Talking About Mental Health With Others

I don’t like to talk about what happened. On an ordinary day I choose not to tell people. Only in my blogs, books, and public speaking engagements will I be open.

I’m trying to meet a love interest like a lot of women in America are. Even in this arena I don’t want to reveal too much information about anything, even about non-mental health things.

To empower readers I would like to talk about this:

When is the right time to tell your romantic partner about your mental health history?

I say: it’s after you’ve gotten them to swallow your bait and you’ve reeled them in on your fishing line.

The bait you should be dangling is who you are apart from your illness.

The first date or even only the fifth date is not the time to talk about any liability if you ask me.

If you agonize and obsess over whatever your mental health diagnosis is, constantly thinking about possible stigma and expecting stigma wherever you go, this might just become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s going to influence how you interact with other people.

My memoir Left of the Dial exposed the early mindset I had that I didn’t want to be viewed as “crazy.”

Yet discontinue your medication and get sick, and you’ll be farther away from attracting a romantic partner.

The reality is–to quote a shrink–“A guy will be impressed that you take medication because it shows you want to be healthy in the relationship.”

In my early fifties I decided I wanted to try for love. The diagnosis is off the table as a conversation starter.

First I might slip it in little-by-little by talking about how Kanye West has told people he has bipolar.  Then by talking about a real person in my life who has a mental health issue.

Send out the information like a canary in a coalmine. See if it kills the canary.

The point is people who lack compassion, who are going to get spooked because you have an MH thing, are really messed up themselves. They’re not so great candidates for living in love with.

When you do talk about what happened it’s OK to keep embarrassing details to yourself. Keep private of course the things you don’t want to tell others.

You can tell others the bare-bones if you’d like and only that. It’s your right to tell others only what you’re comfortable revealing.

My signature poem “What She Said” talks about how I’ll only give others parts of the story. It’s worth buying Left of the Dial to have on hand this poem that starts off the book.

Like it or not (it’s a fact), revealing your diagnosis is going to color and influence what another person thinks of you from that moment on.

It’s far better if you ask me that you tell your love interest when you’ve established a connection with them linked to who you are apart from the illness..

Lastly, I’ll give readers this counterpoint:

You have to realize that it can be a burden for another person to process what you’ve told them. This has nothing to do with stigma.

They should be told in a way that considers their needs too.

The person you want to get intimate with should be told at some point.

What to do if you’re rejected, if the person stops calling, if they ghost you or disappear?

Think of the good times you had up until then.

Remember the adage:

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Every experience you have in life with another person gives you the skills, abilities, and strength you need to succeed in the future.

 

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Radical Chic

I’m fond of this sentence Kim Gordon wrote in her memoir:

“I believe the radical is more interesting when it appears ordinary and benign on the outside.”

This rock star/artist/author (the former Sonic Youth singer and bassist) wrote a great book, Girl in a Band. I urge you to buy this memoir.

Sonic Youth are my favorite band–I played them on my 1980s radio show.

Her words are prophetic, because you can’t judge a person. How we look on the outside ultimately tells others nothing about our character, our personality, and the things that matter.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s dressing in trendy clothes was my way of telling the mental health establishment: “Screw you, I’m not going to conform to how you think a person diagnosed with SZ should look and act and live.”

That’s the truth folks: I rebelled the role of mental patient. You should do the same–and the sooner the better.

I think of this now as 53 beckons in a couple of weeks. Not all of us are destined to get dressed every day like we’re Nicki Minaj performing on a concert tour.

There’s a benefit in only looking like we conform when in reality we’re rebels, dreamers, and free thinkers marching to a different drum on the inside.

It can be liberating to fool others with our persona. We don’t have to be who they want us to be. We can and should only be ourselves.

Acting true to yourself will always be in style. Act true to who you are today. Reserve the right to be who you want to be tomorrow.

You don’t have to dress like a Pop Diva to make a statement. You can be radical dressed in ordinary clothes like Kim Gordon admires.

I too admire everyone for having the courage to get up in the morning, choose clothes, and get dressed in a way that is true to who they are.

The older I get I’m less impressed by what passes for normal in society. The mundane–in thinking, acting, dressing, and living–isn’t something I covet having.

Thus the title of my own memoir: Left of the Dial.

So you could say I look ordinary–yet I’ll always be a Girl on the Left Side of the Dial.

You can be radical and chic.

A woman in her fifties should leave people guessing.

 

Sprezzatura

I’m proud of my Italian heritage.

I wrote at HealthCentral circa a year or two ago in October on how culture impacts recovery. October is Italian Heritage Month.

Though I might be biased, I think culture does play a role in a person’s life and in a person’s recovery. Some things can’t be a coincidence if you ask me.

Allure–the women’s beauty magazine–recently published a feature article on ballerinas titled Amazing Grace. After I read it, I decided I wanted to write in here about culture. In the memoir, I credited the love and support of my close-knit Italian American family as a factor that enabled me to succeed.

The feature on ballerinas reveals a little-known Italian ethic: sprezzatura, or the art of concealment. It’s why I’m a big fan of keeping the details of your illness private and maintaining decorum in your own life. Knowing who to tell and when is your right. Yet I see no benefit in random widespread disclosure to everyone you meet.

Ballerinas make it look easy and I might make it look easy too.

The Allure feature article sums it up thus:

“The combination of hidden discipline and apparently effortless grace is the secret to ballerinas’ enduring appeal. They have sprezzatura, Italian for the art of concealment. We know that what they do is hard. We know it takes enormous work. We even know it hurts. But they make us forget all that. They make the extraordinary seem natural. And that’s quite a special effect.”

Recovery is hard. It takes enormous work. It can hurt to be in emotional pain. It can hurt when other people don’t understand us or accept us or give us compassion.

I understand what it’s like to have a mental illness. I know how hard it is to get up every day and have to work twice as hard to get what you want when it seems things come easy to other people.

I’ll end here by telling you again that jealousy serves no purpose and self-pity serves no purpose.

Be grateful for what you do have and what you are able to achieve. Recovery is not a race, nor is it a competition.

And if it is a ballet, I want to be the dancer that makes you forget.

I want to bring readers moments of joy and grace and beauty.