Why I Choose to Self-Disclose About My Mental Illnesses
It's good for me to self-disclose about my mental illnesses earlier in relationships rather than later. You see, when I received my diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and began taking antidepressants in middle school, I felt my identity shift. Finally, I had a name and a treatment for the frustrating and complicated symptoms I had experienced since I could first walk and talk. For so long, my identity and mental health were inextricably intertwined, and they still are.
Back then, my anxiety was my enemy, an evil presence who never left me alone. Now, I feel like I have formed a healthier relationship with my mental health. However, I still view myself as someone plagued by mental illness at times, and I can't always control my symptoms from cropping up. I'd be lying if I said that the diagnoses I have received over the years don't make up a piece of me. Therefore, I've decided that anyone who forms a relationship with me should know all sides of Hannah; I'd feel like I was putting on a front if I hid my mental illnesses. It has taken time to realize that anxious Hannah is worthy of respect and care, as is depressed Hannah and emotionally dysregulated Hannah.
Self-Disclosing About My Mental Illnesses Took Time
When I first began forming relationships, I wouldn't mention any of my diagnoses, despite how severe my symptoms became. Even when I was suffering from more apparent illnesses, such as disordered eating and trichotillomania, I denied everything. This denial proved to be harder when I began to form more intimate relationships. I can't count on one hand or even two how many times I have been called "crazy" by insensitive partners. I vividly remember when a guy I knew in college picked up my bottles of medication and asked with a smirk, "What are these, your crazy pills?".
People commented on how quirky, dark, and mysterious I was, without realizing what battles I faced below the surface. As I became more confident in myself and more comfortable with my diagnoses, I decided that I should begin self-disclosing my mental illnesses with my partners earlier on in my relationships. If I was fortunate and they were understanding, great. If they fled in fear, then I guess they weren't the ones for me.
The Timing of Self-Disclosing Mental Illnesses in Relationships
Over the years, I've grappled with how and when to self-disclose my mental illnesses. There is no one correct way to self-disclose, primarily because all partners and relationships are different. However, picking a time when you are comfortable is crucial.
I dated one guy for a few months, and the first time he realized I was dealing with emotional health problems was when I had a panic attack in the middle of a crowded subway. Needless to say, he was baffled and concerned and wasn't sure how to best support me. It's not easy to explain your mental health when you are hyperventilating and feel on the edge of death. Therefore, choosing a time when you feel your best self is crucial for being able to talk clearly and openly about your mental health.
The Importance of Honesty When Self-Disclosing Mental Illnesses
Another thing that I have worked on over the years while self-disclosing is honesty. Although I don't need to share every detail with my partner, I do feel as if being honest and upfront has been beneficial for me. There have been times when I have underplayed my mental health problems and my partner has been not so pleasantly surprised when my illnesses come out to wreak havoc. Honesty is crucial for helping your partners understand your illnesses as well as they possibly can.
Furthermore, by being honest with your partners, they will know what to expect and how to best support you in moments of mental health crises. For example, perhaps you need space during panic attacks and increased comfort and attention during depressive episodes and moments of dissociation. No matter what you need during moments of mental health deterioration, your partner will be prepared to help you fight your battles.
O'Grady, H. (2019, May 25). Why I Choose to Self-Disclose About My Mental Illnesses , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, February 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2019/5/why-i-choose-to-self-disclose-about-my-mental-illnesses