My phone rang on an erev shabbos afternoon, it was my friend Esti*. 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 a mental illness 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. To say the least, she conquers her illness with much perseverance.
Esti now stood at a bridge. 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”. As a shadchan and friend, I usually ask Hashem to help me with my answers especially when it is an especially sensitive topic.
Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in my head. “You know, G-d gives us lots of struggles. I am genuinely inspired by the way you handle yours with such grace. Yes, you have very difficult days and sometimes months. But, you put your effort in. You go through tons of therapy and are aware of the warning signs and what exacerbates it, allowing you to get help before it is too late. You have learned to live with your illness and the challenges it brings.
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.
Disclosing your illness
The dating process can be an aggravating hurdle for people who suffer from Mental Illness. The thought of “when will I have to tell him/her the part of me that I try to hide from everyone” is daunting.
As frightful as this task is. It must be done. Marriage is a lifelong commitment with your best friend. To be a best friend means you love and accept someone for their strengths and their weaknesses. It is important that your future spouse knows you and your imperfections before getting married. That way when the going gets tough, you will be able to work together and overcome.
You Don’t Stand Alone
Many have been in your place. No matter what type of relationship you are struggling with. Take a deep breath and recognize your strengths, love who you are. Your suffering and illness have strengthened you in ways nobody in this world knows (except G-d and your therapist). If he or she 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.
Back to our story
Esti’s boyfriend took some time to think about what Esti had divulged to him. Ultimately, after multiple conversations, he realized how special Esti is and he was undaunted by the challenges her illness might bring their way. He is now her husband and they are living happily with mutual support and honest conversations.
*Name was changed to protect the identity of those involved.
What do you think? Have you had to have this difficult conversation? What have you learned from your mental illness and what advice would you give others facing a similar challenge?