For those with a mental illness, dating and relationship building can present some unusual circumstances requiring proper navigation. From one dater with mental illness to another, here are just a couple of pointers to help you survive the dating realm.
Rejection Due to Illness
The biggest game changer for me was when I realized that being rejected because of my mental illness is actually a good thing. Nope, that is not a typo; I firmly believe it is a positive. Whether you’re rejected because of your mental illness or because your family background isn’t perfect (for example, I have been rejected because my parents are divorced), just realize that this rejection served to save yourself so much mental energy. Why? Because it easily eliminates the people who do not deserve you and the people that you would not want to associate with anyway, especially not as a spouse.
Even with that said, there is, of course, natural and justified disappointment when one is rejected based off of another’s inadequate understanding of mental health. Yes, I have certainly felt the disappointment that comes along with that rejection; however, I realized that it is simply not worth my emotional energy. As Dr. Seuss once eloquently put it, “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Discussing Your Illness
Another important consideration to surviving the dating realm is when to divulge your mental illness (or imperfect family background). I could not recommend more divulging this information as soon as possible. Again, this could ensure you don’t end up wasting your time or energy. Moreover, when presented properly, by divulging this early on, you show a certain transparency that says, “I have nothing to hide. I am being up front because this is not something to be afraid of.” If the person has questions, answer them to the best of your ability. If you feel it would be more comfortable or logical, you can also recommend a mental health professional that they can speak with who can properly address anything which is unclear.
Communication is a Must
While being self-aware and communicative are general life keys, this is especially so in dating. As the well-respected Cognitive Behavioral Therapy model believes, your thoughts create your emotions which lead to certain behaviors. We all need some affirmation from time to time. Therefore, if you have a concern about the relationship or worry of your partner’s thoughts on a specific matter, do two things: First, ask yourself, do I have any real basis for my concern, or is this simply irrational, negative self-talk? Second, be straight up with the person you are dating. Share the matter of concern with your partner. Tell them that you would like to know what he or she is thinking regarding the matter concerning you.
This will accomplish so much as opposed to the destructive temptation of creating negative scenarios in your head and letting your emotions take you on a roller coaster. Regarding how to word your concerns, just be straightforward. For example, “I apologize if I am overthinking this, but I had a thought and wanted to hear your opinion…”
This emphasis on communication speaks to the general importance of maintaining balance. If your head is telling you something negative, while granted you shouldn’t necessarily disregard it automatically, it is critical to carefully evaluate the source and basis for these thoughts. Try not to act on your feelings until they’ve truly been confirmed.
What to Do if You Get Hurt
When someone gets hurt, they get upset. This can be especially difficult or frustrating for someone whose emotions are exacerbated due to mental illness (or just life =)). When our partner upsets or hurts us, oftentimes our heads can blow things up and grant it much greater power than reality does. In approaching this situation, it is paramount not to keep it inside. Bottling it up just doesn’t do anyone any good. Further, the longer you keep these feelings bottled, the greater opportunity your head has to feed on self-defeating thoughts.
So what do you do? Communicate! After you bounce your feelings off reality and assuming reality does indeed confirm your thoughts, approach your partner about what hurt you. Be aware, though, that our heads get extra excited because in that moment we become vulnerable. Our heads say, “Oh no, I’m vulnerable. I better go into attack-mode so I won’t appear weak.” Don’t give in to this vulnerability. A sign of true strength is having the ability to allow ourselves to appear weak.
Above all else: Stay positive. Stay strong. And stomp out the stigma.