I took the leap. I joined a dating site. I’ve cast my net. Now all I need to do is let my Beloved swim in. I will then pull her into my boat. My love boat, if you will. Easy peasy. What can go wrong? As a female friend has told me my stock has gone up in my 50s. I think she meant this as a compliment. That I have aged well. Either that or women my age have lowered their expectations.
Things have gotten off to a great start on the site. I’ve found a good many women I would go out with. I’ve contacted some and a few have responded. I’ve had extended chats with two of them. Tomorrow morning I meet one for coffee. I’m looking forward to it. I’m eager to discover together who we are, what are our shared passions and our unique qualities. What we like and what irks us. How we have come to this place in our life journeys.
As I approach my date, I have one pressing question. What should I disclose about my mental illness? When? And how?
This is not my first time walking down this road. About two years ago I joined a different dating site. I was not well-balanced and I put my diagnosis in my profile. As a result, I attracted women who were liberally attracted (re: pitied me) for being stigmatized. Or, women who were imbalanced themselves. As soon as I leveled off, I left the site and chalked it up to another life lesson learned, a lesson I would not soon repeat.
Here I am. Just 6 hours from a coffee date with a woman I’ve never met. Thus far, I’ve not revealed anything about my illness. The closest she knows is that I work the non-profit world as a mental health advocate. I’ve chosen to share aspects of my life beyond what can be a debilitating and dividing illness. It’s not that I am hiding anything. It’s just chosen to use wise discretion. The topic hasn’t come up and I haven’t brought it up. Don’t ask. Don’t tell.
When will I bring it up? In my case, sooner rather than later. Already, she could easily find out on Google. She knows my first name, my vocation, and where I live. If you search — tony author columbus indiana, I am on the front page (#10). Once she knows my last name, my page (with diagnosis) moves front and center. Better to hear it from me in person than find out in some dank, dark alleyway of the Net.
I will say something tomorrow, if only to get her to pay attention to me and not my press. One thing in my favor is that I have talked about my illness so much in such a variety of settings with and among a diverse body of people. I have developed the capacity to be casual. This is, after all, one aspect of who I am. Not the sum total. It is certainly a big part of who I am, but an even bigger part is how, by God’s grace, I have managed to cope so well, transform my mental illness into a ministry.
I have no reason to hide my diagnosis from anyone, particularly someone I hope to one day love, who may one day love me.
I will tell her. Still, I want to tell her in the right way. I can just imagine all the ways to not tell her.
Her: This coffee is strong. It’s really going to rev me up for work.
Me: I think that’s one reason they didn’t serve us caffeinated coffee on the psych unit.
Her: Things are really crazy around my office.
Me: I bet they are not as crazy as when I have a psychotic episode.
Her: I really think our nation needs to do some serious soul-searching about gun violence.
Me: Oh, me too. By the way, I have bipolar disorder.
I will say something, but not as a flippant remark that makes me look silly. No. And, not at first. I will let the conversation flow. There is bound to be an opportunity to bring it up without it being disruptive. Maybe as we are discussing what led us into our current fields. Or if we talk about a few factors that led to our divorces. Wherever it happens, I want it to be connected to the topic at hand, an extension of who I am, not an oddity, something to dread, something wicked this way comes.
I want it to be something to celebrate, not that I have a brain disease, but that it has increased my compassion for those with unquiet minds.
How would you disclose your mental illness?
How would you want someone to disclose to you?