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Author Topic: Dating with Mental Illness
MusicNerd
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So, I've been making a lot of progress in therapy lately, and I've been putting myself back out there in the dating scene. The thing is, even though I could rattle off all the things I think make me an awesome friend and a likeable person in general, I'm scared that those things won't translate into me being seen as a desirable partner, especially since I'm dealing with depression and anxiety. I'm afraid that any positive things I have to offer will be outweighed by the fact that I'm dealing with mental illness, and that fear is keeping me from doing things like asking out this guy who's in my sexual assault prevention group on campus.

How do I keep from being so afraid of someone judging me for my mental illness while dating? Is there any hope that someone I like could see past my depression and anxiety and appreciate the positive things I have to offer?

[ 03-11-2014, 06:58 AM: Message edited by: MusicNerd ]

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

Posts: 301 | From: a galaxy far, far away... | Registered: Jun 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Redskies
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I think other folk will likely have some helpful input here too, but one thing I'd suggest is changing the framing some.

For part one, I'd suggest centring yourself and your viewpoint more. For a moment, let's forget about how people can just be judgemental anyway and that mental illness stigma exists. What do you want and need from dating/romantic interactions? How do you relate to people? If you can do those things, and you Want to do those things - even with some workarounds and weirdness with the mental health stuff - in a way that feels roughly like you and that you feel good about, then dating is an option for you as much as it is for anyone else.

That runs into Part 2 - finding suitable person/s. It's not about if you can be alright enough or acceptable enough for them - it's about whether the two of you are suitable. Suitability does include practical life considerations, including health conditions, but it Includes it rather than being centred on it. Someone doesn't have to "see past" your health conditions in order to want to date you. They have to see You, and figure they maybe like you, and haven't seen any big incompatibility. Someone feeling like they're ok with someone else's health conditions doesn't look or feel like "I can put up with this Heavy Burden", it's more like "I like this person, and the variations I need to make and they need me to make around their extra stuff doesn't feel hard or distressing to me".

Maybe one of the needs you have is to take things slower while you both find out if you seem compatible. You're assessing them for their suitability for you, too. You don't have to put everything on the table all at once. You could start out by putting a small, relevant need of yours on the table. For example, if you - someone - was having a tougher few days than usual and not feeling like socialising, they might communicate to a new datee something like "I'm not feeling great and I need a few days to myself. I do need that from time to time. I do really want to hang out again, though, and it's not you! I can call you again some time after Thursday - hope that's ok." - for whatever situation applies to you. If their reaction feels ok to you, then you still have a green light that this might be someone compatible, and if you feel like it, you can try sharing another small piece when it's appropriate. If their reaction doesn't feel ok, then you have that information about them before you've invested a whole lot emotionally or in personal information.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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MusicNerd
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Hey Redskies, thanks so much for responding! A lot of the things you wrote really resonated with me.
quote:
Originally posted by Redskies:
What do you want and need from dating/romantic interactions? How do you relate to people?

In dating/romantic interactions, I wanna be with someone who I feel comfortable having deep philosophical conversations with and also have opportunities to be my goofball self around them. I want someone who feels like they can be comfortable and authentic around me, too. I want someone with a good sense of humor. I need someone who is at least feminist-minded (even if they don’t self-identify as feminist) and someone who respects my atheism (even if they themselves are religious). I also really want someone who doesn’t fetishize me because of my race/ethnicity/multiracial-identity/ethnic ambiguity… “Can I touch your hair?” is not a cute pick-up line. I also need someone who’s willing to take things slow with me and not wanna rush into labeling things really soon (like “boyfriend/girlfriend/partner”, etc.), and someone who’s willing to respect my boundaries sexually due to the fact that I’m totally inexperienced. I also need someone who’s not super-judgmental and who can accept/appreciate my eccentricities. So, in a nutshell, I pretty much want someone who’s like a good friend but with some mutual sexual chemistry thrown in there.

Typically, I relate to people by asking them questions about themselves and getting to know them that way while also sharing things about myself in the process. A lot of times if I find out I have something in common with someone, I’ll talk more about that with them or share my own story relating to that topic or ask them more questions about it. I also tend to crack a couple of jokes too, since apparently -– depending on who you ask –- I’ve been told that I’m funny. [Razz]
quote:
Originally posted by Redskies:
It's not about if you can be alright enough or acceptable enough for them - it's about whether the two of you are suitable… Someone doesn't have to "see past" your health conditions in order to want to date you. They have to see You, and figure they maybe like you, and haven't seen any big incompatibility.

I just figured that my mental illness would be seen as an obstacle for someone, but I never really thought about it that way; about them not having to “see past” my health conditions. Also, I really like your idea of starting small and saying something about how I'm having a bad day and need some space to see how they react. That's definitely something I would want to know if someone I'm interested in could be okay with that or not. I do forget that I too am consciously looking to see if I like them as well and if we’re suitable together, too, and it’s not just about if I’m “good enough” for them. I need to remind myself that that’s what these interactions consist of. Also, that really hit home with me about not being viewed as the “Heavy Burden”. I’ve talked about that with my therapist before, but sometimes I forget that not everyone is going to view me in that way.

I guess at the end of the day I wish I wasn’t so afraid of being rejected and getting close to people I’m romantically and/or sexually attracted to. I’m still working on that, and I’ve made quite a bit of improvement, but it’s still a frustrating struggle. Sometimes I feel like I’m too sensitive, especially since it’s not like I haven’t been rejected before or that rejection is this super uncommon thing that no one else ever goes through. And now I just feel like I’m rambling. Oops… :/

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

Posts: 301 | From: a galaxy far, far away... | Registered: Jun 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Redskies
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I have a few things in mind that I think might really help you out with some of this.

Obviously, working on that fear of rejection - and good on you for the work you've done so far! - with your therapist is a good thing to do. I'd like to suggest something that could be a good accompaniment for that work. Do you know of the Captain Awkward advice blog? I think it might be a good fit for you. It's mostly populated by people who can't or don't want to follow the standard systems that society lays out for us, maybe because they experience oppression as part of those systems, or grew up in wonky dynamics without those systems and never learned them, or are ill and/or disabled, or... and who like thinking about and analysing things that might actually work and make them happy. The comments are insightful and valuable, and although not a completely safe space, tight and oppression-aware moderation makes it pretty darn close. There's a lot of smart thoughts and discussion in many places over the blog about dating, relationships and self-esteem which you might like to check out. I'll particularly put this column your way: http://captainawkward.com/2014/02/14/548-i-met-a-cool-person-to-flirt-with-and-im-scared-of-what-to-do-next/ (note re. the comments: there are a couple that refer to the "lying!"/"dishonesty!" trope about trans people, but they were strongly disagreed with by other commenters and rapidly shut down, and anything out-right horrible was removed.) The asker is in a different situation to you - they're a not-yet(?)-socially-transitioned trans woman - and while some of the advice is obviously specific to that, there is also a lot of excellent and compassionate advice for anyone who is nervous of dating, and when to tell whom what, because of some thing they have going on where some people might be truly harmful and/or societal prejudice exists.

I'd like, too, to point you to a space where people talk about mental illness simply as a part of their lives. I get the sense that it might help you to have mental illness "normalised", to read about the many different ways people can have different relationships when mental illness is part of the picture. The place I'm going to suggest is UK-based - England-specific, I think - but hopefully the cultural translations won't affect its relatability. Perhaps there's something similar in the US? I'd point you towards http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/blog/valentines-day-mental-health-relationships and http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/blog/mental-illness-relationships-dating , but obviously if you like it there's much more to read around on the site. It's people talking honestly about their own lives and experiences, and you won't like everything you read, and sometimes you'll likely think "wow I don't want That!", but that's part of the idea - to give you a sense of how many people do this and of how many different ways of doing "this" there are.

There's another way of looking at things, too. The experiences you have, whether or not you would swap them out for different ones if you could, give you certain kinds of insight into people and life. If you're getting a handle on them, they likely also give you insight into yourself. Those insights - which usually come with big helpings of wisdom and compassion - are giant pluses. Directly as a result of your mental health conditions, you're bringing some big positive things to the table. A lot of people pick up that realisation as they go through life: that people with some tough or tricky things, and with some kind of a handle on those things, are precisely the kind of people that they want and need close to them. Our world often hands us the idea of picking a "perfect" partner; instead, we need people who are good for us, and that often involves those people's "imperfections" - or their experiences in having or acquiring those "imperfections" - being exactly the things that mean they can truly know and relate to us for who We are.

Is that helping you out any? I know this way of thinking about things, particularly when we try to apply it to ourselves, can be a bit mind-boggling.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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MusicNerd
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Hey Redskies, sorry to take so long to respond! Part of that was due to me traveling from one state to another during my spring break and the other part of that was due to me reading all the links and just absorbing what you wrote.

Yeah, it definitely is a bit mind-boggling to look at everything in this way. Like, I definitely would not have thought that someone would specifically want to be with me because of the things I'm dealing with due to mental illness. I only ever viewed it as a negative thing, but looking at those links (btw, I really like Time to Change, and I have heard of Captain Awkward and I really loved that piece along with the non-transphobic/not-stupid comments) made me realize that mental illness could actually be treated as like a normal thing. I also like how in the Captain Awkward piece, they mentioned how no one's obligated to tell everything upfront at the beginning and that you can do it in small steps. It was also helpful to see that other people can get anxious about/overthink these kinds of situations too. I also really liked seeing couples where a partner was dealing with mental illness; it made it seem not totally impossible for me to be in a relationship. Jeez, now I feel like I'm just gushing over those links! lol As you can tell, I really liked reading them. [Big Grin]

I guess I just need to remind myself that it's a "victory" even if I ask out this person. I guess what upsets me is that... the reason why I chickened out the last time I was going to ask him out is because I felt like he was automatically going to say no. Like, I was really disappointed in myself for thinking that way, because I thought I had made more progress than that and that my self-esteem had improved a lot more than that. [Frown] It's just in those vulnerable moments that I feel like I'm less confident and like I took a step or two backwards in the progress I've made. I kinda don't know how to keep my confidence up in those moments, and I'm afraid that I'll never be confident when asking someone out. Does that just take practice or something?

[ 03-15-2014, 10:54 PM: Message edited by: MusicNerd ]

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

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Redskies
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I'm glad you liked the links!

As you know, it takes time to change thought patterns. It's at times when we feel most vulnerable that we're most likely to fall back to less helpful or insecure thought patterns. Try not to be too down on yourself about it! Maybe, too, there's some progress that you're overlooking: you're aware that you were thinking he was going to say no, and you can recognise that it's a thought and not a definite state of reality, even if you haven't been able to act on that yet.

Working on that thought pattern is probably a thing for therapy, as your therapist will already be familiar with the bigger picture for you and have strategies for questioning and/or dealing with it. Have you already discussed it with your therapist, and do you both have any insight about why you think someone would automatically say no?

It's ok, too, if you just don't feel ready yet to take the risk of someone saying no. It's definitely a thing to work towards and to get to, but it's ok if you're not there right now. It would be ok if there are still some steps you need to take before you can feel that it would be ok if someone said no - maybe very disappointing or upsetting, but like you could handle that and be fundamentally ok and able to try again whenever you wanted to.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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MusicNerd
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I really did like the links! [Smile]

Yeah, tell me about it! It seems like it takes eons to change thought patterns. Hmm, I never thought about it that way; that maybe I've made progress anyway due to the fact that I'm aware of what I was thinking. I guess that makes me feel a bit better, so thanks.

Well, I've talked with my therapist about my fear of rejection, and she's definitely talked with me about dating and my fear of intimacy, which seems to poke it's obnoxious nose into everything I freaking do!! I could talk with her when I see her tomorrow about how I chickened out of asking him out and thought he was automatically say no.

I mean... I've been trying to take more and more healthy risks lately, simply because it gets really confining for me not to take those risks. It seems to have helped me thus far to step out of my comfort zone, and I really don't want my fear to keep me from asking someone out and potentially connecting with them, too. I know that one of my issues that's holding me back, that I've talked about with my therapist, is that I tend to equate expressing interest in someone with them taking advantage of my feelings, since that was a common trend that happened with me and crushes in the past. But the thing is, last month I expressed interest in a girl online (and I actually flirted with her, holy shit) and she asked me out! Even though it didn't really go anywhere after we hung out, I just need to remember that there are actually positive things that can come out of expressing interest in someone. But that's way easier said than done, though. It's just really hard to think logically like that and remember those things when I'm in the moment. *sigh*

[ 03-18-2014, 12:01 PM: Message edited by: MusicNerd ]

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

Posts: 301 | From: a galaxy far, far away... | Registered: Jun 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Redskies
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I think it would not be smart for me to dig in with you in great detail about your thoughts that people will say no, as you're seeing a therapist and discussing it with them - any possibility of throwing in interference or white noise into that process wouldn't be beneficial for you or a good use of anybody's time. I think it's fine to roll around any thoughts that come out of therapy here on the boards, but it's therapy that has the lead role in identifying what's going on for you and the best ways of approaching it, for many reasons - not the least of which is that your therapist should know much more about you and your situation, and is miles and away better qualified for it.

Have you received advice from your therapist about how to process and/or move on from the background history you're mentioning, or strategies for thinking of situations now so that you know it is now and not then, or for approaching situations now so that any fears and risks you have are and feel reasonable and manageable?

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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MusicNerd
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Oh no, I agree that totally makes sense! I wasn't trying to make you delve deeply into my thought-process around this stuff, considering you're totally right that I should continue doing that with my therapist, but sorry if I came off that way in my last post! I was just putting those thoughts that have come up in therapy on here to basically say, "I've learned x, y and z about myself thus far, but yet I'm still a nervous derp when it comes to asking people out, and it's annoying to feel this way even though I've become more aware of myself."

Well, I've gone over with her about the whole assuming-that-things-that-have-happened-in-the-past-will-happen-again-with-people-in-the-present thing, and she's helped me debunk that a bit, but I still need to work on that. She's also talked with me multiple times about the benefits of stepping out of my comfort zone (which I have also recently noticed, too, but it's still nerve-wracking for me to be so vulnerable), but I could ask her for more guidance and strategies on that front, though to help make my fears seem more manageable.

Also, clarification question: what do you mean by "thinking of situations now so that you know it is now and not then"? As in, pretend that the situation is happening right now in the moment as opposed to thinking of it as some abstract-future thing?

[ 03-20-2014, 01:35 PM: Message edited by: MusicNerd ]

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ~Dr. Seuss

Posts: 301 | From: a galaxy far, far away... | Registered: Jun 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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