How To Tell A New Partner You Have A Mental Illness

I cried in his arms our first night together. I’m not good, I kept repeating, tears falling into my ears as he caressed my face. I knew what love required, and I knew that, time and again, I’d failed at giving it because of the ways my anxiety distorted my thinking, and my panic disorder made me alternately dependent, selfish, and needy.

I wanted to write him a guide for loving me, so he could understand that when I tried to break up with him when one thing went wrong, when I changed plans because I didn’t feel like I could leave my house, when I criticized him much too harshly, it was because of faulty thought patterns and neurochemical flare-ups, not because I didn’t love him.

Love is hard for nearly everyone. But for those with anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses, love can be a minefield. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 18.5 percent of adults in this country live with a diagnosed mental illness. That’s roughly 1 in 5 people, or 44 million total.

For years, my relationships would end abruptly because I hadn’t prepared the men I loved for the ways I’d lash out when I became claustrophobic; how I’d become distant and cold when panicked, and suddenly clingy and hot when the panic had passed; how I’d pick them apart against my will, obsessing over perceived shortcomings and imperfections, burning with embarrassment when they held forth at dinner parties or cowering with shame when I deemed them too shy.

After I ended my last relationship, I worked with a therapist on how to prepare myself and my partners for being in a romantic relationship not only with me, but with my anxiety and panic ― and how my partner could support me, himself, and us through it.

Dr. Ayelet Krieger, a psychologist who practices in the Bay Area, believes disclosing a mental illness early in a relationship is crucial.

“I like to talk about striking when the iron is cold,” she says. “You don’t want to tell your partner about your diagnosis when you’re in the throes of a crisis. It’s more productive to talk about it when you’re calm.”

Avi Steinhardt, a licensed clinical social worker in Brooklyn, New York, agrees. “Many of the risks of disclosing a mental illness are similar to the risks of falling in love,” he says. “How will this new, suddenly important person react? Will it scare them away? Unfortunately there is still stigma and misconceptions about mental illness in our culture, so there’s a good chance that this person has absorbed some misinformation over the years. But how a person responds to your disclosure may tell you a lot about this person’s sensitivity, biases, and capacity to listen with an open heart. If there is a risk that they won’t be sensitive enough, it is also good to know early on that this person would likely not be a good match.”

Rebecca Chamaa, who has paranoid schizophrenia, was dating her boyfriend long-distance. About three months into the relationship, she was hospitalized after a suicide attempt.

“After my release, I told him about my diagnosis,” she recalled. “He told me he didn’t know if he could handle it. I said, ‘Fair enough.’ But we were in love. The information may have given him pause, but it didn’t scare him away.”

“We were married less than a year later, and since that time my husband has been my number one fan and biggest help and support,” she went on. “I’m glad I was honest with him, and he was able to decide whether he wanted to give our relationship a try or walk away. The best thing that ever happened to me is that he stayed.”

They have now been married for 19 years.

Disclosing can be a valuable litmus test of whether a partner is a good long-term match. Sometimes, it turns out they’re not. Stephy Hamrick, who has complex post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, experienced this when she disclosed to a new partner.

“The first time I spent the night, the sound of his belt buckle as he undressed caused me to completely freeze and shut down, and I had to explain,” she remembers.

At first he was gentle with her, and very understanding. But a few months later, when he witnessed her depression, he didn’t know how to react.

“He had only seen the charming, adventurous optimist I was when healthy,” she said. “When my physical and mental health crashed, he couldn’t wrap his head around the amount of pain I was in, no matter how much I tried to explain it.”

It’s sometimes difficult for those who have never experienced a mental illness to grasp how debilitating it can be.

“You can say you’re drowning, but a fish has no frame of reference for that experience,” Hamrick says. “I thought I was disclosing fully, but he didn’t understand until I texted him at work to tell him that one of my friends was taking me to the psychiatric ER because I was suicidal.”

If Hamrick could do it over, she would be much more explicit in describing the seriousness of her depression.

“I didn’t realize he didn’t understand the difference between the clinical use of the term ‘depression’ and its popular use,” she said. “Next time, I will spell it out a lot more clearly.”

The good news is that educating oneself and one’s partner about mental illness is easier than it’s ever been. “There’s so much information online and blogs kept by people who struggle with mental health,” Krieger says. “The more you learn, the more you realize how common these are.”

Another positive aspect of early disclosure is that it can jump-start vulnerability. When one person opens up about something sensitive or challenging, it can elicit trust and an equal willingness to be vulnerable in the other. “It’s rare there’s a relationship in which one person is perfect and one is complicated,” Krieger says. “Both people usually have ‘stuff.’ Disclosing is dropping into that trust and vulnerability sooner.”

Iesha Williams waited 11 months and until she was married to tell her husband about her anxiety and depression.

“It wasn’t a planned conversation,” she remembers. “We talked about my depression on the anniversary of losing a baby, which was an emotional trigger. The depression was intense and seemed inescapable. Thankfully, he listened and was attentive to what I expressed.”

“He admitted to not fully understanding, but did everything in his power to support me,” she went on. “Disclosing my struggles made us stronger and better able to support, understand, and love one another. I’m very glad I disclosed.”

Steinhardt believes these conversations often result in both partners feeling more known, accepted, and loved.

“I can’t think of a romantic relationship where we don’t need to tell one another how we need to be loved, what our challenges are, our triggers, our weaknesses,” he says.

Confronting something this real and personal early in a relationship can be a catapult into deep intimacy and trust.

I told Joel everything right away, that first night. He responded beautifully, holding me and sharing painful aspects of his own life. Within the first few weeks, I taught him about common anxiety-induced relationship pitfalls, and more about panic. Four months in, he has been unfailingly responsive and calm, encouraging and nurturing, and inspires me to be the same with him.

Still, I’ve tried to end it a few times, to save us both the trouble. He reminds me this is part of it: the doubting, the fear, the bliss.

One evening I arrived late to a concert and saw him sitting there, eyes closed, body still. We walked wordlessly toward each other through the crowd and rubbed our faces together, swaying slowly. I let myself submit just the smallest bit more. A woman near us said, “Ah, love.”

We listened to the music.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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Filmmaker Fights the Stigma Against Mental Illness

2015-03-14-1426349822-1318183-Directing.jpgThe best thing about the #MyMentalHealthStory campaign I launched in December of 2014 is I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. In this interview, get to know filmmaker, Jeff Holiday. Here Jeff shares what inspired him to become a storyteller and how his family’s experience with mental illness and suicide has shaped the making of his short film, Boulevard.

Visit www.jeffholiday.com and www.boulevardthefilm.com to learn more about Jeff and his film.

Tell us about your background and film making experience.

My love for storytelling dates back to when I was very young. At age 12 my parents bought me my first video camera for Christmas. My friends and I would put together short little movies, commercials and stop motion videos, most of which are pretty embarrassing to watch now.

In 2005, right after my grandparents’ death, while at Floyd Central High School, I always wondered what was happening inside the school’s radio/TV room on my way to class. The following year I spent as much time as possible in that studio. Looking back, I was feeling lost and I used my ability to create things to deal with what was bothering me. This was just magnified after my grandparents’ death.

My experience in high school was great and led to me to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Telecommunications at Ball State University (BSU) and by my senior year I became the Executive Producer on PBS’s Connections Live, an Emmy Award winning news magazine show. I’m currently completing my Master of Arts in Digital Storytelling at BSU and I’ll graduate this May.

Your latest film project, Boulevard, is set in the future where mental illness is a myth and suicide is a crime. The story is about a man named Nathan who loses of his wife to suicide and his journey to understand if he could have prevented her death. I have read this plot was inspired by the murder-suicide of your own grandparents, Wayne and Shelby Hinton, in May 2005. Do you feel the main character Nathan is patterned after you and your experiences?

Yes, the character Nathan is patterned after my life although Nathan’s circumstances are different from mine and Boulevard is a different story from my own. For me, I knew making this film would emulate my past because so much creativity is driven by those experiences. And even though I’ve wanted to tell a story about suicide for a long time, I was hesitant because I was afraid of what people might think. But I stopped caring about others judgments and realized this type of story needed to be told.

Have you personally encountered stigma as it relates to the death of your grandparents?

I’ve encountered the stigma too many times to count, for a longtime I just avoided the conversation altogether. Most of my college friends didn’t know about my grandparents’ death until I started working on Boulevard. In getting Boulevard off the ground, I shared my story with those who were working on the film. It was difficult to tell colleagues my grandfather committed suicide, but even harder to share how he took my grandmother’s life. I just didn’t know how to approach it at first. But the more I told my story, the easier it got and I eventually shared my story with everyone who I worked with.

What does your family think about this film project?

At first I was worried about what my family might think, but they have been extremely supportive of my efforts. The reason I can so easily speak about my experience is because my family has encouraged me to talk about it. The subject of mental illness and my grandparents’ death has never been a secret in my family. If a family member wishes to talk about it, they are not discouraged. When we get together, the topic always comes up because it is part of who we are now.

Your desire to fight the stigma around mental illness is admirable. With one million people who die annually by committing suicide, we still have much work to do. Can you discuss how this film will educate about mental illness?

My goal is to create a film that is entertaining but also educational and thought provoking. While Boulevard is just one perspective — my perspective — out of millions, I hope it can help start conversations about mental illness independent of whether a person is personally struggling or not. The message of Boulevard will be very clear; the stigma has gone on for too long and we must stop it. Start your own conversation.

Where are you in the process of producing and completing Boulevard?

We are currently in pre-production for Boulevard and have completed casting the main roles and we will start filming in April. Once the film is complete, I’ll take Boulevard to the film festival circuit for the attention it deserves. As for distribution, I’m working on finding a place, but I can assure you I’ll give it away for free if I have to. I didn’t create this film to make money.

Why should people see this movie?

I think people should see Boulevard because it’s a different take on the topic of mental illness. While I’ve worked extensively in documentary filmmaking, and believe in its ability to persuade and encourage social change, it does have its limitation in that the audience is often limited to those who are already aware of the stigma and the need for change. In other words, it is preaching to the choir. By creating a fictional film the audience begins to broaden, reaching those who are unaware of the stigma many face.

Is there anything else you want to share with readers?

People always ask me if I’d do anything to bring my grandparents back. Obviously yes, I’d give nearly anything to see them again. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized something; while I’d do anything to see them again — it’s hard to ignore how much I’ve learned and grown from my experiences after their deaths. They gave me a lot while they were alive, and I feel they continue to do so even now.

2015-03-14-1426350166-5000612-Grandparents.JPG
Jeff’s Grandparents Wayne and Shelby Hinton

2015-03-14-1426350484-8144653-Boulevard1.png
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Entire Town Surprise Girl Who Has Life-Threatening Illness With Fireworks Show

HANNIBAL, Mo. (AP) — Never mind the bitter cold of January. When a sick little girl wanted a fireworks show, people in her northeast Missouri community found a way to grant the wish and crown her “Princess Molly.”

A large crowd assembled near the Mississippi River in Hannibal on Wednesday — despite the below-zero wind chill — to watch the show and support 11-year-old Molly McKinley, The Hannibal Courier-Post (http://bit.ly/1tNayPE ) reported. The Hannibal girl, who has a life-threatening form of ataxia, a neurological disorder, had asked Make-A-Wish Missouri for a trip to Disney World. When her illness made that impossible, the organization sought to give her a Disney-like party in Hannibal, a town of 17,000 residents about 100 miles north of St. Louis, and the community pitched in.

The party and fireworks show were kept a secret, so Molly was surprised when she arrived Wednesday evening at the Mark Twain Brewing Co. on the town’s historic Main Street.

“What are these people doing here?” Molly asked her mother, before members of the fire department escorted her to the second floor for a prime view of the fireworks over the river.

Mayor Roy Hark proclaimed her “Princess Molly of the Kingdom of Hannibal” and gave her a key to the city, the famed hometown of author Mark Twain.

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Ataxia affects the central nervous system, causing problems with balance and coordination. The disease can affect fingers, hands, arms, legs, body, speech and eye movements.

Molly’s mother, Dawn Bricker, said the community’s support for Molly, who was diagnosed four years ago, was overwhelming.

“This is fabulous,” Bricker said.

___

Information from: Hannibal Courier-Post, http://www.hannibal.net
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