If I tell you I'm bipolar, will that make you run away?
December 8, 2007 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Mental illness/dating filter: Four years ago, I broke up with a great guy (possibly the right guy, definitely the wrong time). We've had contact maybe three times since then. Two years ago, at age 38, I was diagnosed as bipolar. Now he wants to have dinner. How much does he need to know about my illness and how do I explain it?

I thought about not bringing it up, but I don't really see any way around it. Since my diagnosis, my life has completely changed. One, I'm now considered permanently disabled. Two, I'll be on medication for the rest of my life. Three, while it doesn't define me, it *is* a big part of my life and I need anyone who is a part of my world to understand my bad days.

I'm not sure if this is a "let's see if we can be friends" dinner or a "maybe we should try dating again" dinner. (the second one is entirely possible given the tone of his email). Whichever one it is, I'm terrified that explaining my diagnosis will send him running for the restaurant door. How do I properly explain the seriousness of this illness to him without scaring him off? And, how do I make him understand that my illness doesn't make me act like the stereotypical "crazy" person who occasionally shows up on the news? I screwed up with this guy once and I don't want to do it again. If all he wants is friendship, that's okay. I just want all of it to go well, you know?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't see why this is any of his business unless and until you both are heading toward a serious relationship again.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:37 AM on December 8, 2007

I think you have an obligation to be truthful if he wants a serious relationship. Don't lose his trust, whether it turns out to be a serious or a friendship.
posted by 14580 at 6:45 AM on December 8, 2007

It's not "his business", but that's not relevant. It sounds to me like this is the kind of thing you would want to tell a fairly close friend, if you were catching up after several years, and you surely wouldn't want a serious relationship with someone so unaccepting of your diagnosis. Obviously, I don't know the guy, but I strongly suspect that whatever his motives for meeting up, if you bring this up when it feels right — which may or may not be at your first meeting — he's going to impress you with his lack of instant, shocked, irrational restaurant-leaving.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:50 AM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

When/if you do tell him, include the meta-information that you're really scared of telling him. When people are scared to talk about something, they often try to hide that fact behind a mask of nonchalance or bravado. And this often makes the info come out in an unintended callous or creepy way. So start with, "I'm need to talk to you about something and I'm really scared to do it..." or something like that. (Not as the first thing you say when you meet him, of course.)

I think that if he's the right guy for you (as a friend or a boyfriend), he'll be able to cope with this.
posted by grumblebee at 6:56 AM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

If this were a first date/get-together with a new person, then of course it wouldn't come up. But since you two have history and, regardless of his or your intentions, will probably spend part of the evening "catching up" on what's been happening in your lives over the years, then it might be natural to explain, simply and briefly, what led to some major changes in your life.

If you do decide to mention your illness, then you should do it matter-of-factly, unapologetically, and as neutrally as possible -- without either sugar-coating or making it sound tragic, exactly as you would tell any old friend about ANY serious, chronic, but manageable illness like, say, diabetes. I wouldn't try to "spin" your situation with an eye to not scaring the guy off. If he's the sort of person who's going to be scared off and automatically going to bolt in the face of health issues, isn't that something you should know sooner rather than later? And would someone like that really make good partner material in the long run?

Yeah, there's still a serious stigma to various brain chemistry problems, so he may initially be uncertain or awkward about it, but if he really wants to be your friend (or maybe lover), he should at least be willing to hang in there and learn some before pigeonholing you. He obviously has some longterm regard for you, and who you are hasn't changed, so I'm sure he'll see that and be supportive.

Good luck, and just have a fun time!
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:04 AM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone with a serious illness myself, yes, there's a chance it will send him running for the restaurant door. But if that happens it means he wasn't the man for you. Better to find that out sooner rather than later.
posted by Soliloquy at 7:43 AM on December 8, 2007

Yes, there is a chance that it will send him running away screaming leaving a man-shaped hole in the wall. It would me, because I've been burned (figuratively) by a bipolar ex, so it immediately conjures up all sorts of dramatically unpleasant memories.

But, here's the thing.

If he does want a romantic entanglement, you can't keep this under wraps anyway. On the one hand, he's eventually going to notice you taking your meds and ask if you're okay. Or he'll notice that you have some sort of furtive habit that you're hiding from him. Or, if your condition isn't managed perfectly and causes/correlates with behavior that he finds objectionable, he's going to notice the behavior.

And, you should consider the other possibility: you tell him that you have bipolar, and he says "Well, I can't say that I'm surprised," or rolls his eyes and says "Duh." Unlike some kinds of depression, bipolar disorder is not usually a problem that masks itself from your friends and family.

You might have better luck with "I have something to tell you -- I've started treatment for bipolar disorder" rather than "I'm bipolar" or "I have bipolar disorder," if you want to think about spin, since that highlights the treatment part, not the disorder part.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:16 AM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Wait until the third date if that's what it turns out to be.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:21 AM on December 8, 2007

I would say something. Having had two roommates who were diagnosed bipolar years after I lived with them, I'd be willing to wager a small amount of money that this will not be a huge surprise.

But I wouldn't just blurt it out randomly, I'd bring it up carefully , maybe in context of your past relationship ("hey, remember how crazy I used to be? Well, that's getting sorted!")or when you're sharing what you've each been up to. Either way, I would try to be as matter of fact about it as possible. Maybe pretend you're telling him you have, say, diabetes but are now getting it treated - ie, this is something you have but it can be controlled with treatment.

Good luck!
posted by lunasol at 8:56 AM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend has bipolar disorder. We haven't been together long, but I haven't run away yet. I am still learning about what it means to have bipolar disorder, and I know that it means I have to be pretty patient and understanding at times, but it's worth it to be with a wonderful person. I'm grateful she was honest and open from the start – it meant I was able to offer support when a recent change in medicine was quite tough. In any case, in this day and age, when mental illness should be just that, an illness and not a stigma, would you really want to waste your time on someone who would run at the mention of manic depression? Being upfront and honest is the best way to approach damn near anything to do with relationships, and I'd say that this was no exception.

Also: I hope you have fun on your date/not date (delete as applicable).
posted by liquidindian at 9:03 AM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you start dating again, he'll learn of your illness and presumably also learn of your successful treatment. It might explain things that were difficult in your past. If you'd had dengue fever, you wouldn't hide it, please don't be ashamed of having a mental illness that is in no way your fault.
posted by theora55 at 9:10 AM on December 8, 2007

I have bipolar disorder. I think you should mention it, but only when it is a good time to explain the illness, and especially how it affects you personally. Many people don't know what it actually means to have "bipolar", so just saying the word might not make sense to him. Or, he might have experience with other people's bipolar disorders that are different from your own. People are different, and my bipolar isn't your bipolar.

My point here is that when you explain it, you should be explaining who you have become more than the illness itself. You are not your illness, and he needs to understand who -you- are, more than just what a generic bipolar illness is. He does need to understand the future possibilities of the illness however: you could have another episode, your medications may need changing and the hell that puts you through, etc. But the most important thing is for him to understand how it affects you personally, and who you have become. At some point you may or may not also find it helpful to explain how the bipolar affected behaviors in your past that he would have seen, and how things have changed for you. But that might not be necessary.
posted by veronitron at 9:27 AM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think that you should be mentally prepared to discuss it (previous posters have lots of great suggestions for how), but take a wait and see approach for whether you actually do. It's been a while - give yourself the change to see what the dynamic between you two is like now, what his intentions for the evening are (who knows, maybe he wants to tell you he just got engaged! he's having a baby! *he's* been diagnosed with something!), and do what feels right in the moment.

If the dynamic is comfortable and friendly, regardless of whether it seems like it may have a romantic direction, it probably makes sense to mention it, because it's probably been a pretty big chunk of your life and making that topic off limits could easily inhibit the conversation and connection on many levels that would be more pernicious to future romance than discussing it (always with the assumption that if he runs because of your diagnosis, it's about him, not you, and it's for the best).
posted by Salamandrous at 9:31 AM on December 8, 2007

Before, you had an undiagnosed mental illness. He is already very much aware of your symptoms, whether or not either of you knew what to call it. Remember that this is the baseline that you are starting from with this guy.

Therefore, your news about getting diagnosed and taking meds isn't scary news, its is great news. Now, you have a better handle on it, you have resources to help you, you have meds to control your symptoms.

Remember, he already knows all the bad stuff. He's back anyway.
posted by jpdoane at 9:37 AM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have a fairly intrusive and chronic medical condition that freaks people out quite a lot. I've learned that the best time to tell people about it is when they need to know. He doesn't need to know on the first date that you've been getting treated for BPD. Unless it comes up naturally in the conversation, I wouldn't stress out about telling him right away. Let the conversation happen naturally. If you see him again, it'll be easier then to say something along the lines of "I really like you and I really enjoyed seeing you, and I feel like if we're going to be close, I need to tell you something." It's much easier to bring it up and NOT scare him off if you've already had a good evening together. The conversation will be less awkward and he'll probably be more receptive to what you have to say.

Best of luck to you!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:56 AM on December 8, 2007

This really depends on the guy, I think.

Don't be surprised if, when you tell him, he tells you you were misdiagnosed. What the general public thinks of when they think bipolar and what bipolar actually is for the individual with it can be two widely divergent things.

Eventually you will need to tell him but not till it makes sense TO tell him. That might be on this "date" or it might be two weeks, two months, or a year from now. I'd play it by ear.
posted by konolia at 10:42 AM on December 8, 2007

I agree with grapefruitmoon. I wouldn't rush into telling this guy or any potential boyfriends too soon. Figure out where things are going first, and I'd say tell him if/when you start dating. Revealing too much information too soon can really be too weighty for a situation like this. And then spell out in matter of fact terms what your being bipolar means for you and will mean for him. Meanwhile, have a great time on your date!
posted by orange swan at 1:35 PM on December 8, 2007

if you dated while you were unmedicated, he probably already knows or at least suspects. i knew for years my mother was bi-polar, but my father died after 30 years of marriage having never known... and he was a doctor. I say hold off until you know that it's heading somewhere. Most people wont even know what it means if you didnt bring it up on the first date. i say WAIT. were it me, i wouldnt want to find this out the first date.
posted by Davaal at 3:52 PM on December 8, 2007

I actually think it could be a good thing to bring up, especially if you are interested in getting back together with him. I don't know whether the diagnosis was a result of your spiraling downward or you just finally got the help you need, but if it's the latter, he'll probably be happy to hear that you have discovered the source of some of your problems and are now presumably getting help for them. I wouldn't do this with someone you just met, but assuming he knows you fairly well and that your illness at least in some small way contributed to your relationship ending, I think letting him know that things have changed for the better can only be a good thing.
posted by whoaali at 5:16 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

OP here. ROU_Xenophobe nailed it - he wasn't the least bit surprised.

Thanks to all of you for your answers. They really helped me stop overthinking the entire situation. :-)
posted by Serena at 8:05 PM on December 11, 2007

« Older Help! My printed PDF pages are so small that...   |   Help me find a book from my childhood Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.