Sunday, 9 October 2011

Article - Telling A New Partner You Have A Mental Illness

For many of us the very act of telling a new partner we suffer from a mental health condition holds us back from being in the loving relationship we deserve, so why is it then that we chose to be lonely over disclosing our illness? After all it is just that, an illness, not a dirty secret.
According to a Time For Change survey more people in England would turn down a date with someone who had a mental illness (57%) if they were single and looking for love online than someone they found unattractive (44%) or someone without the same interests (43%). Also, people with a mental health problem are more likely to be turned down for a second date if they reveal they have a mental illness (44%) than those who disclose they have been in prison (42%), have a physical health problem (19%) or are unemployed (18%).
Being in a good relationship may also help us with our recovery, our partner, if they love us, the will want to help us. In order to do that they will need to know. 
Besides, if they stick around they’re going to find out sooner or later, so why not make it on our terms, under our control, rather than the hard way i.e. during our next psychotic episode. Besides, keeping things from one another can create trust issues.
Once we tell them, they should understand  our behaviour rather than judge it. We may still not even recognise our symptoms or behaviour when we are becoming unwell, and why would we? they’re all we've known. But by telling our partner about our condition, when we noticeably become hostile, or clingy, or take our frustrations on them, they are already aware, sensitive, and less likely to take these behaviours personally or mistake them as rejection.
Neil is diagnosed borderline personality disorder, a condition known for problematic relationships due to them finding it difficult to connect with other people’s emotions or show true empathy, being hyper alert to assumed signs of rejection making them over clingy at times, and switching from positive to negative attitudes towards a loved one at irrational pace.
Sometimes the fact that my partner knows enough about my condition to take certain behaviour into consideration is helpful, as I'm not just dismissed as being a nutter.” 
Paul suffers from Schizophrenia, a condition that often affects relationships as symptoms include paranoid or delusional accusations which loved ones are often the target of, asocialty; an inability to emphasize or feel intimacy with someone and social withdrawal which can hold back relationships moving to the next level. 
“ I told my partner about 3 months into the relationship. I didn't want to jeopardize the relationship early on by introducing a negative. After 3 months I felt I could trust her enough not to be turned off by my problem”
Rachel has bipolar disorder which is often perceived through the eye of a new partner as wild, what with extrovert, flirtatious and often wreck less behaviours often deemed exciting, yet is followed by withdrawal, anxiety and often suicidal thinking, it’s no wonder these relationships are often than not short sharp flings.
“I would not say anything at first as I have an illness, the illness isn’t me. I wouldn’t want to be judged on having an illness.”
For members of No Longer Lonely an internet dating website, this issue is not a problem. The successful site was set up by Jim Leftwich for people with mental health problems which already helps to overcome the problem of disclosure. 
“I get regular testimonials from users attesting to how their lives have improved because of the site. Fact is that we've spawned at least 30 marriages through the site.  I think there is a profound comfort getting to know someone for romantic intention when the idea of disclosure is taken off the table.  We all speak a common language of experience.”
We should never say more than we feel comfortable, should they pry they are not being sensitive and we can tell them off.
What would be useful is if you let your partner be aware of any symptoms or triggers so that s/he can support you. 
These are the early stages of the relationship, so there is no need to discuss what my happen years down the line such as “I need to come off my meds when I’m pregnant and are at risk of post-natal psychosis” or “You may nee to take time off work to look after me” just as you wouldn’t discuss starting a family or getting a mortgage at this stage. 
Rachel says “ It depends on how close you are, but telling someone you spent a long time in a psychiatric ward may steer someone who is not as aware of the illness as you are, in the wrong direction. Then again, an established partner can be useful and help out in situations if they are aware and prepared”. 
“I wouldn’t want to tell a new boyfriend that during peaks of mania I’ve slept with shit loads of men, for example. That’s none of his business. But I might want to tell him that I can be touchy if depressed, so he doesn’t think it’s something he’s done wrong.” 
Yes, yes, yes! We have as much right to a loving relationship as anyone else, and more. Admittedly there will be struggles, possibly more than the average (if there is such) relationship because we will inevitably get unwell which is likely to put a strain on it, but how good would it feel to get through it and say at the other end We got through this rather than do it alone, again. That old cliche “What doesn’t kill us strengthens us” holds truth.
Paul say’s
“ Being in a relationship helped me manage my problems.. it's very reassuring to have someone who accepts you for the way you are. What i found was I felt a sense of responsibility towards my partner to stay fit and well so I was looking after myself better and that generally helped me stay on an even keel. I suppose i wasn't doing it for myself but for my partner because i loved her and wanted things to be great between us”
Rachel say’s 
“ When depressed I’ve been hostile and aggressive towards men, or neglected to contact people I had started dating. I am a difficult person to be around when I’m depressed (but marvelous when manic) so a new person may not, understandably, want to be involved with someone that could bring them down. On the flip side, being with me when I’m manic can be extremely tiring for another person; as I don’t sleep and I constantly chastise other people for not being up to speed, as it were. Being around me when I am this hyper and irritable must be draining”.

“However, being in a good relationship can absolutely help, with good sex and comfort and a shoulder to cry on, it also gives you someone to focus on rather than yourself, and someone to talk through things with”. 
And Neil say’s
I do find relationships difficult because rational thinking often goes out of the window, taking trust and empathy with it. I am also very affected by their behaviour, and often take things extremely personally, although I find myself unable to empathize with their problems which makes things worse. 

What's more annoying is that i know i can be very supportive and helpful, but this depends on my own moods and state of mind which can shift very quickly, and there is hardly any consistency with regards to mood or ability to rationalize”
“Although my relationship can be very black and white, when it’s white, (good) it’s really good. Having to go through things on my own when I can go through them with my partner, I much prefer the latter. I feel safer. Besides, we have fun, for someone that’s often depressed that’s just as important”
Help them to learn about the symptoms and what to look out for, we can do this together as it will be helpful for BOTH of us as we have become so accustomed to them.
Ask them not to take things personally be it withdrawal, frustrations, or all round negativity.
Ask them to be realistic about how much they can give, and take. 
Remember our personality comes first, our illness is secondary, just as someone with diabetes, or epilepsy, it’s not all we’re about.
The most important thing they can for for themselves is to get support themselves -  Friends, family, even support networks such as forums and counseling. The more happy and healthy they are, the more it rubs off on us and our attitude, and our relationship.

No comments:

Post a Comment