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  • Writer's pictureDr. Karin Anderson Abrell

Dating with a Diagnosis

Your Mental Health Status Does Not Define You

Sometimes we talk about our mental health as if it's 100% who we are.

“I am depressed.”

“I have anxiety.”

“I’m bipolar.”

But a diagnosis doesn’t have to define us—unless we let it. Yes, it’s something we deal with, but it isn’t the totality of who we are.

But when it comes to dating, things can get dicey. Below are some suggestions for when and how to talk about mental health with someone you’re just getting to know.

1.     Pace Yourself: The Fairy Godfather talked about this in a recent post—it’s always a good idea to pace yourself when getting to know someone. Early on, you don’t need to talk about every detail of every mental health episode you’ve experienced. If you lead with your mental health concerns, your date may think you’re looking for a therapist, not a partner.

2.     Pick Your Time Wisely:  Yes, eventually you’ll want to bring up the fact that you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or depression or bipolar or whatever. So you'll want to approach this conversation at the appropriate time—which would be around the time that you and your date are deciding to become exclusive. If he's going to commit to you, it’s only fair that he has a clear picture of what he's getting into. Pull your thoughts together and present them in a way that conveys to your potential partner what your mental health issues mean for him. What does he need to know as your boyfriend should you experience an episode? 

3.     Continue Self-Care:  At the beginning of a relationship, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. We feel so great! We believe anything is possible! We get stars in our eyes and think, “Maybe I’ve finally found true love!” Falling in love boosts our spirits such that we may think we can quit going to therapy or stop taking medication. But—and this goes for anyone who starts dating someone, mental health issues or no—just because we’ve started seeing someone does NOT mean we should step away from our self-care regimen! In fact, it’s unfair to our new partner to expect him to pick up where our self-care left off!

4.     Continue to Assess:  The reality is, sometimes we receive a diagnosis and we internalize it. We believe it’s part of our identity forever. But many conditions aren’t permanent. We do grow, change, and develop. We learn coping strategies as we mature. We can, and often do, leave pathologies behind! Be open to viewing your mental health issues as something you’ve struggled with for a season, but perhaps will not define you for a lifetime.

5.     Recognize that Not Everyone Will Stick Around:  Once you share your mental health history, not everyone will stick around. Try not to take this personally. Dating is, by definition, a trial period. The point is to determine if you’re a fit. If you discuss your mental health history and your date bolts, take it as a blessing, not a rejection. People click or they don’t—sometimes they realize they don’t click because they don’t share the same interests, or they have opposing political beliefs, or they practice different religions. These are all legitimate reasons for parting ways. And some people may decide they can’t or don’t want to deal with mental health concerns. Be glad they took off before vows were stated and kids came into the picture!

Remember, your diagnosis doesn't define you and the right partner won't let it define your relationship.


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