Dating & Disclosure: When Do You Talk Disabilities, Trauma or Mental Illness?

Hi Christan,

How do singles talk about physical.pain and activity limitations? As I get older I find that I can not keep up with friends who push themselves physically or don't take pain medications to function.

I wanted to post this before tonight's free Dating, Disclosure & Disabilities Zoom Discussion. RSVP here.

The first thing I'll do is direct you to a recent Dateology podcast my co-host Sarah and I recorded where we discuss this very topic. Sarah is especially informed about navigating these very conversations.

As I've mentioned previously, I was diagnosed with chronic depression in 2015. One by-product of my depression is chronic fatigue. Medication helps, but as you know, it's not a cure. This means I have to schedule my life in a way that allows me to participate or conduct certain activities without powering down, so to speak. In a recent workshop, I actually had to inform attendees that I was struggling with some brain fog because I was having difficulty remembering certain information from my presentation. It happens. They were all incredibly supportive and understood. I can't record our podcast later than 5pm because after that, my brain is absolute mush. (Keep in mind I usually have to take a cat nap before hand.) Sarah, because she's awesome and informed, understands and works around my schedule.

In my experience, how people react to news of a chronic condition is all in how it is presented. At dinner one night, my date noticed I was yawning incessantly. He asked if I wanted to go home. We'd been dating a little over a month at the time, so he knew I wasn't being rude. I assured him I was fine and told him I had depression and that, normally, all I needed was a mid-afternoon disco nap, but that specific day was busy and I wasn't able to rest. He once again suggested we could order take-out, and I declined, re-stating this was normal and something I push through all the time. And that was that. He, too, knows we have to schedule things earlier than usual and that I'll never be that person who stays out until midnight. Or even eleven.

It is what it is, but that's not all there is to me. I am not my depression just like you are not your chronic pain. It's just something you and I co-exist with every day, an aspect of our life but not the totality of it. That's how you need to talk about it when you explain certain challenges you face. Here's how to do that:

Be informed - No matter what the condition is - chronic illness, mental illness, even an STI - know what's involved, know your limitations, and know how to manage it. If you sound like you have this under control, people will trust that you know how much you can do.

Choose an organic moment to talk - I've become friends with a woman that lives in my building. We're both dog moms, so we'd often stop and chat when we were taking our pups for a walk. That progressed to frequent texting and hanging out in her apartment, talking. Last week, she caught me in an off moment where I broke down in tears. I was tired due to being under tremendous stress. She asked if I was okay and I explained that, because of my depression, this sometimes happened when I was exhausted. I much prefer authentic moments like that to share something sensitive than to make it "a thing." Because, really, mental illness and physical disabilities are not "a thing." They are conditions that are common, treatable and manageable. Sarah corrected me once when I said people should "admit" certain illnesses or disabilities in their profile. That was the wrong word choice. To admit or confess something implies you've done something wrong or that what you're sharing is bad. If you address a chronic/invisible illness or traumatic experience in a way where it feels like a confession, people will take it as such.

Make sure they've earned your trust - Because my neighbor and I had gotten to know each other over time, we'd built an intimacy that made me feel safe to open up to her. I've never felt compelled to reveal I have depression to people because, well, I