Ask Amy: Disclosing bipolar disorder on a date

September 11, 2012

DEAR AMY: I am 47, have bipolar disorder and ADHD, and am seeing a therapist to help me deal with childhood abuse issues.

I am very stable (more so than most “sane people,” my shrink quips), although I have the occasional bad day (I become withdrawn and irritable). After more than a year, both my shrink and my therapist tell me that they think I’m ready to start dating.

I am very open about my illness and write about it occasionally in a blog that I share openly. My friends and co-workers know. I’m popular at work and in my social circles, so I’m not worried about any social awkwardness. When should I mention my condition to a potential girlfriend?

Any visits to my place and she will see the meds. If she does an Internet search, she will find my blog. There are a great many misconceptions about bipolar disorder.

Advice I get ranges from, “Don’t mention it at all. It’s irrelevant,” to, “Disclose before you first meet/become intimate/get married,” to the nebulous, “You’ll know when it’s time.” I tend to be honest to a fault and am not sure what the etiquette is. -- When Is Honest Too Honest?

DEAR HONEST: I agree that you are ready to date. How do I know? Because you are doing the hard work toward recovery and you are listening to the professionals who know you the best.

Disclose this when it starts to feel that it would be dishonest not to. This is a third-to fifth-date conversation. You don’t want to lead with it on a first date because then the date becomes all about you.

I assure you that any woman you would want to meet will do an Internet search before meeting you. This is one way to get information about you and your condition “out there.”

If you are asked, be honest, but remember that it is important not only to disclose the particulars about your life and health, but also to get to know her. That’s why it’s called “dating” and not “therapy.”

Speaking of which, this is an ideal question to ask your professional counselors.

DEAR AMY: My dad has never been in my life, and now he is trying to have a relationship with me. I talk to him a lot, but I just don’t know if I want him at my graduation party.

No one likes him because he drinks and always starts fights, but I feel it’s the right thing to do to invite him. But I don’t want him to start any fights or ruin my day. What should I do? -- Heartbroken

DEAR HEARTBROKEN: My perspective is that this is a life event that serves as a celebration not only of your accomplishment but of the people who helped to get you there. Being biologically related to you does not automatically guarantee your father a spot at the table, particularly if he has a history of being neglectful, disruptive and combative.

However, if you truly want him to be included (and if the person paying for and doing all the work is willing to have him), you should invite him, keeping in mind that you cannot control anything about him or other family members at the party.

Graduation parties are loaded events, and if your father has a history of drinking and fighting, this is the sort of event that could trigger problems.

DEAR AMY: The letter from “Sad Daughter” about her mother’s will illustrated why wills should not be disclosed before probate.

In our family, my mother discussed a change in her will with me, and my reply was, “Good grief, Mom, it’s your money. Leave it to charity, share it with the neighbors, start a cat shelter, do whatever you want. It’s not our business. We have never given you advice on how to spend your money, and you sure don’t need our input now.” -- Raised Hackles

DEAR HACKLES: Exactly!

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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