DREAM ADVICE COLUMN: HOW TO TALK ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS
So I recently met the man of my dreams. He is such a sweetheart and I’ve never been this excited about meeting someone. He has expressed that he also sees a future with me and that he’s falling for me. He has a disability that impedes on his vision. He is really embarrassed about this, even though it doesn’t bother me at all. I was diagnosed with Bipolar one earlier this year, I am on meds now but for some reason I am really nervous to tell him about my mental illness as there is quite the stigma about it and not a lot of understanding. I’m worried that if I tell him he won’t be interested in me. I wonder if I am also nervous about telling him because things ended very badly with my ex because of my diagnosis.
Much love, XX
You’re not alone in experiencing anxiety about “coming out” to your partner, re: your psychological history. I see many patients in my private practice with past or current eating disorders and mood disorders, and the question of how to talk to others about them is often a central concern. It’s hard to translate something experiential into something verbal, while also hoping that your listener will be interested and responsive. While I don’t know the specifics of your story, I can try to help you generate insight into the barriers you’re encountering so you can work through them.
Working in the field of “mental health” has taught me a lot about the power of a diagnosis. Like in the Brothers Grimm fairly tale Rumpelstiltskin, getting the right name can break a spell. People can feel great containment and relief at learning there’s a name for the long-standing and seemingly unnameable patterns
that have characterized their emotional life. While getting the right name breaks the trickster devil man’s spell, it ultimately marks the beginning of a new journey. When you receive a diagnosis, you receive a new responsibility. Taking care of yourself in an intentional way — through psychotherapy, medication management, regulating sleeping and eating, knowing your emotional triggers, and developing skills to self-soothe — are crucial to your stability. Neglecting to do so can lead you back into more erratic moods and, as a result, undermine your relationship.
However, it’s also important to think about how, at one time, the trickster devil man may have helped you or protected you, so naturally there may be some resistance to letting him go. There could be something secretly nice about “having Bipolar,” so I would take some time to meditate on how it has been both disruptive, but also meaningful to you. In “coming out” to your partner, the internal secret may lose some of its power. A good partner will help you stay accountable to your self-care, so you may be held to a standard of taking responsibility for yourself than say, emotional latitude. On a larger scale, this is a crucial developmental step, mental illness or not, so it might feel like you’re leaving behind a more child-like state of emotional reactions for something more adult. Growth like this warrants properly grieving what you may be outgrowing.
As for your new love, it sounds like you feel a desire for him to “see” more of you, but you’re also scared to reveal more. Perhaps your hesitation is a way of helping you slow down, as you said you met him only recently. I wonder if your break up was also recent? Being diagnosed with a disorder is also like having a new relationship, but with yourself. Things sound like they’re moving fast. Is there something about that pace you like? Is there a way it’s also problematic? Impulsivity and emotional avoidance can come along with and exacerbate erratic mood states, so it might be wise to err on the side of thoughtfulness to help stabilize your mood.
The miller’s daughter must adapt to her new role as queen, and rely on her own resources instead of using trickery. If I were working with you in therapy, I might pause you here to think about all these new developments happening for you. It sounds like opening up to someone new touches on a fresh wound. Maybe you’d like to open up differently this time, but aren’t sure how. On another level, perhaps you have more mixed feelings about the “man of your dreams” than you want to account for. He’s falling for you, but how do you feel? It’s unlikely that the love spell will break if you tell him you’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar I, but it’s the actions that could constellate around your emotional patterns, if not kept in check, that could ultimately destroy a good thing.
*DISCLAIMER: Dreamwork is a collaborative process that relies entirely on the associations of the dreamer to create a dream meaning. Without the dreamer’s input, I can only describe my personal associations and amplify the dream images as they exist symbolically on a cultural level.