Category Archives: rejection

Dating with a mental illness

I’ve always reveled in the euphoria and excitement that comes with dating someone new but since stepping back into the dating world after my mental breakdown, that excitement feels short-lived. Instead, I find myself worrying. When is the right time to tell someone I have bipolar II disorder? How will they react? What if they don’t want anything to do with me anymore?

When I share these worries with friends and family most will say that when it comes to timing I’ll just know and that I shouldn’t put any pressure on myself to share that part of my life with someone I’ve just met. I think the trouble for me, though, is that because I publicly write about mental health and what I’ve been through, it’s a topic of conversation that has to come up a lot sooner than it would if I didn’t write about it or if I wasn’t actively involved in Madison’s NAMI community. If I’m developing feelings for someone and can clearly see they are developing feelings for me, I would rather them hear about my experience from my own word of mouth than to read about it in an article or on one of my social media sites.

For the most part, I haven’t had to think too much about this mainly because the series of first dates I’ve been on haven’t piqued my interest enough to want to go on a second one. Though I always give honest answers when asked about my life, what I’m passionate about, and what I do in my spare time, my answers are succinct and fairly vague. So when my third date with a guy I recently met turned into a fourth and a fifth, I started freaking out. Shit started getting real!

With him, I’ve put forth a lot of effort into hiding the more public aspect of my life (I won’t even be Facebook friends with him!) in large part because of my fear of rejection. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis and though writing about it is a means of me processing my experiences and fighting the stigma that comes with having a mental illness, I still carry with me a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Getting back into the dating world almost seems to exacerbate that as I constantly worry about being judged and question who would want to take on some of the darker parts of me.

I had just reached the conclusion there was no good time to tell this guy about my mental health diagnosis when I found out that my proposal to implement a pilot program (a writing workshop for youth at juvenile institutions who have mental health issues) was approved. The day I found out happened to be a day we were having lunch. Joy was beaming out of every crevice of my body and talking about my project with him opened the door for a deeper conversation about mental health issues and why I’m so passionate about the subject.

As my family and friends predicted, you do know when the right time to tell someone is and I had reached that particular moment with him. With a wavering voice and shaky hands, I embraced vulnerability and told him I had bipolar II disorder. I also told him why I had been scared to tell him. I waited for the raised eyebrow, awkward silence, and ‘check please’ reaction but instead I got a, “That wouldn’t keep me away from you in a million years.” Those words almost brought me to tears because they erased every ounce of fear and worry I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Though dating in general is hard it can be even trickier for those living with a mental illness. The things I question and worry about now are immensely different from what I used to think about before being diagnosed. I have spent so much time building this moment up in my head, only ever envisioning a doomsday scenario. In reality, I found the big “reveal” wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be. I credit that to the type of person this guy is – kind, compassionate and understanding, to say the least. I know that not everyone I meet or date in the future will measure up to those standards but I am thankful to at least had a good first experience.

For those of you out there who are also juggling dating with a mental illness – what have your experiences been like?

 

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Filed under bipolar II, dating, mental illness, rejection, relationships, vulnerability

The pursuit of love and finding power in vulnerability

I wanted to switch gears from writing about mental health to share some thoughts on the pursuit of love and finding power in vulnerability.

A friend and I have been talking about this subject for a few weeks so when I woke up last Saturday morning to a Facebook newsfeed full of anti-Valentine’s Day statuses (ones like, “This holiday is stupid!” and “It sucks to be single!” and “Valentine’s Day is an overrated holiday invented by Hallmark”) I got kind of irritated.

On a day meant for celebrating love we instead find ourselves focusing on how much we hate it. Behind all that cynicism, though, is an expression of our desire for love. When we find it we are boastful and happy. When we lose it we are devastated and full of despair. When we are single we begrudge others who have it.

I find this topic intriguing because it seems as if we base the existence of love in our lives upon some public display of attachment. An attachment built on wanting, clinging, neediness, lust, and self-interest – none of which are true expressions of love.

Moreover, we believe love is limited to our romantic relationships. We fail to acknowledge that love exists in other aspects of our lives. It exists in our relationships with our family and friends. It exists in our social relationships with co-workers. It even exists in our daily interactions with strangers.

It isn’t surprising we maintain such a limited view of love though. Just like we’ve learned how to tie our shoes or ride a bike or cook a meal, we’ve learned that love will eventually “find” us. This kind of mentality sets us up for failure because it leaves love to chance. Love is thus confined and limited from flourishing in our lives. Really, there are so many ways to love and to be loved in return. So why not pursue all kinds of love instead of waiting for it to manifest in our lives in the form of romanticism?

You may ask, though, what exactly does it mean to pursue love? To pursue love means to act with intention and purposefulness. It means to love for the sake of loving, with no expectation of something in return. It means to be vulnerable, which, by the way, I’ve learned is not synonymous with weakness. Vulnerability implies having the courage to be yourself and to accept others exactly as they are and exactly where they are in their lives –  both emotionally and mentally.

Everyday we face an opportunity to practice being vulnerable: calling a friend who’s been admitted to the psychiatric unit, telling someone you like them, admitting you made a mistake at work, or asking someone for help. The opportunity exists, we just have to decide if we’ll take it.

In my own life I’ve found I fear vulnerability because I fear rejection and authenticity. That if I truly show who I am and take my cloak of self-protective armor off it will have the opposite effect of what I hope for: that opening my heart to another will in turn make them want to open their heart to me. Recognizing this has marked a pivotal moment in my life because I am trying to un-learn what my brain has been hard-wired to do.

In all of my relationships I’ve spent more time hiding the truth than speaking it. And as a result my relationships suffered. I suffered. Last year was the hardest year of my life. It left me in crippling despair and led to a humiliating and devastating emotional breakdown. But the grace in that experience is it has made me more comfortable in the presence of vulnerability. I’ve found that vulnerability really is the safest place to be: there are no pretenses and no hiding, just truthfulness and authenticity.

To quote Brene Brown, “Show me a man who can listen to a woman and not try to fix her problem but rather just listen to her and be there for her, show me a woman who can sit with a man who shares this vulnerability and still love him the way he is, and I’ll show you a man and woman who are courageous and have done their work.” While Brown is speaking specifically to romantic love, the premise and underlying lesson is relevant to all of our relationships: that the vulnerability we try desperately to avoid is actually the key to having a successful relationship.

So pursue love; don’t wait for it to find you. Find power in your ability to be vulnerable because the more open and loving you are the more loveable you become.

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Filed under authenticity, intention, love, purposefulness, quotes, rejection, relationships, self-awareness, vulnerability