Some time ago, a guy asked to interview me for an article about dating when you are bipolar. I pointed out I am not bipolar, but he said maybe I might have some insights anyway. I was either too late sending them, or my answers didn't fit into the article, but I put a lot of time into thinking about them. I just looked over them and thought "why not post them on Diana Crabtree?"
1. What I’m particularly curious about is the dating process. How is it different if you are clinically depressed? How do you manage the issue of disclosure, for instance? At what point have you told people, and what was their reaction? Has it ever scared people off, or attracted those with savior complexes?
Dating, like everything in life, is different when you are clinically depressed. The main sympotoms of depression are anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure) and psychomotor retardation (slow moving brain and body.) Either of these qualities, especially in combination, are very unattractive, and cause problems in relationships. A person needs to be enthusiastic and fun to be around, and someone who is always tired, and doesn't get excited about anything, can be a drag.
Another challenge about my depression in dating is my physical appearance suffers. When I am depressed I eat too much, and gain weight. I also am unmotivated to take care of myself, so I wont put any effort into my hairstyle, wardrobe or makeup. When the depression is really bad, I will shower less and sometimes not brush my teeth or wash my face at night- tell me how attractive is that?
Surprisingly, some people ARE attracted to depressed people. Some people see their own depression or other illness in a depressed person, and think they have found a personality match. Some prefer someone flawed, because it makes them feel more secure about themselves, and that the person will stay with them. Some like to have someone dependant and grateful to have them. Maybe they see the depressed person as malleable.
A few years ago I was suicidally depressed, and I had gotten in touch with a man in NY who I had met a few years earlier. We started a phone relationship which brightened my life, but it fizzled because we didn't see each other. We got in touch again about 3 years later, when my health was much better, and I was much more positive and energetic. To my surprise, it seemed he liked me better when I was depressed. When I was depressed I would be impressed by his bragging, but when my health and confidence increased, I challenged him.
Disclosure is difficult. I have decided from experience that it is best to keep it to yourself until things seem to be going in a serious direction. The reason I think it is best not to tell is because knowing that you have a mental illness can change a person's perception of you. If you get angry about something they could decide you are being irrational, even if the anger is justified. If you have a bad week, they might be unneccessarily worried about you, when it will pass, and has nothing to do with the depression. The way I see it, if they have been with me for awhile, and they like me, then when I tell them they can be confident that it wont negatively affect their life.
When I bring up the depression, I try bring it up in a very clinical way to reinforce that it is a medical condition, not a character flaw. I explain that it affects my energy levels, and that sometimes I dont want to be social. I don't apoligize for it, use it as an excuse for my flaws, or ask for sympathy. I wish I didn't have it, but I do, so I think its best to present it as "You want me, well this is a part of me. I am not ashamed. I think you will be pleased if I am in your life, but if you are not supportive of my treatment (I take medication) or you don't believe that depression is a medical condition, then I don't want you in my life."
2. What is your opinion of internet dating – does it come with different rules if you are depressed? There are some websites that bring together people with certain mental illnesses -- No Longer Lonely, for instance. What do you think of them -- would you ever consider (or have considered) using one? Do you think it’s better to date others who are depressed or have BP? Do you think these websites create “ghettoes” for people who have mental illness (as someone suggested) or do they facilitate better (more understanding) matches?
I think internet dating is terrific, especially in our culture today. Does it come with different rules if you are depressed? Well, I know that e-harmony excludes people they consider mentally ill from their test. I frankly think that is okay, I see it as a plus (if they didnt exclude gay people, which I am morally against, mental illness screening would a factor that would motivate me to sign up.)
I think the websites that bring people together by their mental illesses is fine, if thats what people want. I wouldn't touch a website like that with a ten foot pole. Many people with mental illnesses have them managed, but many use the mental illness as an excuse for why they are unsuccessful, and many don't do a good job of managing them. Mental illness is very hard to manage, especially because of the stigma associated with it. There are tons of unhealthy people online, I would be afraid to go on one of those sites, because I would fear that the number of sick people (people who have unmanaged mental illness) would be multiplied.
I can see the plus side of dating someone who has your same condition. Right now I am dating a man who also has clinical depression. Dating him gives me confidence that he knows how to takes the pressures of life. Most people in the world go through a depression in their life, as a response to a trauma like a death or losing a job, since the man I am seeing has clinical depression I can see that when things get hard he turns to a therapist and healthy diet, where a person who has never been depressed before might turn to alcohol or other unhealthy choices when faced with a crisis. This man and I also are good cheerleaders for each other, we point out when the other is using negative thinking, and we praise eachother for good choices. I am having a mild depression right now, and I am grateful that he can understand whats going on with me, and respond with caring, but not allowing me to wallow.
3. What sorts of misperceptions do you find yourself having to correct in the people you’ve dated? What sort of dating misperceptions have you had yourself, and how did you come to recognize them?
There are the misperceptions I mentioned in question #1, of normal anger or sadness being mispercieved as being depression symptoms. The other misperceptions are that (when I am depressed) I am lazy, unkempt, boring, asocial & unenthusiastic. If I had a choice in the matter, I would be energetic, well groomed, fun & excited. But in the end, my depression is, in some ways, a choice. If I don't take my medication, attend therapy, eat healthy, excercise, get enough sleep, and surround myself with positive people, then I am going to be more depressed, and then I become boring, unkempt, asocial etc. I dont think that just because my medical condition is the cause of these problems, that it is an excuse to be that way.
I CERTIANLY don't think that people should "want me for who I am inside" even if I am depressed. Yes, my friends, family and lovers should stay by my side if I get depressed, but if I am, or a person is depressed, they have no business dating and expecting people to accomodate their symptoms. A depressed person should do the work to get out of the depression, (therapy, medication, healthy lifestyle) then when they are healthy they have the energy to give as much as they take.
4. What’s your opinion of the way mental illness is presented in the media? Do you think it’s a cop-out when celebrities or figures like Debra LaFave (the high school teacher who slept with her student) blame mood disorders for what they’ve done, or do you think they deserve more understanding than they get from the public and the press?
I am unsure how I feel about this, but I can tell you I was very angry when I saw the movie "Mad Love" with Drew Barrymore and Chris something. They said she had clinical depression, but she was really erratic, paranoid, and in one scene put pictures of eyes all over the wall. I have no idea what illness fits those symptoms, but depression "the common cold of mental illnesses" certianly did not.