Divulging mental illness in a relationship
Dear Annie: It’s no secret that there is a stigma when it comes to mental health in today’s society. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for several years now, and I’m fortunate to have it “under control,” so to speak, thanks to therapy and medication. I like to think that I am in charge of my illness rather than the other way around, and I don’t want to be shy about it, because it is part of who I am. However, I’m now not sure when it’s appropriate to share this information with someone.
I am in a happy, healthy new relationship, and I care about my boyfriend very much. I feel that this is something he needs to know about me, but I’m scared to bring it up, because I don’t want to scare him off. I’m sure that he will be very understanding once he knows, and I really do want him to know, but I don’t know how realistic it is for me to wait for this subject to come up naturally. It is a hard thing to say out loud. The thought of telling him overwhelms me, but I am even more overwhelmed knowing that he doesn’t know this huge thing about me. Should I just go ahead and bring it up to him out of the blue and get it over with, or should I wait? — Smitten and Scared
Dear Smitten and Scared: There is no set timeline for divulging mental health issues to a new partner. The right time is whenever it feels right for you. That means when you trust him, when you’re sure the relationship is serious and when the fact that you haven’t told him is really bugging you. If you’re at that point, then you’re ready to have the conversation. Decide ahead of time just how much you want to divulge. A short, simple explanation like the one you gave me would be perfectly acceptable, and you can reveal more as your relationship progresses. He will not break up with you over this, and if he does, you’re better off without him.
Dear Annie: In my local newspaper this past weekend, there was a wonderful column in which you provided information about Al-Anon (the support group for friends and family members troubled by someone else’s drinking). I just wanted to thank you for putting the word out there. Many people don’t know about Al-Anon. They say that for every alcoholic in a family, at least 10 others are affected by his/her behavior and are unaware of it. I know that Al-Anon has helped many people learn to live and even love their alcoholic family members. Thank you. — Lori H.
Dear Lori: Alcoholism truly is a family disease, and I believe it’s as important for loved ones to seek help as it is for the problem drinkers to do so. For more information and to find a meeting near you, visit http://al-anon.org or call 888-425-2666.
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