mentioned doing anti-sexual violence work in college. I told him about it not because he’d triggered me, but because we were talking about sexual histories, and I wanted to let him know, “Hey, I am usually pretty normal about sex stuff, but it’s very important to me that partners stop what they’re doing when I say stop, because otherwise I get triggered.”
Before the fourth date, when we were planning on getting a little bit nekkid together, he and I were chatting, and he let me know that he had scars on his shoulders. He told me in advance because he didn’t want me to be surprised or concerned, and that while he no longer engaged in self-harm, it was a thing that had happened.
It can be really scary: he had no idea I’d be like, “Okay, thanks for telling me? I dunno, scars is scars.” I was worried he’d either treat me like a porcelain doll or run for the hills. Everything was fine.
I had some terrible experiences WRT my SI scars. People who I liked prior to the reveal often turned out to be really fucking rude, ignorant, and judgemental. After the Infamous Second Date (with my now-wife of ten years) we ended up back at her house for a sleepover *cough*
In the early morning I woke up next to her, and while gazing at her I noticed her scars. As sad as I was that she knew that pain, I was so relieved to know I’d never have to hide my ‘secret’. I dozed back off, and as she woke up she noticed my scars, and had the same reaction. Being able to be 100% free and 100% me, for the first time since I was twelve, was like winning the lottery.
I’ve also had bad experiences disclosing physical illness and my disabilities. If I had £5 for everyone who told me “Oh, I don’t do sick; or tried to blame my problems on Big Pharma/meat/non-organic food/lack of religion/my diet, then I’d be loaded with cash. People can be jerks about any kind of health problem, though mental health issues are at the top of the Suck Tree.
As for the ” I don’t do sick” crowd I reply “Ah, you have the privilege to be able-bodied and physically healthy then? Lucky thing!”. The ” I don’t get mental illness” or “Well emotions are natural, psychiatry is slavery” crowd, I just visibly roll my eyes at them and if I’m feeling brave, reply with “Aww, aren’t you just precious? Care to share any other theories? Aliens? Illuminati? 9/11?”. I’m too old to put up with white like that.
“I don’t do sick”? What, like it’s a hobby or something, people getting the flu for the weekend and the real hardcore folks going in for chronic conditions?
I think they’re the same people who act like martyrs when they’re sick. Turns out they’re one of us mortals after all. 🙂
I know, right? It’s essentially your basic Calvinist prosperity gospel bullshitl at work. So, the people with: material wealth, good health, stable employment, and other privileges have been favoured by god.
Comfort, health and financial fortune are seen as signs that any given person is being rewarded for being good. Poverty, sickness, and other forms of marginalisation or disprivilege are therefore signs of inherent moral failure.
Under this system, which combines a dollop of predestination with a gutful of superiority complex, the privileged feel thoroughly entitled to revel in their wealth and health, and have no incentive to assist oppressed people, because It’s the will of their god that those people suffer for their “sins”.
Its modern equivalent is the cascading puke rapids of ‘The Secret’ style laws of attraction. Ill? Poor? Oppressed? Your own fault for being such a Negative Nancy! Adherents spew crap about people bringing misfortune crashing down on themselves. They boast that their ~posirive attitude~ is the reason for their privileged status, pointing out that people in dire straits are always so negative, which is why misfortune kicks them while they’re down. Trying to point out that loss, pain, and death are the cause of ” negative vibes”, rather than the reverse, will typically result in a smug smile, and a lecture about how you’ve just proven their point. So gross.
Given the narratives like that,, it makes sense that certain people feel justified in maligning those of us who have no choice but to “do sick”. This is where the disgusting ‘Law of attraction’ sundae, with the Calvinist cherry on top, is rounded off with a helping of ‘Just World fallacy’ flakes. After all, if poverty or disability is our fault, because bad things only happen to bad people, then as long as they are “good”, they’ll be safe from harm. If illness, financial ruin, and other calamities are cast as evidence of moral failures, it’s that much easier to dehumanise the people affected by it, and to glibly shrug off the very real suffering as a result of” lifestyle choices”. You have to admit, sickness and disability are super glamorous lifestyles. Such decadence, such excitement!
Thank you for skewering the Calvinist/predestination/Secret shenanigans. That does not happen nearly enough.
My own government has adopted it as the basis of their “economic reforms”, with the belief that dying of starvation, or being homeless, will make people decide to be rich and healthy instead. If that doesn’t work? Tough, them’s the breaks, all in god’s plan.
If I mention Calvinist shenanigans to RL people they ask ” Whuh?”, and then tell e “No, that doesn’t sound right”. I love the Captain’s commentary! I actually fell asleep while writing it, because it was about 4am. I’d got to the last sentence and *whomp*, sleephammer. I woke up with my Nexus 7 stuck to my boob, and a load of nonsense text mixed in with the slightly less nonsensical stuff 😀
I love this comment more than almost anything right now. It’s right up there behind my husband and our cats. As a rape survivor and as someone with a chronically ill husband, I absolutely cannot stand this flavor of bullshit wrapped in pretty-sounding sentiments.
I want to print this out and shove it at all ‘The Secret’ pushers I know. It’s depressingly common among Pagans and the metaphysical crowd, who out of necessity and survival instinct are forced to share space in my uber-Evangelical area. As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, it boils my blood when smug assholes toss crap like “karmic retribution” and “attracting bad things with negative attitude” at me so they don’t have to empathize or pretend to care about what I have endured.
Tl;dr love your comment a++ would read again
It still boggles my mind how bizarrely puritanical people still are. Absolutely boggles my mind.
Big Pink Box, that was such an excellent post, thank you.
Thank you for this
I mean I wish I didn’t do sick. If I could have an immune system transplant and get one that DIDN’T massively overreact to everything including sometimes parts of my own body I would be totally down with that! But they haven’t figured that out yet so I just get to keep on keeping on with the asthma and the allergies and the recurring tonsillitis and the getting every single cold, cough, and sniffle that comes through my office, and the high probability that I will develop rheumatoid arthritis later in life.
Fellow sufferer here. Sitting at home right now, destroying tissue after tissue, going on for days now. If there was anything I could do to NOT walk around with a nose red from being rubbed raw and a wad of tissues, I would.
A tonsillectomy and a deviated septum surgery helped many of my symptoms, and allergy meds do help (sometimes), but not all the way.
Usually the same people who refer to being ill with depression as ‘indulging yourself’.
“I don’t do sick” people suck, and frankly, that’s a major character flaw in my opinion. Admittedly I may be bitter about this, because I got a chronic illness very young, and my dad was, and is, one of those people. At least he paid for the doctors while ignoring any and all signs of my illness?
Ok wait a minute here. Sick and 9/11 go together, for me – I myself have PTSD from being, I’ll just say, too close. (I was in the hospital a couple years ago with a physical illness, and the new attending of the day came into my room and goes, “Oh, which building were you in?” – I was apparently known along my hallway as “the girl from new york” – though I no longer lived there! Sheesh. She made me feel so stupid for being so badly affected when I wasn’t even in one of two buildings! I just about fell on the floor that a doctor would say such a thing. Well, I wouldn’t’ve fallen on the floor because I was in a hospital bed. She was lucky I was too physically ill to throttle her. ACTUALLY she was lucky I didn’t go into total panic mode. I had never heard such an absurd.. oh well I am going way off topic here…
My point is basically I wish you wouldn’t put that in with aliens and stuff.
I really am sorry to be a bother about this because I don’t think you mean any harm. It’s just kinda weird for me to see those things thrown together in that way. Sorry for being hypersensitive. (well that’s kinda the definition of PTSD isn’t it? Sigh.Sorry.)
I think Big Pink Box is referring to people who peddle conspiracy theories of 9/11 being an inside job by the US government, not that 9/11 isn’t a perfectly reasonable cause of PTSD or other forms of psychiatric distress.
Also, not that you need validation from a totally random person on the internet, but here’s my 2 cents.
9/11 was fucking terrifying for me, and I was on the complete other side of the continent. To this day, I have a really hard time talking about it whenever my students ask, and I cannot watch any video coverage of anything even related to it without bursting into tears. That anyone- especially a medical professional!- would belittle you for being strongly affected by it when you lived in the city where it happened is a giant load of horseshit.
Jedi hugs if you would like them.
I think the idea was to put “not believing in [PTSD, mental illness, psychiatric conditions]” in with believing conspiracy theories about aliens etc. So, that heartless doctor would be lumped in there, not you.
Jedi hugs to you, I am sorry that doctor was so dismissive of your pain.
I am SO sorry, only just saw your comment. Yes, the others are right that I meant that people who doubt the experience of disabled and chronically ill (mental or physical causes) tend to be the same vomitgobblers who will hijack any conversation to insert their pet theory that David Icke really is the messiah, that yetis blew up the Challenger, or that Obama is a shaoeshifting lizard man.
I am so sorry that doctor treated you that way, that was disgusting; and I think your PTSD is legitimate, and I’m sorry if I triggered you. I wish more people (especially medical professionals) understood that PTSD is not limited to military personnel or people directly involved in disasters.
Jedi hugs for you, and once again, my sincere apologies.
Big Pink Box, teclagwifg, Thank you and the others who have read and replied on this. It’s kind of you all. I’m not really very familiar with this site but I’ll accept some non-contact Jedi hugs 🙂
No apologies necessary, I just felt kinda like I needed to say it. I don’t talk about it much.
Part-timeJedi: I absolutely see what you say as more than valid and I truly don’t understand why that is not more widely understood! Everyone is sensitive in different ways…. And it IS a terrifying thing! I’m a writer . or I was before I got too sick ha ha 😦 . and I had a piece stating straight-out: “America is supposed to be free of all that”. Not just warfare but *religious* warfare.
That’s just how I see it, I know everyone is different. but of course It’s terrifying no matter where you are – even more so because it was ON TV LIVE, not to mention replayed endlessly, so not only did people anywhere and everywhere see and experience things that way, if you were on the street and couldn’t get a “good” view, you got it from all angles later on. It was traumatizing to many people across the country, and I think and wish that strong reactions would be more widely accepted, and NEVER questioned. I consider seeing it on tv – live or not! – as akin to other types of witness. It was the most public tragedy of war ever presented in this country. IMHO. I’m sorry for you and anyone who is pushed by others who DEMAND explanations.
My go-to response to “Where were you?” was “Close enough”. And to me anyone anywhere can say that – keep that one in mind, Part-time Jedi! It also works fairly well to shut down further questions, if you don’t want to talk about it. Only that one time did anyone say “which building”. In general, people don’t assume I was in one of the buildings – that’s kinda a dopey conclusion anyway. Again IMHO and not to contradict anyone else’s reactions.
Of course I already had PTSD and, as the theory goes, I was primed to react badly. But I think it’s rotten that anyone needs to explain WHY they might be going through fear, or any of a wide variety of reactions, related to that.
Ironically, this is a more publicly acceptable reason to explain my illness, than what came before. I’m sure others who have been through traumas understand that one.
Also ironically it is 4th of July, day of making loud booming noises! You figure the day is at least partly to honor vets and that is one of the worst things you can do for them. I’ve seen some put up signs in their yards, asking people to please not detonate fireworks nearby because the noise can provoke fear.
Sorry for going on at such length and being sort of repetitive – not to mention off topic! For some reason I felt like explaining in a little more detail here. Thanks to all for providing kindness and the forum for it.
Jedi hugs back? if wanted!
Wait, are there people who actually do the “shapeshifting lizard” thing with OBAMA? When did people start thinking he was Jewish?
Dude. I know for a fact that it was the yetis who were responsible for the design of that O-ring. It’s actually a pretty well known engineering irony, given that it was a low-temperature condition that cause the failure.
Wow.. That doctor was incredibly insensitive! 9/11 was fucking terrifying, even from across the country. Even if you weren’t in one of the hit buildings, it was your city. I wouldn’t feel safe for years if something that serious happened in Phoenix, where I live
Your story does remind me of an incident from the day of or right after 9/11, though. I was leaving middle school(I was 12 at the time) and crying a little, still really confused, overwhelmed and shaken up. A teacher actually asked if it was because I was on my period. I looked at her like she had three heads. Apparently trying to process and grieve a huge terrorist attack on my country at the age of 12 wasn’t a good enough reason to cry.
Yours is exponentially worse, but . what is *wrong* with some people?
9/11 gave PTSD to the whole world, and the US in particular. That was exactly, precisely the point of the attack- to terrorize us. So don’t feel bad for feeling the effects of being terrorized, and definitely don’t feel bad for feeling it to a greater degree than most people. Everyone remembers the way they felt after that day, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to continue feeling that way. The people running the US government fell into two groups- people psychotic enough to take advantage of that situation, and people so addled and afraid that they let themselves be taken advantage of.
I honestly can’t think of anything more reasonable or logical to have PTSD about than a massive terror attack.
I admit to a moment of schadenfreude when I found out that a former boss who was all “Oh, you silly weak people, getting sick all the time, you just need WILL POWAH, that’s why I never get sick, I have WILL POWAH,” had just been diagnosed with a chronic illness. When the boss schedules time to take you away from your actual work in order for you to sit and listen to her explain that you just need to have more WILL POWAH like her and then you’ll never cough again, a moment of schadenfreude is, I believe, reasonable.
I just went through something like this with my daughter’s school. She was sick all the time, we couldn’t find a cause, and the school was being VERY difficult about it. Implying it was “all in her head” (in the “she’s making it up” way, not the “actual mental illness” way). Then we finally got a diagnosis of Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome and I just want to yell I TOLD YOU SHE WAS REALLY SICK.
The number of ailments I have that used to be considered silly ideas that silly women developed in their silly heads now stands at three. My sympathies to your daughter and to you.
Thank you. I’m a fainter myself, and my mother STILL tells me that I just “psych myself out”. No, I have Vasovagal Syncope. Remember that heart condition I was BORN WITH mom? That’s what causes it.
Of course then after I’m done explaining all my weird medical conditions to a new doctor I’m sure I’ve only convinced them that I have Munchausen’s instead. Even though almost all of them are purely physical and provable. Fortunately I have decided I no longer have any patience for a doctor I don’t feel is listening to me (and also good insurance) so I just go find another one.
Wait, it’s an option to just ‘not do sick’? MAN do I wish someone had told my chronically ill self that!
This. So much this. I would really really like to get into the config file and uncheck that particular ticky-box, thankyouverymuch.
Hey, is it OK if I ask about your third-date script with your partner?
I’ve commented below but basically have also experienced sexual assault and am starting to look at being sexual with casual partner/s again.
I love this script, “Hey, I am usually pretty normal about sex stuff, but it’s very important to me that partners stop what they’re doing when I say stop, because otherwise I get triggered.” Was it enough info for your partner to infer what had happened? Did you tell him in or out of a sexual context (as in, I don’t know if this is something that best happens over coffee or can happen when kissing and so on is occurring)?
One possible true/funny way of telling your story: They built this whole entire psych ward for me and people like me, and while I was there, they cared so much about me they took care of me and listened to me and kept me safe, and they check back with me to make sure I’m still feeling okay and still safe so I know I must be one awesome person.
Hey, I just want to point out that, while some psychiatric hospitals aren’t abusive, bad treatment in inpatient care is really common, and as the LW says “Most of this wasn’t warranted” and describes their hospitals stays as involuntary, it seems very possible this was one of those cases.
It would be nice if all psych care was helpful and non-abusive, but unfortunately that isn’t the world we live in, and it can be insensitive to upsetting/triggering to act as though there’s no such thing as bad care — especially when being sectioned is almost always a traumatic experience.
This is such an awesome response. You’ve touched real but still sorta taboo “vulnerabilities” and given good voice to communication about them. Your sharing of your personal journey is touching and kind. Go Cap’n.
Like all things PTSD, I feel like you find the short-term solution that deals with your immediate need, and do your best to find a version of that solution that won’t fuck up future solutions you might need.
For me, my immediate need was not to extend one ounce of goodwill to someone who wasn’t going to be Team Me, so for a long time I disclosed immediately and excessively, to absolutely everybody. FWIW, that got me a reputation for being Intense, but people were actually pretty happy to roll with it, especially because I did it in a funny/charming way (which sounds like something you’d be good at, LW).
LW, it sounds like one of your immediate needs might be to feel worthy of love and affection, and not defined by your brain shit. That might lead you to hold back and keep things fun and light and validating for a while. Or maybe you want to prioritize the experience of your mental illness(es?) being treated as normal and no big deal. Then you might mention it or allude to it casually in your profile, and try and reach out to people who seem like they already know what that experience is like. You’re the boss of what’s most important, and how you achieve it.
One thing I will say is it’s CRUCIAL for me that my partner understands my mental illness/PTSD and my triggers. Partially because I sometimes have a very acute need for support on those fronts, but also because that’s a core part of who I am. If a partner only knows me-without-PTSD, they don’t know me at all. I wish for you that you find someone who knows and loves your whole self.
“…find the short-term solution that deals with your immediate need….”
YES. I am of the disclose-as-it-becomes-relevant-to-your-needs school of thought. ie, if it’s important to you to not start any conversations with folks who think mental illness is a Sign of Underdeveloped Character, then put something in your profile so they can self-select out. If it’s important to you that you not end up in a situation that triggers your PTSD, bring that up in whatever way you feel good about while scheduling a date. How and when you disclose will set the tone for the response the other person gives, so think about the response you want from someone. I have history with anxiety/depression/self harm/institutionalization, but it was multiple years ago and I currently have a really strong support network and am pretty well managed, so when I “disclose” it’s in the context of stories and I intentionally keep it lighthearted and brief the first time I mention it to someone so that they understand that it’s not a current issue, and that I’m fine talking about it in passing/having them make jokes at my expense/etc.
However, in the period following my institutionalization, I wanted new friends/squeezes to know that it was a thing that I was struggling with, but I didn’t wanted them to try and be helpful, or to bring it up – I wanted to be in control of conversations about my mental health/experiences related to such. Thus, I found it really helpful to tell people a few words about what had happened, and then immediately follow up with how I wanted them to respond: “So, here’s a thing that happened: I was hospitalized for anxiety and depression for a while last winter, and that’s something I’m still dealing with. I have a support network that’s awesome, and at this point I don’t really like to talk about it with anyone but my two best friends and my shrink. It does mean I’m hyper-sensitive to (x/y/z) and that sometimes I have trouble doing (p/d/q). Sometimes when I’m in a particularly good mood I’ll make a joke about it, and if I do that it means I’m ok with you talking about it or asking me questions.” ….followed pretty closely by a different conversation. I had one person ghost on me after that, but I figure that was better for both of us. Everyone else said something along the lines of “Ok, thanks for letting me know!” with maybe a “let me know if there’re things I can do to make things easier” and we proceeded onwards nicely.
One of those people told me later (when we had gotten close, and I was in a way better place) that she really appreciated being “told how to react”, which I’ve also experienced from the other end of mental health disclosures: it can be really alarming to be handed a piece of sensitive information and not given any context about how sensitive it is/what one is supposed to do with it. Folks who don’t have a lot of personal experience with dealing with folks (self or others) with mental illness will appreciate the guidance, and it’ll pre-emptively answer the first few questions folks who are down with it will likely have.
tl;dr tell someone as much as is relevant for the immediate future and tell them how to react to it, then keep the ball rolling to something you can talk about on equal footing.
Also, you are absolutely worthy of love! May the internet send kind and funny people your way.
I’m asexual, and spent many an OK Cupid date nervously fidgeting around how to tell, or if I even should. Finally, after a year of terrible chemistry with a guy who was nice enough but kept making comments about trying sex, masturbation, etc when it became evident I wasn’t interested, I decided to hell with it. Sexuality is pretty important to dating, so I changed my profile with a frank paragraph that said, “I’m asexual. I’m not interested. Maybe if we date long enough and you’re really awesome, I’ll give it a go, but don’t count on it.” I got some creeps with the standard “you just haven’t met me yet har har har” comments, some genuinely confused but sincere guys, and a few who didn’t care.
I’m engaged now.
I also suffer from MDD, but it didn’t acutely flare up until after I’d been dating my now-fiance for a while. But I was up front within a few dates that, yes, I took an antidepressant. And he was cool with it because he has OCD, and had recently gone through a serious bout of depression himself (prior to leaving his darth vader ex). When I’m going through an episode or a bad day, he’s got my back. And I have his, when it comes to avoiding triggering his OCD or helping him through panic attacks. And that flare up in my own depression? Not sure I’d still be here if I hadn’t had him beside me, supporting me. I’m also not sure he’d be able to support me the way he does if he didn’t understand the beast of depression himself.
tldr; you don’t necessarily have to put it in your profile, or mention the hospital stay right off the bat, but don’t be ashamed. It’s part of you. And more people can understand and accept it than you’d think. The ones that would react badly… those are the people you don’t want to date anyway. It might seem scary being so open, but it’s way better than tip-toeing around a big part of your life experience that becomes a heavier and bigger “secret” the longer you go without disclosing it.
I’ve had no luck on okcupid in the past, but I keep considering trying again, including paragraph like that. It’s nice to know it can help.
I think, a few years ago anyway, ok Cupid has question in their infinite survey that is similar to “would you date someone who took antidepressants” and I remember getting like an 80% match to a guy who said “no” to that and then wrote “mental illness is not real”. Like wtf!!! Uhhhhh. So glad I checked his questions before Msging him.
+1, especially the note at the end about shame! Other people may not feel the same way about your history that you do.
OP, if it helps you to know, I have had mostly positive responses to talking about my own mental health (recovered from an eating disorder, PTSD/anxiety, self-harm). Almost every time that I talk about ED history, the other person turns out to have some kind of experience with it. With PTSD or anxiety, I find that a lot of people have similar issues or know someone who does. With self-harm, I have visible scars and it is, surprisingly, not a big deal at all.
Basically this whole post is gold for online dating. As an also fat person who did online dating, I can’t recommend enough putting up pictures that accurately depict your body. It’s the greatest tool for weeding out assholes because they will self-select out once you put up a full body shot. The people who message you and set up dates with you will know you are fat and be ok with it. No shame, no stress, no worry.
My now boyfriend and I met on OKC about 2 1/2 years ago. I am mentally ill as well and mostly deal with anxiety, although I had a major depressive spell about a year before he and I met. I disclosed pretty early on, within the first six weeks or so. It was after I knew I really liked him, but before it became serious to me, before I loved him. Since then, he has been a huge support in my life. It set us up for a relationship where I could be honest about my struggles rather than feel like I had to hide them. Telling early was absolutely the right thing to do. I think it’s reasonable to wait a little while, until you have a good sense of the person and know that you might want this to go past just a few dates. But once you know you want the relationship to be real, being honest about who you are and what you deal with builds a great foundation for the rest.
Good luck to you OP!
Oh, LW, your letter hit me right in the feels, so much so that I am engaging in comment-dom for the very first time. I have been in your future dates’ position: Mr Tookish has PTSD. We too talked about the dark stuff (I have depression and anxiety) at, like, 3 AM on a date sometime between hey-I-like-you and this-is-a-Thing-thing now. Was it scary to hear that sometime I’d come to care for was hurting in a way that I didn’t understand? Sure was. Was I moved at his trust in me and at his strength?
Reader, I married him. Meds and triggers and therapy and all the rest of the dark stuff are part of our everyday lives, as is sometimes feeling shitty and unworthy of each other. Is it still scary sometimes? Sure is. It’s not an easy road — there’s a lot of communication and honesty and vulnerability, and sometimes triggering each other (unintentionally!). Is it all worth it? YOU BETCHA. I want his whole self, and never want him to feel like he has to hide the dark stuff from me.
All that to say, I second the good Captain’s advice. Honesty is terrifying and amazing, and will help you find the people you want in your life. Trust your instincts. I’ve never done stand-up, but I am a performer; the same skills and gut feelings that help you read an audience will tell you when the time’s right for however you feel comfortable disclosing. I wish you all the best in finding awesome people to date, and shall be rooting for you!
When I met Mr. Piscine I was a hot mess. I had (undiagnosed at the time) PTSD from a sexual assault, my finances were down the drain and I was recovering from depression which left me reeling. I was terrified of disclosure, TERRIFIED, but determined to be myself, even if that meant he ran as fast as he could.
Reader, he married me. He listened, he got it, it caused him concerns, we talked about those, and I discovered that the reason for my fear was that in my heart I didn´t feel worthy of love. From anyone. I was a bad person (I felt) who screwed up her life and finances and couldn´t cheer up and get her act together no matter how she tried. When I realised this I started therapy and all sorts of other good things. It has now been ten years, we´ve had two kids and continued to bring up the kid that was already mine when I met him – we bought apartments and cars, I´ve built up a career and we are about to move into the house of our dreams.
My husband is a tower of strength to me, he supports me always and loves me always and feels that I am a supportive and loving partner to him as well. I still have moments where I am astonished that someone with my baggage has the luck to be loved by someone so whole – but this is only when jerkbrain takes over, because my experiences have made me a pretty awesome person who can love and be loved with the best of them.
I could have done this without him and am convinced that I would have, but I didn´t have to and I thank goodness for that.
LW – best of luck to you and I hope you find a true mate to your awesome self.
“He kept most of the focus on the present and what it meant for him in the day to day.”
I know that wasn’t the focus of the Captain’s advice, but that sentence stood out to me as a great example of how to disclose something that’s going on in your life, whether it’s a mental illness or another difficult situation. Stories about the past can be really good to share with someone you trust, and sometimes you need to mention the past in order to give the present context. But when you’re just getting to know someone, I think it’s better to focus on what it means for everyday life, and what the other person needs to know in order to date you.
This is a really good point imo.
I had the same reaction to this bit. LW, I’d want to know fairly early on in a relationship whether My Potential Person were dealing with mental illness–not because I would want to fleeeeeeeee to the darkest corner of the wilds and never return his or her calls again, just so that I’d know what sort of support I might offer to help him or her stay safe and well. Knowing the triggers for My Potential Person would be important, because it would be directly relevant to the relationship I was hoping to help build. (I mean, I’d need to know if loud noises were a problem so that I didn’t get tickets to a monster truck rally.) Knowing that s/he’d been 5150-ed in the past? Not important to me at all, unless My Potential Person felt it important to tell me.
Much luck to you in love, LW. You are eminently worthy of both!
“Knowing the triggers for My Potential Person would be important, because it would be directly relevant to the relationship I was hoping to help build.”
Yes, yes, yes. As someone who accidentally triggered a former partner, before I knew his history, I second this statement. I understand why Former Partner didn’t want to talk about what had happened to him, even to say “I’m a CSA survivor, and I do not want to be touched in the following ways,” but I wish he had. I had no idea, and would have liked to spare him some avoidable pain.
Indeed. This is where the analogy with body shape kinda starts to break down. A person reading your (hypothetical “you,” not anyone specific in this conversation) profile can tell from a picture whether they are a person who is into your body shape, so they already know “what the other person needs to know in order to date you.” Having a good picture in the profile makes sense.
But for mental or chronic physical illness, the name of the condition emphatically does *not* contain that information. And anybody who thinks it does is likely to be working from sound bites and stereotypes, possibly rather icky ones. It *has* to be a conversation. So I’d say that putting it in the profile does not make sense, although starting that conversation sooner rather than later does.
And, well, I’m betting I’m not the only person here who’s never gotten a straight diagnosis for what ails me (as it were.) A disclosure from me would be “some combination of [disorder]/[disorder]/[disorder]/[disorder]” or “[disorder] minus these commonly known characteristics (and minus these commonly known media stereotypes!)” Not helpful.
I am also going to chime in saying that disclosing my mental illness upfront on my OKC profile turned out very well. I don’t think it was ever even mentioned by any of the people who responded to me, and I am currently coming up on 1st anniversary with Dude, who has been very proactive in learning how recognize when I need help, and how to give that help without being a pain in the ass.
There’s a hell of a lot of us out there in the world who are living with some flavor of mental condition. You may even find that disclosing it up front helps draw kindred spirits to you, rather than scaring potential suitors/suitoresses off.
Inpatient psych nurse here! (long-time reader, first-time commenter).
OP: you are not a piece of shit, you are worthy of love. Anyone who doesn’t get that, doesn’t deserve you. An involuntary hold is basically like any other emergent hospitalization. There was an issue, you were checked in, you got better, you were checked out. If someone doesn’t understand that, then they won’t understand you and they aren’t worth your time.
Your longer comment won’t show up here, since it’s one for the forums, I think. Thank you.
The Captain has posted that picture a number of times, but for some reason this is the first time it’s registered that it was karaoke. Presumably that karaoke did not take place where I always believed that picture to be, i.e., in a courtroom. Why the Captain would be singing in a courtroom is not something that had previously entered my mind.
It’s a Chicago thing. All trials inevitably become musicals.
give ’em the old razzle dazzle!
He had it coming…
Oooh I feel you LW.
My general stratey in disclosing my PTSD stuff (relating to intimacy and sex, so pretty closely tied to my dating life) is to disclose after I’ve decided whether this is a person I want to continue dating (so generally after a date or two) but before my own triggers are likely to come into play. This will depend on you individually, but for example, I can get very triggered being alone and isolated with dates, or being in enclosed or dark spaces. So while I can do a couple of coffee or dinner dates and get to know someone probably without having any issues, if my date suggests that for out third date we go see a movie, or go for bushwalk; just us two, or invites me to their place for dinner and netflix, that tells me it’s time to have a conversation if those are things I might want to do with this person. This is pretty specific to my triggers, obviously, but maybe it will work for you?
I totally agree with the Captain here. And, LW, I would have suggested just the same. Put it in your profile so people who contact you can see it before dating you. It doesn’t have to be in the first paragraph and I’m sure as a commedian you’ll find a fun way to say it so it doesn’t sound whiny. “I am an asset and reliable old age insurance for every shrink in the area” should be clear enough to get rid of those who don’t want to date someone with mental problems, and fun enough to not attract the OMGPUPPY helper types to obviously 🙂
Oh, LW, I feel you. I think the Captain is totally right.
I considered whether or not to put my immune condition on my online dating profile, and eventually decided against it just because Lichen Sclerosis has some *pretty* scary pictures if you google it.
However, because it affects intimacy, there has always been a point – usually exactly what Captain mentioned – the 3am chats – when, if I’ve decided that, yeah, I would like to go to bed with this person – that I have to say something like ‘just to let you know, I have LS. It is an immune disorder and not contagious. Its a bit complicated but it basically means that sometimes I have pain, and that its super important that if I say ‘stop’ during sex, you stop immediately, and also that I prep for intercourse properly’. Then, if they have questions (they usually do) we can have a more detailed conversation.
I think getting the immediately important details out first is nice, because then you can ascertain whether or not they’re going to have an asshatty reaction before you’ve opened up to much.
(Also, once I’ve done this, in like 90% of cases the other person has said ‘oh my goodness, I have *insert thing* here, and was too nervous to bring it up!’) I think often being upfront and honest often lets the other person be, too.
And if they can’t ‘handle’ it, then I don’t lose too much sleep over it. Someone who can’t even attempt to understand and see how it goes? Meh. They might well be the type who bolt whenever things get tough. Do not need.
(Current partner has Very Serious Physical Illness plus other MH stuff. He took me to the park to tell me, and he was upfront, open, honest, and terrified. I’m *so pleased* he took that risk, and now we cope with it together.)
Good luck in the dating world!
I grew up in the cult. And that’s pretty much how i introduced it on my okc profile swiftly followed by a good paragraph about feminism and my politics.
I’m pro upfront disclosure – especially online because for me it’s easier than face to face.
You will get some people saying horrible, obnoxious things but that just means they’re horrible, obnoxious people. You will also find some incredible and kind people – some of whom you might even want to go on a second date with.
“Most of this wasn’t warranted but that is a whole other thing.”
I don’t have anything to add to the captain’s wonderful advice but this line just really caught me. I am so sorry you’ve had to deal with that, LW. Keep rocking your awesome self.
I have positive experiences of disclosing and negative ones; what helped me was having the self awareness and skills to listen to my intuition and not use online dating when I was in a very triggered and emotional state. The good decisions and dates came from creating a space of safety where I could say no and pace the date without feeling like I needed to justify that on date one. People without psych histories have date venue preferences and sexual limits, I don’t know what that is like but I tried to remember that it was okay to be me, without having to get into it with every date.
I met Mr Honeybadger online. I had no idea he had a chronic physical disability, he had no idea I had a severe mental health problem. Both of us had suffered being rejected and taken advantage of. We didn’t disclose until date three but we did stay honest about what we wanted from a dating relationship; someone to share hobbies and do the things our other friends weren’t interested in. In that sense, I didn’t have to explain why loud bars freaked me out and he could suggest places that were comfortable and wouldn’t exacerbate his pain.
http://www.pandys.org has some great articles on how to talk about sexual limits and communication issues for survivors, that could be a good way to have a think about what triggers you want to discuss and how you want to do that. Someone who respects you won’t need you to justify it, if something is off the table, you don’t owe them a big psychological exploration as to why and is that a valid limit blah blah blah. Anyone who finds stopping at a clear verbal no a statement that is up for debate is someone who poses danger, I know modern sex can be difficult to navigate but a good lover values your no as much as your yes, without consent, it’s hard to relax and be playful.
I have been in a psych hospital and I still find that to be a lonely kind of experience to carry with me. Not everyone can really appreciate what that did to my sense of security and power over my life. Mr Honeybadger offers hugs, a listening ear, time to be by myself to soothe myself, he can support me even if he can’t empathize with the details. He also loves me for the woman I am, which includes my past but doesn’t stop there, he is helping me write the next phase in my story, which is not defined by the injustice and fear, but by knowing that I can choose what happens now.
“you don’t owe them a big psychological exploration as to why”
I just have to +1 this! In previous dating experiences, I’ve found it’s easy to get sucked into a cycle of “but where does it come from (because it isn’t valid and needs to be fixed, right now, immediately)” every time I was triggered by something inconvenient. It was exhausting, and made my whole life into a high-stakes therapy session. Especially when your trauma occurred within the context of a relationship, it’s important to know you’re allowed to go in for the experience without having to know and explain with perfect clarity why you have triggers, where they come from, that you’re not being triggered AT your partner, etc. You’re totally allowed to say “I don’t want to be touched today, so don’t try to hold my hand when we’re out getting ice cream,” without giving a psychological dissertation afterwards.
This reminds me of a Stuff Mom Never Told You video about dating with disabilities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7ylmYL84aA It’s worth a watch, but more broadly, yes, being upfront (when you feel comfortable) is usually best. For me at least, I’d rather people self-select out (as the captain suggested) than risk them bailing once I’m attached. I truly hope things improve for you, OP. You are not your past.
Personally, I wouldn’t put it on my profile, as a survivor one of the few powers you have is who knows, so yeah, dealing with the douchery reacting to that, not something I have the stomach for. I didn’t share my PTSD with people I casually dated, the guy I have been with for five years now (yay) I did tell in the first week, but I had already known him for three years. I was adamant that he had no idea what he was getting in to, and wanted to give him every conceivable out, but from the moment I told him, it was our stuff to deal with, not just mine. He is very like that, you know, I wasn’t putting anything on him, according to him, because assault should be everyone’s problem, if he can do something about it, he should. So they do exist.
In terms of telling people, the times it has gone well for me have been when:
1) I had nothing to lose. If they reacted badly, I didn’t need them, so either way, I had nothing to lose. The more calm and practical and in control you seem, the less crappy people generally are to you. I hate that this is a thing, because, you are dealing with impossible things, if ever there was a reason to be upset, you have it, in spades, that IS the rational response, but people tend to be on edge and say unforgivably crappy things then.
2) Give specific instructions. If you are asking people for specific things they are less likely to flail around in the sea of their own feelings about it. Also it takes apart the idea that you are asking them to somehow fix everything or take on this whole big thing. Dude, no, I just want you to listen when I say stop, that should basically be a given in any relationship, PTSD or no.
Here are some other tips for and about secondary survivors that I’ve found helpful if you are interested:
Hope this helps, and you find someone who is not an asshat.
the best material comes from the most real material. So it is in love.
I, too, was involuntarily committed for severe depression a few years ago. Depression, bipolar disorder, and autism are pretty rampant in my family. Other than a mention of autism/Spockbrain in my profile, I don’t put this online, but I do bring it up by the second or third date. I will say that by and large most people are pretty ok with it (I think a lot of this has to do with where I live). And for those who are obviously freaked out by it/don’t want another date, that’s fine. It is too exhausting to pretend to be something other than what I am, and I’m not going to do it. If someone is interested in me in a serious way, it needs to be the whole me – not just the parts that are fun, or convenient, but the messy parts too. I personally would much rather have someone say “depression? Nope, not for me, thank you!” and bow out early than try to hide it and find out they can’t give me the support I need when things get bad.
I have depression (and some anxiety issues, though I’m one of those obnoxious people for whom beta-blockers and CBT were pretty magic-bullet cures) and I know how stressful it is dating and figuring out disclosure. I’ve tried a few different things, from disclosing pretty much immediately to waiting for a while to waiting for kind-of-too-long. I strongly recommend avoiding the latter – if it turns out your partner is SUPER UNCOMFORTABLE with the concept of you taking antidepressants, it’s just not a good situation.
That said, I don’t necessarily think putting it on my OkCupid profile would have worked for me. I was kind of struggling with seeing myself as a seperate entity from my illness, particularly as I’d spent a lot of time recently having it dictate my every move, so having a space where I could form new relationships WITHOUT the spectre of my depression was really healthy for me. It killed of the ‘they only think I’m interesting because I’m fucked up’ thing I had going for a while, and it meant that my first date conversations were more likely to be about TV and books and weird stuff I’d done at work lately than The State of My Brain. That said, I did disclose pretty early. I think I told my current boyfriend about my depression on our fourth date, because I was going back to his that night and I didn’t want to awkwardly hide in the bathroom to take my pills or worry about the (not nearly as visible to anyone else) scar on my leg from SI.
I found early-but-not-immediate disclosure was kind of the best of both worlds for me. I wasn’t so emotionally involved that having him turn out to be an ableist jerkwad would have been devastating, but I was emotionally involved enough that I felt our relationship had begun to develop a dynamic of its own, outside of my mental illness.
Great advice, as always.
I fully support the “the earlier when comfortable the better” strategy. My best friend’s boyfriend told her about his chronic illness (and that it’s under control and fine, but he needs check ups and some much less fine periods are probable) and about a period of depression do to it that is behind him/under control at their second “official” date. She was a med student at the time (we just celebrated her becoming a doctor!~yay! I’m so proud of her!) and kind of guessed (they’ve known each other socially before), she was of course concerned out of care for him, but she was glad he told her and of course wanted to date him anyway (and did lots of reading on it when she came home). He also wanted to make sure that she knew that he didn’t want to date her BECAUSE she’s going to be a doctor and he’s ill. She laughed so hard at that comment that she nearly died.
As many commenters said before: when dealing with decent people, informing early on about one’s health problems (physical or psychological=same thing), is a good heads’ up for them not to run, but to be supportive. If they don’t “do sick” (WTF?) you should run, they’re not worth your time (so the early disclosure works both ways!).
*due to, not do to. Idiot.
I’d just like to add one more vote in favor of the Captain’s suggestion to disclose up front and let people weed themselves out if they handle the information poorly. I think it’s smart of you to want to put it right up front – even if the impact on your day-to-day life is small or you can “pass.” I have an anxiety disorder that can, with severe and prolonged stress, morph into panic attacks where I hallucinate imaginary attackers or drop into “fight or flight” mode (note: it is not in my nature to flee, it turns out) when someone approaches me.
I’ve gotten a really good grip on what I need to do to avoid reaching this point, and developed a lot of handy coping mechanisms, but managing my anxiety still does a lot to shape my life. I make sure that all of my friends – not just romantic connections – have some degree of understanding about what they can expect from me in light of this condition, and since I’ve made it a point to do that, I’ve felt a lot more at ease. As an added bonus, I find that clearly expressing my boundaries and needs sometimes seems to give others the feeling that they have permission to do the same – a precious thing in a culture where we’re not very good at recognizing consent in all sorts of arenas.
I also agree with up-front disclosure. “Mental illness” covers so many different realities for people. I personally would appreciate more specific information in a profile.
I survived a traumatic childhood in a family full of several unchecked personality disorders. I am lucky that I somehow avoided those genes but I feel that close encounters with similar situations would trigger some sort of PTSD in me. If I read someone’s profile that just listed “mental illness” I’d skip it immediately. A more detailed description would let me know if it was something I could handle in a relationship. A disclosure a few dates in would probably cause me to ghost. I’m not judging people by their illness but gauging whether the situation would be right for me.
This post is difficult for me. I absolutely admire you all for challenging your illnesses.
Thank you for your honesty. I spent nearly a decade in a relationship with someone who had an anxiety disorder that they refused to deal with at all (it was only after we separated that they started taking medication and seeing a therapist) and I have some of the same issues around anxiety disorders because of that relationship. I don’t feel good about this, but for right now I am mostly not interested in dating people who have anxiety disorders because I spent a third of my life inside the box of someone else’s.
Hey, I have an anxiety disorder and just wanted to say I think you’re entitled to date whoever you want to date (and correspondingly not date who you don’t want to date). It can be difficult to be in a relationship with someone with anxiety at the best of times, let alone if it’s triggering for you or too close to a negative past experience. I can happily report that my anxiety hasn’t scared many people off, but I respect that loving someone with mental illness isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
I also grew up surrounded by folks with personality disorders who were in complete and total denial about it. Then inadvertently dated a person with a personality disorder and learned that my personal psychology makes me unsuited to maintaining a healthy relationship with people with any kind of PD. Constantly checking in with myself to make sure I am not mindlessly following my childhood developed habits of coping with dysfunction (which means I end up being their caretaker while completely neglecting all of my needs) is exhausting to the point of misery. Being with someone undiagnosed (and unaware and in denial) leads to complete and total misery for everyone.
Also, I have anxiety and panic disorder. It truly sucks to sense your partner’s discomfort or resentment with you while they try to convince themselves (and you) that they are “totally ok!” with your sharp edges while you guiltily watch them internally suffer. Personally, I don’t think it’s discrimination to decide not to engage intimately with people who have traits or disorders that have a severely negative impact on your mental health. Like you said, it’s not a value judgement, it’s a personal choice based on your awareness of your personal psychology. At least, that’s how I look at it as someone who is on both sides of this issue.
**Mad kudos to all the folks who disclose early. It took me WAY too long to be able to admit to myself, let alone others that I am not neuro-typical and that yes, this will impact our relationship. The desire to not be “inferior” runs deep in me.**
I’m very open about my clinical depression and successful medication, because I think it’s important that people learn how common this malady is and that it is treatable. So many have responded, “Oh, I know what you mean, I take (meds) also.” I do mention that occasionally I slide downhill and get a bit flakey, but most people take it in stride. In dating profiles, while I do make my BBW size clear, I do not mention depression. Time enough to reveal that after they get to know me. I think that too early reveal of “bad stuff” shows a lack of good judgment.
A third way occurred to me – a reference to MH issues that’s semi-coded and will be better recognised by people who are informed about / have experience with MH issues and are likelier to recognise and appreciate. For example
“Six things I can’t live without:
>kitties. ALL THE KITTIES.
>My job, and knowing that through it, I’m helping others
>absurd quantities of sleep, like, for srs
>Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino
>Good people in my life”
2009 and 2010 were bad years for me. My father died, I tried to handle my grief alone and unmedicated, and then I married an abuser who restricted my access to food, sleep, the bathroom, and other human beings. I had known since 2006 that I am bipolar, but my then-spouse believed psychiatry was an invasion of our marital privacy and that brain meds were for the weak. (His recreational drug use, however, was all about creativity! and art!)
So after the suicide attempts, visits to the psych ward, and eventual divorce, I was not very optimistic about my chances of finding love again. I had a lot of flings and one night stands. When one of those flings kept persistently making noises about liking me and wanting to spend time with me, I decided to show him the “Bill of Rights” I made with my counselor, assuming that my ridiculous demands like daily access to food and sleep would drive him away.
After he got over the initial shock that I had assumed food and sleep were deal breakers, he asked thoughtful, gentle questions. Over the course of many dates and sleepovers, he learned my whole history, and never shied away. He earned my trust. We became exclusive 4 years ago next Saturday, and we got married last September.
I hope you’ll get an even better love story, LW
I think your partner, your counsellor and most of all you are awesome in this story. Well done!
I think it’s good to remember that when you’re dating, there will always be lots of people you don’t hit it off with, or who like you but you don’t like them back, or who you like but don’t like you back.
People can not hit it off for an infinite number of reasons, and it’s totally possible and even likely that you will meet people who do back off when they find out about your history. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong or unworthy about you; it doesn’t mean you’ll never find anyone; it may not even mean there’s something wrong with them (obviously if they’re a jerk about it, then yes).
It just means you haven’t found a good match yet. This is totally normal and will happen and please don’t take it as meaning anything about you!
Dear LW, as much as I agree with the Captain’s advice, I’d also like to give you a different option. Basically: it’s not an obligation to disclose anything until you feel safe and comfortable doing so.
When my partner and I met, we knew literally nothing about each other. Our first months were filled with very slow and tentative disclosures, neither of us wanted to put ourselves out there without being sure the other was trustworthy, safe, and worth the effort. And this was big stuff, I didn’t even know her gender when we met! Over time we trusted eachother with more about ourselves: trauma and ptsd, chronic illness, chronic STI, dysphoria, scars, being a survivor, being a sex worker, mental health issues. Between the two of us, we had a lot to discuss. And honestly, I’m really glad we took our time and neither of us felt like we had to both throw everything out there on our first or second date. It helped us build trust and find out if we wanted to invest as much as disclosure requires, or if it was just a temporary thing where it’s not that important to disclose it all.
For online dating, I am personally absolutely in favour of throwing stuff out there. But that is mostly because I am lazy and can’t be arsed to wade my way through messages from people who aren’t absolutely great. But outing yourself (about whatever) is not an obligation, and you can do so whenever you want, or never at all.
I have no argument with this whatsoever! I just wanted to show a story that fit the LW’s “I like to get things out there” style, but I’m not saying you have to disclose or when or how.
Oh gosh no, that’s not what I meant. I love the advice you gave, it is great and I agree, I just wanted to put another option out there in addition to it 🙂
This is such a great thread. So many of the people I know, including myself and my partner, have things that might be considered a disclosure (or a dealbreaker for the other person, I suppose); it can be so hard to judge what is “too heavy” for a first or second date. I usually err on the side of telling people right away to weed out the ones who aren’t OK with whatever-it-is, and also of trying to just “drop it” into conversation casually (not possible with everybody’s stuff) because I fear conversations denoted as serious. This works pretty well for me, though it can have consequences of me thinking somebody knows something and then having it turn out years later that they completely missed my oh-so-casual revelation and had no idea…
I wonder if this would be an OK place to talk about the flipside of this–what to do when you are the person whose prospective partner is disclosing something to you? Because for me I prefer people just acknowledge and move on, that’s what I used to always do, but then realized some people actually *do* want to talk more about/have a serious conversation and found my “oh, no big deal” dismissive when to then it was a big deal. so, I try to be better about that now. I also think about, what is the proper thing to do if you’ve been casually corresponding with/early dating stages with somebody who discloses something that *is* a dealbreaker for you? Is it better to say right away or break it off later and not say why? (I’m assuming people reading this aren’t having that dealbreaker due to being an ass but rather something like “that would interact very badly with my own MH issue” or “I am a caretaker for a family member and don’t want to become involved with somebody where I’d be doing a lot of that right now because I don’t have the energy” or something that’s really about their own stuff not being compatible with the disclosed stuff.) I think if it were me I’d want to know as long as the person could in fact say it in a way that wasn’t at all judgy, but I don’t know if I’d be able to hear it that way if it actually happened…
Personally, I think it is possible to be honest about whether a mental illness is a deal breaker without being dismissive or cruel. For me, my mental health is a factor in how I want to live my life, it determines my career path, hobbies, my choice re: children, where I choose to live etc. So someone might find that the kids issue is a deal breaker. I am not compatible with someone who wants to travel the world on an unreliable source of income. I wouldn’t be happy with a guy who wanted a driven career girl motivated by money. So agreeing that I am not compatible with those people isn’t a reason to feel that they rejected me based on my mental health. We didn’t gel as people. That is what I need to hear from someone, not a big apology session, not someone explaining why my crazy is never going to work out, a simple, kind, honest ‘we’re not a good match’ works for me.
As for what I want to hear when I disclose, I want to feel as though the person has listened and that if they had questions, they are able to ask. What I really hope for us that my date can add that knowledge to what they know of me and continue having an awesome dare. I disclose to get past that bit of info. It does feel weird when a date makes assumptions about how I see my mental health history and how at peace I am with it and wants to get into that with me.
Mr Honeybadger said ‘I am sorry that your past was so hard and I hope your future is a beautiful one’ and continued the email exchange we were having. That was short and sweet enough for me!
“I wonder if this would be an OK place to talk about the flipside of this–what to do when you are the person whose prospective partner is disclosing something to you?…. I also think about, what is the proper thing to do if you’ve been casually corresponding with/early dating stages with somebody who discloses something that *is* a dealbreaker for you? Is it better to say right away or break it off later and not say why? (I’m assuming people reading this aren’t having that dealbreaker due to being an ass”
I can speak to this, because I just recently had to do it. The person that I had recently started dating had a pretty extensive history of mental health issues, bad early family life etc… Those things didn’t bother me so much, and in fact were things I felt like I could handle. It was the fact that he had a criminal record that he was trying to downplay and the fact that was still going through the legal process for one of the charges that he had. That in combination with his background and the way he talked about his ex and kids really bothered me. Ultimately, what I do for a living very much clashes with what he was presenting to me. He was honest with me about it, and gave me some time to think, unfortunately when I came to talk to him again, it was written all over my face, and so he asked me: “Is it a dealbreaker?” and I replied that yes it was. I wasn’t going to go any deeper than that, but he and I had already established a pretty open relationship about speaking our minds, so I did, and I can only hope that I didn’t offend him. I was trying to be really careful and to be compassionate because I liked him as a person. Ultimately I told him that the most we could be is friends, and I wouldn’t mind being friends with him, but only if that felt ok for him. He agreed, but we haven’t hung out since then (this was very recent though), and that’s absolutely ok.
TL;DR: Yes, I prefer for people to disclose potential concerns kind of quickly and I think it’s ok to disclose when something is a dealbreaker for you up front, as long as you have an open honest dynamic with the person you are talking to, AND you are compassionate about it.
For my part, I think generally I’ve rolled with it for a little while just to feel it out. Sometimes you feel it out and you’re like “oh, this isn’t as big a deal as I thought” or “oh, the issue with Previous Partner who had $issue is that Previous Partner was also a dick, but this person is not a dick so it’s fine”. Sometimes you feel it out and events transpire and you’re like, “whoa, I was right that this is a dealbreaker” and you exit, pursued by a bear.
The most recent time that I exited, pursued by a bear, I said “hey, I’m not feeling it, let’s not stay friends”, because I decided that an Airing of Grievances, in addition to being out of season, wasn’t actually going to help anything. He wasn’t going to learn from it, and I was just going to be way more annoyed.
But I also want to say that you can have preferences and dealbreakers about whatever you like. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong or bad, it just means you like what you like. Like, I’m not obligated to be interested in anyone, ever, and neither are you. I get kind of upset when people buy into that idea that to be a Good Person you have to consider everyone and you don’t get to have preferences. Are some preferences going to be problematic from the perspective of others? Totally. But you feel how you feel.
Good advice from other commenters, and my addition is that you don’t have to come to terms with everything your prospective partner is saying in the course of a single conversation. It’s okay to ask to take a break to process some of what they’re saying and decide whether you still want to pursue the relationship. This gives you some time and space to decide how their disclosure fits in with your own values and what you want/need out of a relationship, gives you a chance to come up with questions you want to ask the potential partner, and (as Novel deVice said) gives you a chance to feel the situation out a bit and see if it will work for you.
In my experience, there’s a big difference between disclosure and processing. I’ve had some great friendships and relationships with people who disclosed a mental or physical health issue early in our acquaintance; I’ve almost invariably had bad experiences with people who expected me to be available to help them process/listen to them talk through issues when we knew almost nothing about each other.
I wish I had a better answer to your question about dealbreakers–I have let relationships go on way too long in the past because I convinced myself that I could work around a health-related dealbreaker if only I was compassionate/patient/selfless enough. I think that the getting-to-know-you stage of a relationship is not a good time to jump into being a caretaker of the other person, and someone who is expecting you to do that right away, or in the very near future, may be moving too fast.
Captain, I’m sorry if someone has already said (I’ve only read half the comments) but there is an advertisement on this page that automatically plays sound and was very startling to me. If you have the necessary control of the site’s ad content, would you consider taking it down or turning off the sound? Sorry to bother you about if you don’t have that power.
P.S. I love your blog!
I don’t have control, but I have no problem with people using an ad blocker to have a good experience here.
LW, :jedi hugs: This is hard stuff to deal with. I haven’t read the whole thread, but I’m sure there’s some great advice there as well as the Captain’s advice. I just wanted to chime in to say you asked a good question. I think you can do it, you sound self aware, funny, and so ready to become part of Club Terrifyingly Amazing.
Also, these things are totally doable. They are hard, because being a human is hard, having been through mental illness or something similar is hard, and dating is hard. I’ve done it, and I know many people who’ve done it. Between my partner and I there’s unemployment, military service, mild PTSD, not mild at all emotional trauma, a spine injury, trans identity, lower class family of origin, mental illness, and lots of “did you take your meds?” and “I really recommend you use your cane today.” We’ve disclosed and navigated it all piece by piece. You can too.
I have never used online dating–I didn’t really know the internet was a real thing until 2005–but I found when I was hanging around with friends, if there was someone in the group that I might possibly want to date, a casual “Yeah, I had some issues. I’m a lot better now.” worked well. It was a warning to those who didn’t want to complicate their lives overmuch, and an opportunity for others to ask a few questions.
Later, when chronic physical issues became a daily thing, I handled it similarly. “I know we talked about going hiking this weekend but I’m having a lot of hip pain today. Can we hang out in the park instead?”
But then, the people I dated tended to be attached to my close friend group, and there was almost always someone who could corroborate my experience, and give a better indication of how much my problems affected those around me. Which was great because I had a really supportive group of friends. I guess if those around are less sympathetic, then maybe it’s not such a good approach. Anyway, just throwing it out there.
Definitely adding my vote to honesty being scary but weeding out the wankers. I was super-cagey about my MH issues, because of some people’s reaction when you admit to depression. Y’know, they give you that look as though you’re about to whip out a knife and open a vein in front of them, or they say things like “ooooohhhh… but you’re ok now, right?” I met my worst date EVER through Plenty of Fish and at one point, he stroked a scar on my arm and said, “Been at yourself with the razor hurr hurrr hurrr?” Believe it or not, this was by no means the worst thing he came up with during the date, but it did throw me into a bit of “oh god, eveyone I meet will thing I’m a total loony” gloom.
Despite convincing myself that no man would ever want me again ever ever ever and I was destined to be eaten by my 43 cats, I eventually started chatting to someone online. As soon as I started to think I liked this guy, properly liked him, I bit the bullet and told him about my demons. I figured the rejection – if there was one – would hurt less the sooner it happened. I was pretty sure he’d take the piss like PoF Wanker or he’d do that fun vanishing thing.
Two-and-a-half years later, we’re living together.
He hates my demons and he hates the marks they’ve left on me, but only because those things mean I’ve been in pain. He knows they’re battle scars and he thinks I’m beautiful no matter what. He’s still working on me seeing what he sees, but it’s a work in progress…
Timely post Captain! I came here to calm myself with your old posts after a nice first in-person meeting/date stressed me (along with other stressors) into dormant eating disorder behaviors today. So now my OKC profile is updated with info re: my eating disorders, and some other boundaries. I have no idea when or if I’ll ever decide to meet another person for a date again, but it’s nice to have it out on there and let people self-select (assuming they read my profile at all, which is a stretch). Thanks for what you do Captain.
That’s sterling advice from the Captain and a sterling way that she and her partner handled things. Your reasons for wanting someone to know are sound and the wording for the ad suggested would hopefully be helpful in that regard. It might be possible to get that message across without mentioning the specifics? As an abuse survivor with some PTSD, I am wary about who I trust and would not disclose anything to anyone who was controlling or a fixer, or otherwise liable to use my legacy against me. It wouldn’t be a matter of a certain number of dates, rather of how I felt. A reciprocity check would come into it, in terms of feeling convinced that the level of investment matched; I do not understand reciprocity to mean that their disclosure would automatically get mine. Indeed I’ve been uncomfortable when people came out with deeply personal things apropos of nothing; either they thought we were closer than I did or possibly they hoped I’d want to fix them, not sure.
In sum, disclosure is great for the reasons mentioned but be aware of the importance of trust.
Reblogged this on (Un)fettered.
Hi LW – I was in a similar boat. I have Comorbid bipolar disorder and ADHD. I found it easier to disclose the ADHD because for whatever reason, society seems to think that’s the cute and quirky mental illness while bipolar disorder is scary and dangerous. ( I hate this so much. Like many people with bipolar disorder, the only person I’ve ever been a danger to is myself )
When I started online dating last year, I did not explicitly state any of this in my profile, though I did drop hints about the ADHD (I mentioned the fidgets and the jumping from topic to topic and lack of brain to mouth filter in a light hearted way). As I went on dates and got to know people, the anxiety I felt about disclosing my bipolar was actually a metric for whether or not I wanted to continue seeing a person.
When I did bring it up with my current person (one year and counting!), I waited until we were near the end of our second or third date. We were taking a walk and when we got near my car (so I could gtfo if it went poorly) I told him there was something I needed to tell him. I started by saying that I’m in treatment and I’ve got a good support system in place, but this is a thing that he needed to know about me and these are the things that might happen because of it. His reaction was pretty much perfect and led to him disclosing his issues with depression and anxiety and ultimately made it easier for me to be open and honest when I was having issues and being able to include him in Team Me.
*jedi hugs* it’s scary and awkward to talk about, lord knows I stumbled over wording and had to restate things and avoid eye contact (another reason to do it while walking!) but being up front when I evaluated if I want to try to have someone in my life is so much better than the times I tried to hide it in the past and slap on a brave face. Those relationships didn’t work out because I couldn’t be myself and they were confused when I had to disappear and ignore my phone if my brain weasels acted up.
I struggle with how to do the necessary disclosure which has kept me from pursuing any relationship out of fear. I also suffer from serious mental illness, however the distortions in my thinking led me to do bad, criminal things that seriously hurt someone. While going to prison got me the help I so desperately needed and has allowed me to change myself into a better, more responsible human being, I am desperately terrified of the judgement I fear receiving if I tell someone who I find interesting and hope to become romantically and sexually intimate with that I am a Sex Offender.
I don’t think that my past failures make me unworthy of love despite the cultural messages to the contrary but I recognize that many people wouldn’t give me the time of day let alone date me if they knew (which is completely fine – people are entitled to their own opinions even if I don’t like them). I want to ensure that anyone I date goes in with their eyes open and has a chance to escape before things get serious if that is a deal breaker for them but I also want to give myself a chance to get to know them and decide if they are worth the risk of being judged and to give them the opportunity to know me (because I’m actually pretty great) so that they have more to make their choice on than assumptions and stereotypes of the person I used to be.
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