Esti* had been dating someone for several weeks and felt that before continuing, she must let the guy in on her secret. She had to tell him that she suffers from a mental illness.
Esti had been diagnosed with anxiety many years ago, but few people knew about it. She regularly engages in psychotherapy and takes daily prescribed medication. She is successful socially, educationally and occupationally, but she is constantly battling her illness, trying to prevent it from flaring up. And she conquers her illness with much perseverance.
Now she stood at a bridge and called me for advice. I heard her get choked up as she said, “I really like him and I’m afraid he won’t want to continue anymore once I tell him. How do I deal with this stress? This is such a huge part of who I am.”
Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head. “You know, God gives us lots of struggles and I am genuinely inspired by the way you handle yours with such grace. Yes, you have very difficult days and sometimes weeks. But you put your effort in and persevere. You’re aware of the warning signs and what exacerbates it, and you get the help you need before it is too late. You’ve learned to live with your illness and the challenges it brings.
Revealing a part of you that you try to keep hidden from everyone is daunting, even terrifying. But it must be done.
“These experiences have enabled you to help yourself and others in ways nobody else can. It would be much more worrisome for someone to get married when they don’t know how to manage their illness. Your adversity will be an asset to the marriage, not a hindrance. All marriages face struggles and you already have more insight than the typical girl who is dating. Tell it to him like it is and explain how you overcome the obstacles.”
I could sense Esti’s despondency starting to lift. She begged me to call her boyfriend and share my insight with him. I assured her that it was a message that only she could deliver. The rest was in God’s hands. Esti thanked me and I prayed for the best.
Disclosing your Illness
Mental illness can add a significant amount of additional stress to the dating process. The thought of revealing a part of you that you try to keep hidden from everyone is daunting, even terrifying.
But as frightful as this task is, it must be done. There is no way around it. Marriage is a lifelong commitment with your other half, built on love and accepting someone’s strengths and weaknesses. It is important that your future spouse knows you and your imperfections before getting married. It is unethical to conceal something this crucial.
Hopefully, the person who discovers that the person he cares about suffers from mental illness will see this issue in the greater context of his partner’s life. It may be a good idea for him to speak with his partner’s therapist or mentors who have seen her thrive when the illness is creeping up on her and work together to create strategies to cope with stressors that otherwise may strain the relationship. It is important for him to learn to see life through his partner’s eyes and gain a better understanding of where he stands. This way when the going gets tough, they will be able to work together to overcome their challenges.
I told Esti that many people have been in her place and that she should take a deep breath, recognize her strengths and love who she is. “If he says no, hold your head up high and keep walking. Know that one day someone will see how special you are and not marry you in spite of your illness, but because of the valuable tools and insight it has ingrained in you.”
Esti had that difficult conversation with her boyfriend and he took some time to think about what she had divulged. Ultimately, after many conversations, he realized how special Esti is and was undaunted by the challenges her illness might bring their way. They got married and are living happily with mutual support and honest conversations.
For mental illness support or more information on de-stigmatizing mental illness in the Jewish community please visit RefuatHanefesh.com
*Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved.