“I was excited about this blossoming relationship and enamored with this man,” recalls Hope, a freelance communications consultant in Denver, Colorado.“But I remember thinking, ‘He’s going to freak out when I tell him I have bipolar disorder.’” The “when and how” decision was taken out of her hands when her new love dropped a bombshell: His soon-to-be ex had bipolar and her illness was one reason they were divorcing.From a distance, I'd seen how much energy it took Nyla to keep her episodes under control: weekly doctor's visits, blood tests, complicated regimens of medications.And yet for all their problems, my bipolar buddies had always kept things interesting.At the end of my first date with Sara, she moved in with me. Until that night, we'd only spoken on the phone a few times. By the time the ice in my soda had melted, I'd fallen in love. We'd gone to a Hollywood hamburger stand and gabbed about bands and writers for four hours.Having bipolar disorder adds layers of complication: Should I trust this new love interest with my diagnosis? If we do move forward, how will the new relationship weather my mood shifts?“It brings up a lot of fears and those fears ignite the temptation not to talk about it,” acknowledges Lisa Little, MSc, a chartered psychologist in Calgary, Alberta.
It’s important to recognize that your date probably will have concerns—some legitimate, some stigma-induced—about getting involved with someone who has a chronic mental illness.Hope dated several men after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder II in 2004, but none of the relationships lasted long enough to make her mental health an issue.When Hope, 45, developed feelings for a local restaurateur in 2009, she knew she would have to talk to him about her diagnosis before things got serious.Listening to her date explain how his wife refused treatment and how the disorder took its toll on her health and their marriage, Hope realized she had to share her diagnosis even though she was terrified he would end their relationship.“I said, ‘I understand if you want to run out the door and never see me again, but I’d like to continue our date and tell you everything I can about my diagnosis and how I manage my illness,’” Hope recalls. He could not have been more positive and agreed to give our relationship a chance.” Dating is always fraught with expectations, anxiety and disappointment.Ten years later, I published a book about our marriage, and have had a lot of sleepless nights and many lessons learned about loving someone with bipolar disorder. When your partner is diagnosed, you won't know what's coming.