Dating Maze #364: My Suicidal Past
What are the dating implications of revealing my dark secret?
Dear Rosie & Sherry,
You've mentioned in the past that when dating seriously, it’s important to come clean regarding health issues. You've also mentioned that some issues are meant to, in my words, remain secret… deep within the ocean of the heart.
My question is: What about suicide? I tried it a few times, some episodes more seriously than others. Luckily, I was too young to figure out what to do. The last instance was a decade ago and I spent three weeks in the hospital.
Since then, I found my angel psych who got me healthy and taught me how to maintain it. Today, my career is slowly taking shape. I'm healthy (with medication) and dating. My deepest desire is to be a husband and father.
Unfortunately, at age 35, it seems like all the women are either too picky, enjoying their job a little too much, extraordinarily picky, physically unwell, or unbelievably picky. And yet I believe that one woman will discover me to be the most warm, caring, loving and patient man. I'll be a great husband and excellent father. In addition, every child I meet leaves with a smile (unless I give homework). They adore me and the feeling is mutual.
I know that when I meet this woman, I'll need to tell her something about my past. I believe it would help me, to lift the burden of the secret. But what would it do to our relationship?
Do I tell her I have clinical depression? That I go to counseling and take medication? That I tried to kill myself a number of times? That my whole childhood I was extraordinarily ADHD and I took tons of Ritalin before it was popular?
Some have advised me never to discuss this, not even with my wife. In your view, what should I say and when?
Rosie and Sherry's Answer:
Thanks for writing to us. You letter is very honest and insightful.
Many more people than you may realize have experienced what doctors call a major depressive episode. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020, depression might be the second most common health problem in the world, and it currently affects 9% percent of the U.S. adult population each year.
Many of these people recover and only experience a major episode of depression once in their lives, while others will have relapses and recurrences. Fortunately, there are several successful ways to treat depression, and like you, many who have what's called major depressive disorder are leading healthy, full lives and manage their condition with the help of medication and counseling.
Depression has been described it as "living in a black hole.”
Those who aren't familiar with clinical depression may underestimate how debilitating a major depressive episode can be. It's much more than feeling "down" for a day or two – some have described it as "living in a black hole," a depressed mood that seems to encompass most of one's life for days on end. The person can be fatigued, have little interest in pleasurable activities (or any activity at all), and feel worthless or hopeless. The depression affects eating and sleeping (too much or too little), can cause difficulty thinking and concentrating, interferes with daily functioning, and can even cause thoughts of death or suicide. When the depressed person suffers with these symptoms, the people who care about him suffer as well. They worry about his welfare and experience the loss of his companionship and day-to-day involvement in their lives.
Because treatment for depression has an extremely high success rate, the vast majority of people who seek treatment can manage their condition with therapy, medication and a supportive environment. They can live full lives and marry and have families. Fortunately, you've passed through a very challenging childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, and have found the right mix of medication, therapy and support to enable you to have a healthy, functioning life. Marriage and parenthood can be the next steps in your personal growth, and we hope that it comes to you soon.
Trust from the Start
To answer your question: Yes, this is something you must disclose to someone whom you are dating seriously. This is true for any medical condition that must be managed through medication, any kind of ongoing therapy, or lifestyle choices. You've learned to function at your best, and probably have an "arsenal" of relaxation exercises and cognitive techniques that help at times when it's difficult to maintain your equilibrium. The person you marry will have to know how important all of this is for your continued good health, and she'll want to give you emotional support and practical help should the need arise. How can the two of you have a mutually supportive relationship if she doesn't know this vital information about you?
Further, because you have a chronic condition, you may have a recurrence in the future. While we all hope this doesn't happen, a recurrence will affect your spouse as well as you. Since your partner will also experience the effects of the illness, may need to participate in your care, and have to shoulder a disproportionate share of responsibility until you are better, she has the right to factor all of this into her decision to marry you. There may also be a genetic component that she will want to explore before making a decision.
You won't be able to hide your depression from your future wife.
The people who counseled you to keep your depression a secret gave you terrible advice. We know of many marriages that ended when a new spouse found out about a medical condition that should have been disclosed earlier. They felt that the trust was destroyed between them. And you won't be able to hide your depression from your future wife – she will find out about it – perhaps when she discovers the pills you take each day, happens upon your medical records, or sees how lack of sleep and a poor diet can affect your mood. Wouldn't you prefer to start your life together with an atmosphere of genuine trust and emotional support?
You're understandably concerned about how someone you're serious about will react to your disclosure. Some women will not want to move further along in your courtship – but these women aren't right for you. The woman you marry will be able to accept your situation and be emotionally supportive, just like the myriad of others who decided to marry the person who was right for them knowing that s/he had a chronic medical condition.
So what’s the optimal time to disclose this deeply personal information? It's not something to share with someone you've just begun to go out with, but it's also not fair to reveal it immediately before you decide to "pop the question" – when your dating partner is so emotionally involved that she can't process the information with clarity. We think it’s best to discuss your situation once you feel that your relationship is moving in a serious direction.
It's easier for the woman you’re dating to consider a "heavy-duty" disclosure when it can be evaluated it in the context of a bigger picture. When the two of you have broken the ice, started to relate to each other, had pleasant time together, and feel comfortable with each other's personalities, she can see your depression as one of many factors that she'll have to take into consideration in deciding to keep moving forward with the relationship.
Explain to her that you carefully weighed when to reveal your situation. You can begin with a variation of, "I asked for advice about when to speak with you about an important matter, and this is the time I was advised." Then continue with the positive:
"I hope that over the time we've been going out, you've been able to see that I have a good life and I feel healthy. I'm building my career, I'm close to my family, I have great friends, and I take care of myself. I feel comfortable with you and I hope you feel the same about me.
“At the same time, I have a medical condition called depression. I experienced several episodes of depression when I was growing up, and I didn't find the right treatment until I was a young adult. I've been healthy for many years, thanks to a combination of medication, therapy and a healthy lifestyle. I feel good about the future.
“I imagine that you're going to need time to absorb what I've told you, and that you may have a lot of questions, and I'll answer them as best I can."
We suggest that you also talk about your history of ADHD, how it affects you today, and what you do to manage it. You can offer to let her talk to your doctor for more information about your medical conditions and overall prognosis.
You may have to be patient – her initial reaction may be negative, but will hopefully change once she has time to process it. Be honest in answering her questions. For example, she may ask if you ever tried to kill yourself, or ask you to describe your depression at its worst. If she doesn't, we think that you should discuss this aspect of your depression. We're acting on the assumption that since you've found the right treatment, you don't think about killing yourself and you haven't made a suicide attempt for many years. If that's true, it's important information for her to know.
On the other hand, for someone who is struggling to be healthy and emotionally stable, or still has suicidal thoughts, we'd counsel against dating until you are able to maintain good health for a period of time. You wouldn't be able to build a healthy relationship otherwise.
Finally, we'd like to address the frustration you feel because many of the women you describe as "picky." Yes, it often is harder to make a connection with someone when both of you are no longer "young and relatively inexperienced." But men and women in their 30s and beyond do find each other and get married, and the belief that you can be one of them keeps you going, as it should.
Have you gotten feedback that women are bothered by a particular issue about you?
It seems to us that you might be able to employ a few new strategies to help turn things around. First, look at recurrent patterns in your dating. For example, do you find yourself attracted to certain personality traits that seem to be present in women who are so career-oriented that they can't fit dates into their schedule or aren't planning to marry any time soon? If so, think about qualities that might indicate someone is more strongly oriented toward marriage and family, and look for future dating partners who have them. Have you gotten feedback that a few of the women you've gone out with are bothered by a particular issue about you? If so, it may be something you can address, such as dating etiquette, poor date planning, or grooming. If it's something you can't change, such as your level of religious observance, career, or basic personality traits, you may be dating too many women who are not on your level.
Some daters are overly picky, and seek perfection in a partner and some make up their minds too quickly and don't give the courtship a chance. However, the most common reason for a person to seem "picky" is that they and their date are not well-suited to each other in the first place. We think it's a good idea to take a good look at where you are right now in life, reassess what you're looking for, and explore new ways to meet women who are more in line with this. Some of the articles in the Aish.com archives and at www.jewishdatingandmarriage.com will help you do this. Finally, find someone who can mentor you through the dating process.
We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,
Rosie & Sherry