The Moment I Told My Date About My Mental Illness

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I’ve always reveled in the euphoria and excitement that comes with dating someone new, but since stepping back into the dating world after my mental breakdown, that excitement feels short-lived. Instead, I find myself worrying. When is the right time to tell someone I have bipolar II disorder? How will they react? What if they don’t want anything to do with me anymore?

When I share these worries with friends and family, most will say that when it comes to timing, I’ll just know and that I shouldn’t put any pressure on myself to share that part of my life with someone I’ve just met. I think the trouble for me, though, is that because I publicly write about mental health and what I’ve been through, it’s a topic of conversation that has to come up a lot sooner than it would if I didn’t write about it or if I wasn’t actively involved in Madison’s NAMI community. If I’m developing feelings for someone and can clearly see they are developing feelings for me, I would rather them hear about my experience from my own word of mouth than to read about it in an article or on one of my social media sites.

For the most part, I haven’t had to think too much about this mainly because the series of first dates I’ve been on haven’t piqued my interest enough to want to go on a second one. Though I always give honest answers when asked about my life, what I’m passionate about, and what I do in my spare time, my answers are succinct and fairly vague. So when my third date with a guy I recently met turned into a fourth and a fifth, I started freaking out. Sh*t started getting real!

With him, I’ve put forth a lot of effort into hiding the more public aspect of my life (I won’t even be Facebook friends with him!) in large part because of my fear of rejection. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis and though writing about it is a means of me processing my experiences and fighting the stigma that comes with having a mental illness, I still carry with me a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Getting back into the dating world almost seems to exacerbate that as I constantly worry about being judged and question who would want to take on some of the darker parts of me.

I had just reached the conclusion there was no good time to tell this guy about my mental health diagnosis when I found out that my proposal to implement a pilot program (a writing workshop for youth at juvenile institutions who have mental health issues) was approved. The day I found out happened to be a day we were having lunch. Joy was beaming out of every crevice of my body and talking about my project with him opened the door for a deeper conversation about mental health issues and why I’m so passionate about the subject.

As my family and friends predicted, you do know when the right time to tell someone is, and I had reached that particular moment with him. With a wavering voice and shaky hands, I embraced vulnerability and told him I had bipolar II disorder. I also told him why I had been scared to tell him. I waited for the raised eyebrow, awkward silence, and “check please” reaction, but instead I got a, “That wouldn’t keep me away from you in a million years.” Those words almost brought me to tears because they erased every ounce of fear and worry I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Though dating in general is hard, it can be even trickier for those living with a mental illness. The things I question and worry about now are immensely different from what I used to think about before being diagnosed. I’ve spent so much time building this moment up in my head, only ever envisioning a doomsday scenario. In reality, I found the big “reveal” wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be. I credit that to the type of person this guy is – kind, compassionate and understanding, to say the least. I know not everyone I meet or date in the future will measure up to those standards, but I am thankful to at least had a good first experience.

For those of you out there who are also juggling dating with a mental illness – what have your experiences been like?

A version of this post originally appeared on The Scenic Way Home.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s a dating story related to your disability and/or disease that made you laugh, roll your eyes, cry or was otherwise unforgettable? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The App Everyone Should Have to Help Encourage Wheelchair Accessibility

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In 2004, SOZIALHELDEN e.V., a German nonprofit created Wheelmap, a free interactive map that allows anyone to highlight wheelchair-accessible locations. Registered users can also add comments and photos.

Locations are ranked as “wheelchair accessible,” “limited accessibility” or “not accessible.” “Limited accessibility” means most rooms at that location are accessible but there may be an entrance step.

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The app combines technology and community to raise awareness about accessibility and hopefully encourage more places to become wheelchair-friendly. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, buildings in the process of being built must be wheelchair accessible. Building design regulations were again updated in 2010 — you can view those guidelines here.

Wheelmap is available in both iOS and Android apps and comes in more than 22 languages. Since 2010, when the app launched, there have been more than 470,000 data entries by users across the globe.

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Download the free app on Google Play or on iTunes.

h/t Gizmodo

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What Depression During and After Pregnancy Taught Me

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My journey to motherhood wasn’t easy. In fact, it was difficult at nearly every turn – from fertility issues and miscarriages, to a scary labor with a very rare condition, HELLP syndrome.

But the hardest part was suffering with anxiety and depression during the latter half of my pregnancy and weeks following my sweet baby Luke’s arrival.

I’m sharing this because we so often share our highlight reels, but leave out the behind-the-scenes moments. But, those behind-the-scenes moments are where we learn the most. These are the lessons that we can share with others – the lessons that teach us that we are not alone.

I’ve learned that perinatal mood disorders – mood and anxiety symptoms that occur during pregnancy or up to one year postpartum – are very common. In fact, women are most likely to face depression during the childbearing years of their lives (a cruel trick of biology if you ask me). Postpartum Progress, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women with perinatal mood disorders, estimates that around 1.3 million women experience perinatal mood disorders and anxiety each year. That’s more than the number of women who will face diabetes, stroke or breast cancer.

Although I’d heard of postpartum depression, and believe even more can be done to spread awareness of this issue, I’ve learned that anxiety and depression during pregnancy are just as common. Those same hormonal fluctuations that lead to postpartum depression and anxiety can also cause those symptoms during pregnancy, even if you very much wanted, prayed for and have the resources for your pregnancy and baby.

I’ve always believed that we are responsible for our own happiness, and I still believe that. But I’ve learned that being happy can be more difficult during certain times than others, due to hormonal, biochemical and physical changes, trauma, loss or significant life events. And I’ve learned that we won’t, nor can we possibly, always be happy. I’d like to think that most people know me as a happy, positive and fun person – the first on the dance floor, to offer a smile, make a wisecrack and hopefully, a light to others. So being in this altered state was very difficult, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed of what I was going through.

I’ve learned it’s OK to ask for help, and that you must ask for help if you’re dealing with a perinatal mood disorder. These are temporary, treatable conditions. It’s hard to see it when you’re going through them, but you will find the light. I promise: You will find the light again.

I’ve learned I have an amazing group of supportive family and friends who helped me through this journey. I can’t even begin to properly thank those who knew about my ordeal for their support, prayers, kind words and love. My husband, Zach, truly kept our vows of loving “in good times and in bad,” although I never anticipated dealing with the “bad.”

I’ve learned a lot about my reproductive and mental health and have a great care team in place now. But finding these experts was difficult, even for someone who grew up in a family of health care providers and has always worked around health care. In a previous job, I’ve advocated for more mental health funding, but now I know firsthand how vital these services are. I am lucky to have the means to get the care I needed, but others aren’t.

I’ve learned life doesn’t always go as we’ve planned. Sometimes it will be hard. Although I feel much better now, I still feel my pregnancy and postpartum period were marred by my perinatal mood disorder. Things didn’t go like the little movie script in my mind, and it was scary that my brain was telling me to feel things I had no intent, or even right, to feel. It’s hard for me to accept I can’t control or plan every aspect of my life, but I am slowly making peace with that reality.

I’ve learned others cannot be the measuring sticks for our lives. We will each have our own trials and tribulations, even if they are behind the scenes.

Most importantly, I’ve learned I could love a human being so much more than I thought I could. My love for Luke is the reason I fought so hard at every turn. I hope he will be proud of me someday. I hope our bond is stronger because of everything we went through together. I hope he knows I would do anything for him. I did not choose this fight (Trust me: no one would), but I hope this will make me a better mother – a mother who knows life can be challenging at times, but the dark times make the bright times that much brighter.

If you think a woman in your life is dealing with a perinatal mood disorder, please help her and offer your support. It’s hard to understand, since these disorders often don’t make sense, but she really needs you.

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A version of this post originally appeared on Hello Belly Goodbye Feet.

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If You Have Special Needs and Are Looking for a Job, This Chart May Help

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As of May 2015, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the United States is just over 10 percent. That’s nearly double the unemployment rate for people without disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Of course, many factors contribute to this statistic, but The Mighty wanted to learn about what programs are already available that specialize in assisting people with special needs in finding employment.

We spoke with Keri Castaneda, Chief Program Officer of AbilityFirst, a program in Pasadena, California that offers services for people with varying intellectual and physical abilities. We also talked to Sarah Duplessis, the Program Director for Food for Good Thought in Columbus, Ohio. Food for Good Thought provides job training and support for people with autism and offers supported employment at its gluten-free bakery.

We asked Castaneda and Duplessis about the step-by-step process each of their respective programs goes through to help their clients with disabilities find jobs. Then, we compiled what we learned into the infographic below.*

If you have a disability or special needs and are looking for a job, here’s how an employment agency can help.

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*The process each employment agency uses may vary from program to program.

To learn more about how programs can help people with disabilities find jobs, visit the AbilityFirst and Food for Good Thought websites.

Related: 7 Tips for People With Special Needs Looking for a Job

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When I Understood What ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ Really Means

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“‘Til death do us part.”

When I said those words at the end of our marriage vows, I wasn’t thinking about death. I was thinking about living and loving as long as I could.

Our rabbi reminded me of them a few weeks ago, and the idea that the vows I had made were not open-ended, but only in force until death came, hit me like some kind of Old Testament revelation.

Death came, there was no denying that. A specific year, month, week, day, minute, second, recorded and shrouded in paper work. One could not get away from it. Death was instant. Everywhere in my life.

But the parting? There is nothing instant about that. Instead, it has been been slow, drawn out, merciless, emotional torture. Death brings absence. Fine. We don’t accept it, hate it, resent it, fight it, but it is a fact, so we absorb absence into our heart, our soul, our mind, our life and think, Ah-ha! I am moving forward.”

But parting requires more than absence. It requires acceptance. And it comes in segments, surprising you, throwing you off balance. Just when you accept that there will never be anymore of this, you are suddenly reminded that there will also never be more of that, and that, and that. And so it goes, month after month, the perpetual parting. Every moment you shared together has to be parted with, let go… there seems to be no end to the discoveries of what death has taken from you, what you must reconcile yourself to be parted from, to do without.

I acknowledge now that I have been purposely resisting the parting that is part of death. I did not want to permit it, felt that somehow any healing, any movement away from grief would be a betrayal, a kind of infidelity. Intellectually, I know that is foolish, but the heart and the intellect are often strangers.

And yet, however much one hoards one’s grief, the parting does come. You do learn to sit at the table and eat breakfast alone. You do learn to do up your own zippers, carve your own meat, balance the checkbook. You accept that there is no one beside you to share the laughter, get the joke, understand your anger, hold you in the night. You realize, finally, that the ties that bind are now fastened only to you. There is no one at the other end. You may not want to part, but the parting takes place. Like death, it is inevitable.

You don’t want to forget either, but you do forget. Yesterday I was trying to remember a joke that my husband told over and over and over — so often that I would grit my teeth. Now I can’t remember the punch line. I am not forgetting him, but I am forgetting the little things that were such a part of him.

The grief is still there. But suddenly, from somewhere, almost 18 months later, I do now occasionally experience the unadulterated joy that I never thought I would again. To my surprise, I am no longer numb. The flowers in the park, a small child patting my dog, the flight of a bird, planning a visit with my grandson with his friends — these things bring a lift to my heart that, for the first time, is not shadowed with the thought, Nothing is any fun without you.

I miss him terribly. I mourn his absence every day. Still. But there is a lightness to me now that I truly thought I would never feel again. I was not only sure that life was over, I wanted it to be over. Now I hear life knocking at my door. Does that make me any less of a wife, turn me into an unfaithful widow?

Next month, we will observe the traditional ceremony at the cemetery that, in the Jewish religion, officially marks the end of mourning. This should have been done in January, a year after his death — I put that off, giving the weather as the reason, but in truth, I didn’t want to end my mourning. I wasn’t ready.

Am I ready now? I do not know. What I do know is that when death comes, parting is inevitable. That one can forget and not forget. One can live with death and still be alive; mourn and still feel joy.

Because death, parting, forgetting, a return to life —  none of those things pose a threat to the love we shared. That will always be.

My husband died. But not love. Love never dies; it is endless, stronger than death, stronger than parting, strong enough to say, “Enter,” to life, knocking at the door.

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Joan Sutton’s essays on Alzheimer’s, caregiving, and becoming a widow are now available in a book (hard and soft covers) and ebook: The Alzheimer’s Diary. 100 percent of the author royalties from her book go to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.

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A version of this post originally appeared on Sutton’s Place.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a memory with a loved one you didn’t realize you’d held so dear until after they’d passed away. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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One of the Best Things You Can Do for Someone With a Severe Mental Illness

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Having an episode of psychosis or mania is hard. Trying to put the pieces of my life back together afterward is brutal. But the things society says to me every day chip away pieces of myself, even when I should be repairing the damage.

Once a psychotic episode is over and I can think rationally, the things I did and said while psychotic cause me great shame. Not only do I have to live with telling people I was Jesus, how the government was out to get me, that I was being filmed or recorded or any number of other delusions I may have during an episode, I also have to live with the day to day barrage of messages from the outside — messages that tell me I’m dangerous and that my illness is something to make light of, even make fun of. I have to live with that stigma. 

I’m not going to go into all of the jokes and memes people say on social media every day that chip away at my self-esteem, but I will say that even people who like to call themselves progressive, loving and accepting join in the “fun.” Even people who think they are sensitive to social situations and people who are marginalized toss out words like insane, nut-job, lunatic and pass around cartoons depicting a “crazy” lady with PMS.

When I see those words written from people who claim to like or love me, all I feel from them is a lack of understanding and hate. Yes, I literally feel as if they are sending hate at those who live with mental illness, and at me. Everyone in my life knows that I have schizophrenia. Anyone that wants to know what schizophrenia is like can read my book, Pills, Poetry & Prose: Life with Schizophrenia, read my blog or even more amazing, they can ask me.

If someone were to ask me what having schizophrenia is like, I would tell them it can be like going to a place with your worst fears, and living those fears out for days, weeks and possibly months. Are you afraid of being tortured? You will believe you are about to be tortured. Are you afraid of going to jail? You will believe you are going to jail. And then sometimes during psychosis, you will even be afraid of things you didn’t know you were afraid of. I can think of nothing more appropriate to call it than hell on earth. In the beginning psychosis is usually pleasant for me, but it always turns to terror over time, and that terror is total and complete.

So, if you ever wonder what you can do for someone with a severe mental illness, I have a suggestion: You can help build them up. The world is already constantly tossing self-esteem battering messages their way. You can be the change in their lives. You can help them see their talents. You can help them see their strengths. You can point out their positives. You can be kind to them, because it is tough. It is so damn tough, and we all get tired. It’s exhausting to constantly tell yourself you’re OK when the world says differently. It’s almost impossible to fight the world on your own. Be an ally. Spread the love.

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A version of this post originally appeared on A Journey With You.

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