By Stella Ladikos. Mental Health Educator and Advocate.
So you’ve just started dating someone – yay! Right now, you’re probably filled with those warm and fuzzy feels, wondering if they will finally be ‘the one’. You’re probably also going through that phase where you’re learning more about each other and discovering so many wonderful things about each other.
But if you’re someone who lives with a mental health condition, this can also be a really tricky time to navigate. Do you tell them? Try to hide it? Hope they’ll figure it out themselves?
So let’s talk about disclosing your mental health status when you first start dating…
It can be super scary; I get it.
Maybe you’ve had a bad experience in the past where you’ve told someone about your mental health, only to be greeted with a less than kind reaction. Or maybe even just the thought of having this conversation is too overwhelming for you.
The truth is that while, as a society, we often avoid conversations about mental health, this can be a really important discussion to have with the person you’re dating. So while all of the internal alarm bells may be ringing, it’s time to send that “we need to chat” text and prepare to have an open and honest conversation.
Start the conversation by letting them know that you’d like to share something with them because you trust them. You may want to explain that this could be difficult for you and ask for their patience – and that is absolutely okay!
Once you start talking, it can be good to explain what happens to you when you experience symptoms and talk to them about how they can help you in those moments.
That could sound something like, “I’ve got anxiety, and from time to time, I experience panic attacks. Usually, this will happen when I feel overwhelmed and often when there’s too much sound. I will usually start sweating or shaking when this happens, and I suddenly feel unsafe. If I have one around you, all I need from you is to hold my hand and help guide me to a quieter place.”
Having this conversation upfront and getting clear on how you experience different symptoms can feel really empowering for you, and often your partner will be grateful you told them. It is also helpful so that both you and your partner are prepared when it actually happens, and they can adequately assist you in the way you need.
While you’re having this conversation with them, it is so important to check in with yourself and go at your own pace. Sometimes our mental health struggles are brought on by our environment, adverse experiences, stress or trauma, which means that re-telling our story can be draining, and we run the risk of re-traumatising ourselves. So be mindful of how you’re feeling and pause if you need to.
Most of the time, your partner will be grateful you shared this aspect of yourself with them, and they’ll be glad to feel trusted and support you as needed. And who knows – you may also find that they experience mental health issues too, and this might be exactly what they need to feel more secure in themselves.
If you’re still feeling nervous in the lead up to your conversation, you may want to consider having a practice run with a friend, family member or even your therapist. I’m sure any of these people would gladly help you navigate this process, and they will be proud of you for being proactive!
Of course, you can’t control the conversation’s outcome, and you don’t know what your partner’s reaction will be. But regardless of what happens, wouldn’t you want to know their response before it happens for real? Because anyone who doesn’t make you feel safe and supported is simply not worth your time!
You’ve got this!
Stella is a Mental Health Educator and Advocate, and Founder of Meraki Mental Health Training.