As I point out often, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2009 after being put into an institution for a short time. One thing I have always stressed to people that were interested in me since I was 20 (I’m 40 now) is that I take medication. When I received my first diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), I was glad to have a name of something and to know that I wasn’t just crazy. It was good to know that something was up.
With that said, it never stopped me from being able to date and the like. Likely because some men (and I really want to call them ignorant because it truly is an ignorant thought) assumed that dating a “crazy” woman made for great sex. Now I’m not saying that they were wrong but a person’s mental illness doesn’t determine a lot of things that people like to assume. So let’s clear some things up about people that have a DIAGNOSED mental illness and how, in many way, it’s no different than dating a person without a diagnosed mental illness.
What is a Mental Illness?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental illnesses are “conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.”(American Psychiatry Association) I don’t want to go too in depth as far as the statistics but MANY people suffer from some sort of mental illness or have suffered from one (or more) in their lives.
When I was first diagnosed with MDD, my psychiatrist told me that it was nothing to be ashamed of. He stated that, just as you have something like asthma or diabetes, it is an illness that needs to be treated. You just have to be diagnosed and find out how to improve the problem either with meds, talk therapy, vitamins, certain activities, etc. It doesn’t make one less than another person.
This is likely why I am not one bit ashamed of my diagnosis. I feel bad for the people that walk around here calling folks crazy while they drink themselves or smoke themselves to death but I digress. The bottom line is that it is an illness. It is usually a chronic illness although some can be a situational illness. With the right treatment and diligence, just like with any other illness, the symptoms can be controlled.
Today I actually asked my Facebook friends if they could date a person with a mental illness. However, when I had dating groups, I had asked this question in the past. The answers were usually “No” and they were usually that way for ignorant reasons. Let’s talk about the assumptions people make about people with diagnosed mental illnesses:
- there are only three mental illnesses (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and crazy)
- there are good and bad mental illnesses (they think that a good mental illness is nymphomania but many don’t know the lives of a true nymphomaniac)
- anyone with a diagnosed mental illness doesn’t know how to control themselves
- people with mental illnesses all need meds
And that’s just a few. Many people run around calling people (or even themselves) bipolar when they have no clue what makes a person bipolar, don’t know the symptoms, don’t know the treatment, etc (see my blog here). I tell people to read a lot because, until you do, you just look ignorant.
I will use myself as an example. I have told my story about being black and bipolar. It was a process. I didn’t just jump out the bed one day and say “I’m bipolar (or as one of my Facebook friends said “a bipolar”)”. It took time. It took some smarts. It took me knowing right from wrong. It took so many things but I knew I needed help. And, at 20, I took it upon myself to seek help. I did this even with the stigma against black people and mental health. See my story here where I discuss how I was before meds and a little after them along with how society likes to treat people that have a diagnosed mental illness.
It takes a very strong person to go through the process of finding a mental health advocate (its REALLY hard now because they are putting more money into prisons than into helping people with mental illness), having insurance to pay for it, finding the correct means of treatment tailored to you. I got lucky. I have dealt with a few psychiatrists and therapists but I will say that the two that I have now have been with me since 2009 and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They have watched me learn about myself and grow from my experiences. Because, guess what: People with mental illnesses CAN actually be treated, learn, AND grow. We’re not oblivious to life and we do deserve love just like the rest of yall. Shoot, there are so many people in this world with mental illness that you trust and you don’t even know it. I used to be in a bipolar group and we discussed our careers, you would be surprised how many people put their lives in the hands of people with a mental illness and don’t even know it.
One girl on my page questioned if people with a diagnosed mental illness could have successful relationships. I had to laugh. Shoot, people that don’t have a diagnosed mental illness can’t have successful relationships for one reason or another. Many failed relationships come from other factors and mental illness is rarely mentioned. Now maybe drugs or alcoholism might be a reason but the main reasons are money, cheating, and communication which, in many cases have nothing to do with a mental illness.
Some of You are Already Dating Someone With a Mental Illness and Don’t Even Know It
I have dated men that really were damaged. It took someone like me (with a mental illness) to help them understand that they weren’t good mentally. One friend I had had to smoke weed everyday and drink a ton of liquor at night. He couldn’t sleep very well and his upbringing wasn’t the best. As a person that was obtaining my degree, I talked to him and helped him understand that what he was doing wasn’t normal and that he needed to really get to the bottom of why he was the way he was. He depended on me sometimes for happiness which wasn’t a load I was ready to bear. He was NOT diagnosed with anything. He finally went to a therapist every week and got those feelings out, set some goals, and worked to become a better person.
But he was walking around here undiagnosed thinking what he was doing was normal. As a person that actually grew up with him and didn’t know his total childhood story, I suggested he get help ASAP. He had a hard childhood and sometimes you have to go back to your past to figure out why your present is the way it is. My past wasn’t the worst but it also wasn’t the best either so I knew in my teens that I needed to do something. Some people don’t have that and have to have someone put a mirror up to them or rehash some things that they might not want to rehash in order to recognize that they got damaged and that their detrimental actions are a result of that.
In my dating time, I probably taught three men to acknowledge their feelings as a human and not just as a man. Men can cry, nothing wrong with that. Men can talk about their feelings, nothing wrong with that. There are a lot of damaged people in this world that literally don’t know that they are damaged. There are a lot of people that have situational mental illnesses and there is nothing wrong with that. Many people try to forget what made them the way they are whether it was good or bad. I personally am a better person because of self evaluation.
Dating a Person with a Diagnosed Mental Illness
It isn’t the worst thing in the world. Some of us actually have it under control. Some of us actually know ourselves and can tell you our triggers to give you a heads up on what not to do. At least many of us KNOW our triggers. Some people don’t even take the time to learn their triggers because there’s nothing wrong with them (when sometimes there actually is).
I personally put it out there that I have bipolar disorder. If you want to leave because of that part of me, that’s cool. I don’t know if anyone doesn’t want to date a person because they have diabetes but it’s actually kind of the same. An illness is an illness. Knowing how to cope with it is what helps. An illness doesn’t define a person. I am not a bipolar. I am Kendra who happens to have bipolar disorder but religiously sees her psychiatrist and psychologist as well as takes her meds DAILY.
Some people with mental illness might have a slip up. It happens. People without a mental illness might have a slip up. That’s a part of being human, not having a mental illness.
In any relationship, you need to communicate with your partner. Just as you would with someone without a mental illness, you should with someone WITH a mental illness. Your relationship doesn’t have to be different unless you make it that way. That does not mean that you have to guilt yourself for not wanting to be with someone with a mental illness. Let’s talk about this.
It Might Not Work out BECAUSE of the Illness
Never will I say that all people with mental illnesses are great mates. The same can be said about people without mental illnesses. But I will say this: If the person doesn’t want to do anything to help their situation, do NOT let them take you down with them.
I take my meds but I also know how I am if I don’t take my meds. I wouldn’t want to even be around myself if I didn’t take my meds. So if your mate or significant other has been diagnosed and refuses to do what their medical professional has told them to do, do not enable them. Do not stay there and act like it’s okay. It’s not okay and it can only get worse. I know this because it’s true. That time I got put away, I missed ONE day of my meds. ONE DAY and someone pushed me a little too far and I snapped. While some people would say that my response was justified (if they knew my relationship with this person and all that I had been through), it still wasn’t appropriate.
Don’t let them use their mental illness as a crutch or an excuse for bad behavior. Don’t guilt yourself into staying with the person because they have a mental illness and they might have had a hard life. I will always support a person that has gone through something or is going through something but never let them lean on that as their reasoning for doing things they know aren’t right. Don’t be like how they are on Black Ink Crew and say “Oh, that’s just Sky”. See that blog here Unacceptable behavior is unacceptable behavior period.
One more thing: Don’t use their illness as an insult. Yesterday, my own sister that knows my diagnosis and how far I have come told me to go take my meds. That’s really hurtful and, in this case, it was totally unwarranted. Don’t go out of your way to demean them for having a mental illness. We don’t choose these things. So don’t make it worse on us because we happen to have something. Would you make fun of a person with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease for having them?
Understanding mental illness is something that a lot of people don’t want to do. A lot of people don’t want to read up on things that don’t directly impact them. Why? Many don’t care. But if you have someone that you are interested in and care about, do a little research. It might bring you closer. Ask questions, you might learn something.
One More Thing
What do you guys think should be the rule when it comes to disclosing your mental illness/health information? I am very up front with my illness because I sometimes want to run people away (it doesn’t work) and I have nothing to be ashamed of. But is it a person’s responsibility to tell you about their illness if they have it under control? Is it your business to know?
We want people to disclose their sexual preference (gay, bi, trans, etc) but is this something that’s so relationship altering that it needs to be disclosed early in the relationship? If one is planning on having children with the person, I think that some mental illnesses should be disclosed if one wants to procreate. Otherwise, I am on the fence. I am predisposed to alcoholism and I have bipolar disorder. This could impact a child of mine. What is your stance on this subject?