Navigating the unchartered territories (fitting that I actually originally misspelled this as terrortories) of getting to know a new partner can be exciting, thrilling, nerve-wracking, etc. Debating what to reveal and what not to reveal early on has kept some of us tossing and turning (even though, I agree, that’s probably kind of weird). When is it appropriate to start talking about exes? Should I tell him how many people I’ve slept with? Do you think it’s okay if I talk about how little money I make? Does he need to know I am battling with severe mental illness? Wait, what now?
Even though many of my regular readers are well aware of how I prefer my vagina hair groomed, have some of the gnarliest details of my worst hook-ups and have read all about my belly flapping during sex, I was extremely hesitant to discuss my mental health status here. But what the fuck – I have moderate to severe mental health issues. I have Major Depressive Disorder and Dysthymia and probably one or two other things that my psychologist hasn’t bothered to pull out of the DSM yet. It’s probably the scariest, hardest thing for me to share with people, and I find myself in positions where I have to share it quite often.
I also find myself hoarding medication. I’ve been without health insurance a few times, and well, our economy isn’t exactly inspiring me to throw out medication worth hundreds of dollars. I often find that my dosage is changed frequently, back and forth, enough that keeping different combinations of stuff can be pretty helpful, so sometimes my dresser can look like a pharmacy. [Note: Don’t do this without a doctor’s supervision, obvs.]
So it was a little weird when I found a guy I’d been hooking up with casually browsing my medicine bottles in my room. I know, I know, that stinks of lacking social graces, but this was a friend who I already knew lacked some of these boundaries going into this. And we were friends, anyway, so on the outside it might look like it’s not a big deal at all. He knew I struggled with depression, and I knew he struggled with some anxiety and depression as well. One key factor is that I heard him on more than one occasion criticize taking medication. I may have even at one point agreed with him. But for reasons that will not fit in this particular column, I have come around, and truthfully, medication is a necessity for me.
Anyway, so this guy is my friend and he has no real idea about how bad things have been for me, and he’s holding a bottle of my Celexa. Fortunately it was generic and I don’t think he’d recognize the name, so he said something like “Oh, are all these bottles for that hormonal thing you have?” (I have hypothyroidism as well).
“Um, yeah some of them are.” I struggled for a minute. He could easily think less of me if I tell him the truth. He’d be a total asshole if he did, but I just had his penis in my vagina, and maybe I was feeling too vulnerable for that rejection right away. He actually seemed geniunely concerned that I would take so many medications for a thyroid condition. Could I just let him maintain the concern about my health and just leave the whole “I’m bat-shit insane” part out of it?
But this was also the same guy whose pillow talk doubled as a therapy session. I had definitely, on more than one occasion, recommended various cognitive-behavioral therapy workbooks to him. I think to some degree our sexual relationship was therapeutic to him, because I was nice to him and harmless, and he needed that. So why did I have to be this for him, and why couldn’t he be that for me? Dude doesn’t want a relationship anyway, so what the fuck do I care if he’s getting all judgey over some dumb SSRI?
And yes, in those 10 seconds that lapsed, all of these thoughts did indeed go through my mind.
So, I told him. He was surprisingly cool about it, save a few awkward comments on how shocking the number of medicine bottles I have out were.
Once he left, I found an old shoe box and filled it with my medicine bottles so I could keep it out of sight. I started feeling really self-conscious about it. There’s still a lot about my mental health he isn’t aware of, and well, we were just fuck buddies so it’s not exactly like he needs to know about that hospitalization over the summer or how sometimes I am completely incapacitated for days, even weeks because of my depression. He doesn’t need to know that I’ve considered filing for disability or quitting my career and grad school because it just gets that bad sometimes, and I am constantly afraid of how bad it’ll get as I grow older. Nope. He doesn’t know any of that, and he doesn’t need to know any of that. Putting that shoe box of medication on the shelf still felt like a defeat to me, though. I keep my medication out because it’s easier to take it regularly because it’s there, staring at me day in and day out. Anything that makes being compliant with medication easier is something that should not be messed with, but here I was, hiding my dirty, shameful secret.
And that’s exactly what it was. I was hiding a part of myself I hoped no one would have to ever know about. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I hope I find someone who is just so great I never get depressed again, and the issue will be moot. We all know that’s not going to happen.
I am now left wondering how to deal with it going forward. When I was younger, things were different (understatement of the year, I know). First of all, I was way less concerned with stigma of any sort. You don’t like the fact that I’m bat shit crazy, well fuck you! Now it’s more like, “You don’t like the fact that I’m bat shit crazy, well I understand but please do not fire me or think less of me as a human being because I crave and desire love and attention and financial stability.” Secondly, somewhere down the line I lost the energy to deal with my fallouts and difficulties that have arisen from my mental health issues, and I am pretty sure I’ve become more symptomatic, meaning there’s just way more at stake to having this illness. I am often apologetic about it, and I think more often than not that apology is really being directed at myself.
I had a guy over a few nights ago, someone I kind of really like. I don’t remember how, but the subject of depression and medication came up. Now, I’d been drinking a little bit, and partaking in other recreational drugs, and so my ability to make discerning decisions was way off. And like I said, I really like this guy, and when I like someone, I have a tendency to pull all of the skeletons out of my closet right away so we can decide of our skeletons will get along or not before we waste our time. Not the most attractive way to get “˜er done, but whatever.
We were talking about sleep problems, specifically Ambien. Ambien brings up a whole host of issues in my life as it’s a part of my medicinal cocktail Fort Knox. I do this thing where I take Ambien for awhile, and it stops working, and so then I take Klonopin for awhile, and that’s just crazy addictive stuff, so I go back to Ambien, and repeat because my sleep cycle is fucked, and I actually tried explaining this to him, while we were naked in my bed post-coital. He didn’t seem that put off so I pushed the envelop even more.
I know I said something like, “Um, yeah, I’m actually on a few anti-depressants and stuff.” He raised his eyebrow and responded with an, “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, like a few. For depression and stuff. I find it really helpful.”
“That’s cool,” he said. “I should probably be getting help for that stuff, too.”
Normally, a guy telling me he needs psychiatric help so early on would be a red flag, but I kind of found it sweet and empathetic.
And what is early? When is too early? And is there a point in which it’s too late, when revealing something so sensitive might seem like you were misleading them or withholding very important information?
Part of me feels like it’s not a big deal, and not something I should have to share anymore than I would have to share that I take Zyrtec for seasonal allergies. Hey y’all, it’s an illness like any other, and so as long as I am not dragging you into the complications of my illness, you don’t need to know shit.
But is it possible to carry on a relationship with someone without dragging them, to some degree, into the complications of your mental health problems? For myself, it’s not really possible. I sometimes feel the need to use my diagnosis as a way to explain my behavior, or as a way to rationalize my irrational feelings.
I also wonder if earlier is better because it’s a good way to weed out shit I don’t need down the line. The last thing I need is to fall in love with a bigot who thinks depression is just some bullshit manufactured by pharmaceutical companies (I wish it were, but it’s not) and not realize it until I finally reveal my status to him six months down the line.
Granted, there might be other ways to explore someone’s feelings about mental health, through asking hypothetical questions or just having a conversation, but I have often found that people’s outwardly opinions aren’t necessarily reflective of what they consider a “suitable” partner. I once had an ex-boyfriend who seemed less than pleased about me being on an anti-depressant and having depression even though he was on Pristiq, because he really wanted someone who had the illusion of mental stability to counter his issues. I think it made him feel less crazy if he could bag someone who wasn’t crazy like he was. I also dated another person who said that having two people with depression together was a DNA timebomb if we ever wanted to have kids.
So, succinctly, I don’t know when it’s best to reveal this sort of stuff. The answer is probably the same that it is for every other column that attempts to take a very complicated question and break it down to something generalizable–it depends on who you are, your values, who you’re revealing it to, and what you hope to get out of revealing it. I do know some of the benefits of finding someone who understands and is empathetic about what you’re going through. One of the most important factors to treating mental health issues is having a solid support system, and finding someone who is caring and gets your craziness can only make that support system stronger.
Dearest Persephone readers who are brave enough to publically discuss this stuff, how has mental health played a role in the formation of your relationships? Have people ever surprised you by their reactions (both positively or negatively)?
Note: I use the word crazy gratuitously, I know. Is there a “reclaim crazy” movement, or do I have to start it?