You might be in a new relationship, not sure when to spring the news that you have an anxiety disorder. Just thinking about it makes you more anxious, which makes you worry, which makes you think about breaking off this relationship rather than facing telling him or her that you have a diagnosed mental illness. Rather than ending a relationship, read through the following tips to make talking about your anxiety disorder a little easier.:
Decide when you want to tell him or her.
Talking about your anxiety disorder on the first date probably isn’t a good idea. Your date is trying to get to know you, find out about your likes and dislikes, your values, your beliefs and by the end of the evening will have formed some kind of opinion about you. Because you are so much more than an anxiety disorder, you don’t want this information to be the sole basis for this opinion.
You do, however, want to tell someone when you decide you want to take this relationship further. Usually the first few dates are all about discovering who this person is. After that, we make a conscious decision to continue seeing someone. This is when you want to broach the subject of anxiety disorders. This makes sure you don’t invest too much time in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to understand your illness. It also makes sure you don’t continue the relationship hiding a secret and feeling guilty. You want to let him or her know you want them to know this information because there may be a time he or she thinks you are avoiding being together or avoiding a social event he wants to attend.
For example, imagine you recently started dating Jim. You have been on a few dates and want to continue dating him. He loves basketball and attends many of the professional games. But you aren’t good with crowds. If he asks you to an upcoming game, you can go and try to hide your nervousness or you can claim that you have other plans that night. But what about the next time? Jim might get the wrong idea, thinking you aren’t interested. It is better to let him know ahead of time that you have an anxiety disorder which makes you very nervous when you are in a crowd. This way, Jim is prepared and if you do decide to attend a game with him, he will understand your nervous behaviors during the game.
Think about what you want to say.
As you probably know from previous experience, not everyone understands what having an anxiety disorder entails. They may believe it is a made-up disorder, an excuse people use when they don’t want to do something or they may believe it is something you can just “get over” if you try hard enough. Let’s face it, there are lots of misconceptions about anxiety disorders floating around. In your discussion, you want to include some basic information on the type of anxiety you have and how it impacts your life. Let him ask you questions and answer as honestly as you can. If he asks questions, it means he is interested and wants to understand.
If you are nervous about what to say, practice first. Ask some close friends to listen to your explanation and share any suggestions on how you can better explain your anxiety. If you work with a therapist, you might want to discuss your plans beforehand.
Decide where you want to have the discussion.
Chances are, you are going to be nervous about discussing your anxiety disorder. If you choose the time and place, you will feel more in control and can focus on the conversation rather than focusing on your anxiety. Choose a place you feel comfortable. This could be sitting with a glass of wine in your living room, going out for a cup of coffee or over lunch. Remember, though, that this shouldn’t be tied to intimacy. Keep your conversation out of the bedroom.
Let him or her know what you expect.
If you are telling someone who doesn’t have much experience with anxiety or other mental illnesses, he or she won’t know what you expect. Explain that you will ask for help if needed but otherwise he should assume you are in control and managing your anxiety. Talk about what might constitute helping and how you signal if you need help. Let him know that unless you ask for help, you don’t want it. You want and need to manage your anxiety on your own.
Don’t make it a big deal.
People usually react based on your reaction. If you act like your anxiety disorder is a big deal, your new partner will react the same way. Keep the conversation simple and straight forward. Be confident in your explanations. Don’t go into stories about the horrors you have faced or how much you have gone through to manage your disorder. Keep it free of drama. You are simply explaining what anxiety disorder is and stating you have it. If you keep it matter-of-fact, your new partner will probably take it that way.
Don’t take it personally if your new partner can’t deal with your anxiety disorder.
Some people have a hard time dealing with other people’s issues. If your new partner shies away from you or seems overly freaked out about the whole thing, don’t take it personally. He or she liked you before. It is not you. It is the diagnosis. It may simply mean this is not the right person for you, which is why you want to broach the subject of your anxiety disorder early in the relationship, before you have invested too much emotionally.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.