Miss Information: How do I tell my date about my mental illness?

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I've struggled with severe depression since my teens. How do I handle dropping a bomb like a chronic psychological issue?

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Dear Miss Information,

I am a mid-20s woman. I have struggled with severe depression since my teens. Three years ago, my parents burst into my apartment because I wasn’t answering their calls, and they found me sobbing on the floor. It was horrible. Long story short, stuff happened, and they took me back home (to a smaller town a few states over) and I started having to really intensively deal with my depression. I was unemployed and in and out of the hospital and on and off of suicide watches. It was really, really hard.

It’s been three years. I’ve been on medications, had more therapy than I can count, changed my diet and lifestyle and all of that, and am now ready to date again. I’m on several sites and I’ve been on a few first dates. All of that seems to be going pretty well. The problem is, I’m really afraid my “crazy” will show through and I’ll scare these guys off, or, worse, that we’ll get really involved and somehow I’ll have to tell him I’m crazy (or I’ll actually turn unstable again) and he’ll freak out and leave.

I’m really stable though. I’ve been working with my therapist and I’m in a much better place now than I ever was before when I was dating all sorts of self-loathers and musicians and bad artists. But how do I handle dropping a bomb like a chronic psychological issue that will definitely affect him if he decides to stick around? And how do I explain that I don’t need him to try to fix or save me?


–Back in the Pool

Dear Back in the Pool:

First, major congratulations on your continued recovery. You’ve had to stare down more demons in the first third of your life than many people ever do! Print that on a wordy, wordy T-shirt. Your hard work should be a point of pride for you, not of apology.

But since Internet dating puts us in touch with such a wide assortment of people (some of which will be, well, “bad artists”) why not prepare for the worst? Let’s say these are possible outcomes, in descending order of desirability:

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I can identify because something similar happened to my sister/my godfather/me.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that. Is it still something you deal with? Meaningful, thoughtful follow-up questions?”

“Oh. How ‘bout this weather we’re having?”

“I saw ‘Girl Interrupted’ so I’m an expert on lady psychology. I’m outta here and you owe me $1.50 for your McNuggets.”

See? No matter which way the conversation goes, it will definitely be informative. When you (carefully) expose points of vulnerability, you learn—fast—whether your date can keep up.

I’m not saying you should launch into the nitty-gritty of your drugs’ digestive side effects or your thoughts on self-healing with magnets. Start lightly: “I love living here, but I just moved back. I was home for awhile dealing with some depression. It suuuuucked, but if you have any questions about Bravo’s daytime TV programming, I’m your girl.” Your tone will be able to convey far better than your words that you are not looking for a savior, and that you’re doing very well. Most guys should respect that.

I know it sounds flippant, but it’s true: if your date can’t handle hearing about the struggles that forged your character, then he isn’t going to be able to handle much. The temporary sting of being rejected early on will be so much easier than the discomfort of hiding your condition for months or years, or of someday being in a fragile position and having his support fall through.

Also, Back in the Pool, don’t lose sight of the fact that more people have hidden adversity than you might expect. (After all—your dates wouldn’t know this about you if you didn’t tell them, right?) Keep an open mind–a few of these guys might really surprise you.