Advice Sexuality

Get Real! Can I Start Dating When I Have a Mental Illness?

Heather Corinna

Does having a mental illness mean you can't have healthy sexual or romantic relationships, or that someone else can't have them with you? Nope.

Published in partnership with Scarleteen
Steelflower asks:

I’m a seventeen-year-old girl and ten months ago, I was diagnosed with a light form of pseudologica fantasia, usually known as mythomania. The basis of this illness is an addiction to telling lies. I’m seeing a therapist for this and she’s a very kind and competent woman, but she has warned me that this illness is usually hard to cure and there are few known cases where the therapy was actually able to get rid of the problem. I’m doing a better job at keeping it under control than I used to but the urge is still there. I just keep it under wraps and tackle the illness on my own, with the support of my nuclear family. The thing is, one of my friends has recently expressed a romantic interest in me, and I would very much like to get involved in a relationship with him, but this would mean disclosing my problem to him, because of course I’m not going to enter a relationship without telling the other person involved about this first.

I’m deadly frightened to tell him because this is something I am really ashamed of. I trust him and know my secret would be safe with him, but I’m terrified that he’ll suddenly find me disgusting, or frightening, or that he’ll never be able to trust me again – because honestly, who would fully trust someone who’s a compulsive liar? There’s so much stigma attached to lying that I sometimes feel broken. Like a leper, almost. This is getting a bit too dramatic for my taste, but that’s the only way to express how I feel. Do you have any advice about this situation and/or about being in a relationship when suffering from a mental illness? Thanks in advance.

Heather Corinna replies:

You’re right, there certainly is social stigma attached to lying. Really, it’s the usual motives for dishonesty which have the big bad rap, and we can probably agree that’s actually sound, but even though you know you don’t have an intent to deceive or manipulate anyone, and you have an illness that can compel you to lie, rather than lying being something you actively choose to do, I can understand why you feel the weight of all that regardless. Add that to the stigma attached to nearly any mental illness, and it’s unfortunately all too easy to feel very isolated, ashamed, scared about social interactions, and vulnerable. On top of all of that? Starting to date, period, can be mighty daunting too. I’m so sorry that you’re feeling the way that you are right now; it sounds pretty overwhelming.

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If it helps, I don’t think mental illness is something anyone needs to feel ashamed about.

I also think it’s important to try to keep in mind that the fact it’s stigmatized doesn’t mean that stigma is sound or right. Often what stigma demonstrates most is a lack of education, understanding, or compassion on behalf of those applying stigma. Mental illness is not a choice, just like having freckles, autism, or cerebral palsy aren’t choices. It’s something that happened to you entirely outside your control, something that doesn’t make you any less a good or valuable person than anyone without mental illness. It also sounds like you’ve been doing all you can and working hard to manage it well, which is the best anyone can do. No shame in any of that. And if you need an extra little boost right now, this page might be a help too. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Abe Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, John Keats, or Issac Newton—all people who had mental illnesses—were disgusting or frightening. I think that the fact they did the amazing things they did with mental illness makes them more awesome and exceptional, not less.

I also think someone thinking this deeply about these things, as you are, who is considering taking a pretty big emotional risk by disclosing something she’s scared about for the other person’s benefit? That person sounds very trustworthy to me, and like someone very invested in building trust and being very mindful about it—more mindful than most.

Whether we’re talking about a condition like yours, depression, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, or any other mental illness or mood disorder, the very first thing I’d always recommend is doing all you can to get a good mental healthcare provider to work with—you’ve already got that covered.

That person, I think, should be your lead point person for these questions about intimate relationships.

If you haven’t already talked about all of this with your therapist, that’s the first thing I’d suggest. I think the best first step is a fact-finding mission and an in-depth talk with someone educated about your condition who also knows you and how you have dealt with it so far. That way, you can have plenty of reliable information to consider in making choices with dating and disclosure.

If you’re unsure about what to ask her, I’d suggest questions like:

  • What is your opinion about someone with my illness, in the place I’m at with managing it, and romantic relationships?
  • What challenges do you feel I’ll face when it comes to an intimate relationship? What about a person I’m involved with? What might their challenges be?
  • Do you feel like I’m yet in the place where I can successfully pursue and maintain an intimate relationship? If you don’t think now is the right time for me to be dating, can you give me some things I can work on so I can work toward getting there?
  • What are some things you suggest people with my condition tell potential partners or even just people they’re dating? When do you suggest they tell them?
  • What are some tools you’ve seen other people with my condition use in their intimate relationships to deal with some of the particular challenges it might pose?
  • This (you describe this guy to her, your relationship with him so far, and what he says he’s looking for with you right now) is the opportunity I’m presented with. Does it sound like one you think could be beneficial and manageable for me?
  • What, if anything, do you think I need to accept I can’t do right now in terms of relationships? What do you think I can do?
  • How do you think I need to go about starting to date differently—if you do think I need to do anything differently—than someone without my condition might?
  • What are things you think I’d need someone I’m dating to be able to handle and manage when it comes to me, and vice versa? What kinds of people might not be a great fit? (For example, I’d imagine someone who already has a hard time trusting people would probably be a poor fit.)
  • If you do think it’s OK for me to try dating right now, can we come up with some tools and check-ins together so I can feel more confident, and less fearful, about trying this?

Once you have that information, I’d then take a look at how you feel in general when it comes to feeling up to dating. After all, figuring out if we’re ready to date in general, and then if we’re in the right head space right now, or with a given person, to do that, is something for everyone to do, not just someone with mental illness.

For instance, you voice what sounds like a big fear of rejection. That’s understandable, but if we’re going to start dating, rejection—or even people just taking a pass on being with us at some point—is something that’s always going to be a possibility, something we will always need to be up to dealing with, because it could always happen. I’d also do a self-check on how able you feel to take a pass on someone’s interest or not move things forward when that’s not really what you want. If and when someone feels like someone dating them would be doing them some monumental favor, it can be all too easy to have a hard time setting limits and boundaries. Pursuing intimate relationships likely to be healthy involves the self-esteem of everyone involved being in a good place; we’ve got to think well of and value ourselves as much as we do others, have some measure of resilience, and not be in the spot where we’re so emotionally hungry, we’ll eat anything, if you catch my drift.

Sometimes we’re in the right places in ways like that for dating or more serious relationships, and sometimes we’re just not. Sometimes, too, we’ll meet someone awesome, have great chemistry, and have an interest in exploring things further, but the timing is just off. It might be a bad time because we don’t feel up to possible rejection, because they’re in a last, tough year of school, or because someone is in the thick of a family crisis. And if and when that happens, everything else can be golden, but we might—or they might—take a pass and maybe just try again later when the timing is better.

By all means, I’d also consult your guts. What’s your instinct about all of this? Our intuitive feelings are feelings we can usually trust and do well giving a lot of weight to.

That all said, is this a close friend? It sounds like he is. I wonder if you’ve thought about telling him about your illness regardless?

Like you already voiced, having mental illness can make a person feel isolated, and all the more so if it’s something you’re not sharing with any friends so that you’ve got them as an extra support sometimes, or just feel like your friends really know you. Keeping this a secret from everyone also might be making those feelings of shame feel a lot bigger than they would without the silence.

Having at least one trusted friend who you can tell about this, and who knows about this, would probably be very good for you. This has got to feel like a pretty big burden to carry around without support outside your family and therapist. It might be that the simplest (which is not to say the easiest, or magically not at all scary for you) answer to all of this is to tell this guy either way. Another option, if you have more than this one friend, might be to first try telling a different—but still deeply trusted—friend about this first, rather than starting with a disclosure to someone where there’s romantic interest too, since that can obviously bump up the pressure and the fears around telling considerably.

If you do decide to share this information with this guy, and, in alignment with some of your fears here, it turns out he either can’t handle that information, or decides he isn’t OK dating you because of your illness, I want to tell you something.

I know, and you know, that this is something you can’t separate from yourself. In other words, it’s part of who you are, it doesn’t live neatly in some box separate from you. But not only is this something that is more of who you are than anything else—you’re a whole, big person made up of lots of things, not just your illness—someone else’s reaction to it, if they feel afraid, intimidated, or even really negative, also isn’t just about you.

Someone who decides that they either feel they can’t or just don’t want to deal with dating you because of your illness, specifically, is a lot like someone deciding they don’t want to or can’t handle being with someone who, for example, has a serious physical illness or has had some big trauma in their past. Sure, that’s about those things, but it’s also about the other person.

Not everyone is always going to be up to extra or specific challenges with a relationship, and that’s at least as much about them as it is about you. I hear and understand that you feel negatively about yourself because of this, but I’d encourage you to try and own those feelings as your own and not assume that someone who didn’t want to date you because of your condition think the things about you and it that you do. Someone who pans on dating you when they know about this, and because of this, may well not think any of those things. Those are your thoughts and feelings, but they may not be theirs.

They might instead be thinking things like, “That sounds like I’m going to have to spend time educating myself about this, and I don’t feel like I have that time,” or “I’m really worried that it’s something I won’t be able to handle, and I might hurt this already vulnerable person,” or “I really wanted something more light, this feels heavy right from the start,” or “If myself and her family and therapist are the only people who know, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get what I need in terms of support or help I might need with parts of this. I get why she keeps it very private, but I don’t know if that would work for me.” They might pan because of your illness, because they have one of their own to deal with, and someone else’s feels like too much right now, or because they have someone in their family with mental illness and feel like they can only deal with that one right now. The point is, there are so very many reasons this might be an issue for someone, if it is, so many different things they might think, and none of them may be about being disgusted or frightened by you.

It’s tough, I know, to walk into parts of life feeling like a person who is “more work” than other people without illness might be or might seem to be. Let’s be real: It does suck, especially since you probably know (I hope you know) that any relationship with anyone can be challenging, or “more work,” or that something with anyone could seem to be light fare and wind up not being that at all. There’s really no denying that that feeling or perception stinks.

At the same time, someone might take a pass on pursuing a relationship with us for any number of reasons; this is just one. And if you do try to pursue something with this guy and it doesn’t progress or wind up happening after all, it might be because of your mental illness and his feelings about it, but it might be for any other number of reasons, like him realizing maybe he didn’t have the feelings he thought he did (or you realizing that), you two finding out you’re just a better fit as non-romantic friends, one or both of you discovering you don’t have enough time for a dating relationships, radically different politics or ideas about relationships, or one of you finding out that the other absolutely cannot stand your very favorite thing in the world.

By all means, I think taking the time to assess all of this as best you can first is a good move on your part, and I certainly do think it’s a big thing to think about and carefully consider, and not just for the other person’s sake, but for your own. You also need to take care of you. But it also isn’t all of who you are, nor is it the only potential thing that could cause a relationship conflict or someone to take a pass. So in the case that this is something you really want to pursue, your therapist is on board too, and you feel up to dating, period (again, mental illness or no), and with this particular person, I don’t see any reason not to pursue it.

I wish you the very best, and will leave you with some extra links that might help you out:

Commentary Race

Have a Problem With Black-Only Spaces? Get Over It

Ruth Jeannoel

As the parade of police killings of Black people continues, Black people have a right to mourn together—and without white people.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

Dear Non-Black People:

If you hear about a healing space being organized for Black folks only, don’t question or try to be part of that space.

Simply, DON’T.

After again witnessing the recorded killings of Black people by police, I am trying to show up for my family, my community, and victims such as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I am tired of injustice and ready for action.

But as a Black trans youth from the Miami, Florida-based S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective told me, “Before taking action, we must create space for healing.” With this comment, they led us in the right direction.

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Together, this trans young person, my fellow organizers, and I planned a Black-only community healing circle in Miami. We recognized a need for Black people to come together and care for each other. A collective space to heal is better than suffering and grieving alone.

As we began mobilizing people to attend the community circle, our efforts were met with confusion and resistance by white and Latinx people alike. Social media comments questioned why there needed to be a Black-only space and alleged that such an event was “not fair” and exclusionary.

We know the struggle against white supremacy is a multiracial movement and needs all people. So we planned and shared that there would be spaces for non-Black people of color and white people at the same time. We explained that this particular healing circle—and the fight against police violence—must be centered around Blackness.

But there was still blowback. One Facebook commenter wrote,

Segregation and racial separation is not acceptable. Disappointing.

That is straight bullshit.

To be clear, Black-only space is itself acceptable, and there’s a difference between Black people choosing to come together and white people systematically excluding others from their institutions and definitions of humanity.

But as I recognize that Black people can’t have room to mourn by ourselves without white tears, white shame, white guilt—and, yes, white supremacy—I am angry.

That is what racist laws have often tried to do: Control how Black people assemble. Enslaved people were often barred from gathering, unless it was with white consent or for church.

Even today, we see resistance when Black folks come together, for a variety of reasons. Earlier this year, in Nashville, Tennessee, Black Lives Matter activists were forced to move their meeting out of a library because it was a Black-only meeting. Last year, students at University of Missouri held a series of protests to demand an end to systemic racism and structural racism on their campus. The student group, Concerned Students 1950, called for their own Black-only-healing space, and they too received backlash from their white counterparts and the media.

At our healing circle in Miami, a couple of white people tried to be part of the Black-only space, which was held in another room. One of the white youths came late and asked why she had to be in a different room from Black attendees. I asked her this question: Do you feel like you are treated the same as your Black peers when they walk down the street?

When she answered no, I told her that difference made it important for Black people to connect without white people in the room. We talked about how to engage in political study that can shape how we view—and change—this world.

She understood. It was simple.

I have less compassion for adults who are doing social justice work and who do not understand. If you do not recognize your privilege as a non-Black person, then you need to reassess why you are in this movement.

Are you here to save the world? Do you feel guilty because of what your family may have done in the past or present? Are you marching to show that you are a “good” person?

If you are organizing to shift and shake up white supremacy but can’t understand your privilege under this construct, then this movement is not for you.

For the white folk and non-Black people of color who are sincerely fighting the anti-Blackness at the root of most police killings, get your people. Many of them are “progressive” allies with whom I’ve been in meetings, rallies, or protests. It is time for you to organize actions and events for yourselves to challenge each other on anti-Blackness and identify ways to fight against racial oppression, instead of asking to be in Black-only spaces.

Objecting to a Black-only space is about self-interest and determining who gets to participate. And it shows how little our allies understand that white supremacy gives European-descended people power, privilege, and profit—or that non-Black people of color often also benefit from white supremacy just because they aren’t Black in this anti-Black world.

Our critics were using racial privilege to access a space that was not for them or by them. In the way that white supremacy and capitalism are about individualism and racing to the top, they were putting their individual feelings, rights, and power above Black people’s rights to fellowship and talk about how racism has affected them.

We deserve Black-only community healing because this is our pain. We are the ones who are most frequently affected by police violence and killings. And we know there is a racial empathy gap, which means that white Americans, in particular, are less likely to feel our pain. And the last thing Black people need right now is to be in a room with people who can’t or won’t try to comprehend, who make our hurt into a spectacle, or who deny it with their defensiveness.

Our communal responses to that pain and healing are not about you. And non-Black people can’t determine the agenda for Black action—or who gets a seat at our table.

To Black folks reading this article, just know that we deserve to come together to cry, be angry, be confused, and be ready to fight without shame, pain, or apologies.

And, actually, we don’t need to explain this, any more than we need to explain that Black people are oppressed in this country.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Selects Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to Join His Ticket

Ally Boguhn

And in other news, Donald Trump suggested that he can relate to Black people who are discriminated against because the system has been rigged against him, too. But he stopped short of saying he understood the experiences of Black Americans.

Donald Trump announced this week that he had selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) to join him as his vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, and earlier in the week, the presumptive presidential nominee suggested to Fox News that he could relate to Black Americans because the “system is rigged” against him too.

Pence Selected to Join the GOP Ticket 

After weeks of speculation over who the presumptive nominee would chose as his vice presidential candidate, Trump announced Friday that he had chosen Pence.

“I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate,” Trump tweeted Friday morning, adding that he will make the official announcement on Saturday during a news conference.

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The presumptive Republican nominee was originally slated to host the news conference Friday, but postponed in response to Thursday’s terrorist attack in Nice, France. As late as Thursday evening, Trump told Fox News that he had not made a final decision on who would join his ticket—even as news reports came in that he had already selected Pence for the position.

As Rewire Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson explained in a Thursday commentary, Pence “has problems with the truth, isn’t inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn’t understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs.” Jacobson further explained: 

He has, for example, eagerly signed laws aimed at criminalizing abortion, forcing women to undergo unnecessary ultrasounds, banning coverage for abortion care in private insurance plans, and forcing doctors performing abortions to seek admitting privileges at hospitals (a requirement the Supreme Court recently struck down as medically unnecessary in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case). He signed a ‘religious freedom’ law that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ persons and only ‘amended’ it after a national outcry. Because Pence has guided public health policy based on his ‘conservative values,’ rather than on evidence and best practices in public health, he presided over one of the fastest growing outbreaks of HIV infection in rural areas in the United States.

Trump Suggests He Can Relate to Black Americans Because “Even Against Me the System Is Rigged”

Trump suggested to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that he could relate to the discrimination Black Americans face since “the system [was] rigged” against him when he began his run for president.

When asked during a Tuesday appearance on The O’Reilly Factor what he would say to those “who believe that the system is biased against them” because they are Black, Trump leaped to highlight what he deemed to be discrimination he had faced. “I have been saying even against me the system is rigged. When I ran … for president, I mean, I could see what was going on with the system, and the system is rigged,” Trump responded.

“What I’m saying [is] they are not necessarily wrong,” Trump went on. “I mean, there are certain people where unfortunately that comes into play,” he said, concluding that he could “relate it, really, very much to myself.”

When O’Reilly asked Trump to specify whether he truly understood the “experience” of Black Americans, Trump said that he couldn’t, necessarily. 

“I would like to say yes, but you really can’t unless you are African American,” said Trump. “I would like to say yes, however.”

Trump has consistently struggled to connect with Black voters during his 2016 presidential run. Despite claiming to have “a great relationship with the blacks,” the presumptive Republican nominee has come under intense scrutiny for using inflammatory rhetoric and initially failing to condemn white supremacists who offered him their support.

According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Tuesday, Trump is polling at 0 percent among Black voters in the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

What Else We’re Reading

Newt Gingrich, who was one of Trump’s finalists for the vice presidential spot, reacted to the terrorist attack in Nice, France, by calling for all those in the United States with a “Muslim background” to face a test to determine if they “believe in sharia” and should be deported.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton threw her support behind a public option for health insurance.

Bloomberg Politics’ Greg Stohr reports that election-related cases—including those involving voter-identification requirements and Ohio’s early-voting period—are moving toward the Supreme Court, where they are “risking deadlocks.”

According to a Reuters review of GOP-backed changes to North Carolina’s voting rules, “as many as 29,000 votes might not be counted in this year’s Nov. 8 presidential election if a federal appeals court upholds” a 2013 law that bans voters from casting ballots outside of their assigned precincts.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the election goals and strategies of anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony List, explaining that the organization plans to work to ensure that policy goals such as a 20-week abortion ban and defunding Planned Parenthood “are the key issues that it will use to rally support for its congressional and White House candidates this fall, following recent setbacks in the courts.”

Multiple “dark money” nonprofits once connected to the Koch brothers’ network were fined by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) this week after hiding funding sources for 2010 political ads. They will now be required to “amend past FEC filings to disclose who provided their funding,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Politico’s Matthew Nussbaum and Ben Weyl explain how Trump’s budget would end up “making the deficit great again.”

“The 2016 Democratic platform has the strongest language on voting rights in the party’s history,” according to the Nation’s Ari Berman.