Are you trying to make the decision to disclose? First assess—and address—your own opinion about bipolar disorder. Your feelings about bipolar affect how and when you tell a potential partner.
Note from the Author: This blog is about sharing a bipolar diagnosis with a new love. Although I talk about my experiences telling people about bipolar on a first date, that is not the topic of this post. There is a difference between telling a new person and telling a new love. “New love” is referring to when you have feelings for someone whom you have known long enough to contemplate having a relationship. What I suggest below is for people who are contemplating having a romantic relationship with someone they know. It’s not advice for the first time you sit down with someone—unless, like me, you feel comfortable sharing the information. It’s a personal choice.
Before I answer the question, “When do I tell a new love about my bipolar?” I want to share my view of bipolar disorder itself.
Bipolar disorder is an ancient, well-documented genetic illness. It’s
not personal, and it’s not a sign of emotional instability. The illness is
episodic. When a person gets treatment and has a management plan, that person
can be very regular and get on with life. I have bipolar disorder as well as a
psychotic disorder. I lived with a partner for ten years who has bipolar I.
What Do You Think about Bipolar?
How YOU see bipolar will determine when and how you talk to a potential love about bipolar disorder. Here is my advice:
Get clear on how YOU see the illness.
This determines your level of comfort in talking about the illness
with a potential partner. If, like me, you see it simply as a genetic illness,
telling anyone in your life about it will be easier. But, if you see this
illness as a personal weakness or something embarrassing, it will be harder to
talk about the symptoms.
I find this comforting. It means that when YOU decide to see
bipolar as an illness, that decision changes your fears about talking to a
lover about bipolar. I treat it like telling someone I have diabetes. Then it
is up to the person listening to decide what they want to do.
Coming to Terms with Your Bipolar
I have no judgement of how you feel. It’s your life. But I can
tell you this. If you’re embarrassed about having bipolar, telling others about
it will feel shameful. If you spend time coming to terms with your own views on
bipolar, it will change how you approach talking with someone else about the
Here is an example of how I talk to potential partners about my bipolar:
I was born with a genetic illness called bipolar disorder. I also
have a psychotic disorder. My psychosis started at 16 and my mania at 17. I had
my first depression at 19. Before I was diagnosed, the illness controlled a lot
of my life. Now, I manage the illness with the ideas in my books. It’s a lot of
work, but I am very careful about it. I believe it makes me a better listener
and a better partner. I have to be self-aware in order to stay stable! It
determines my lifestyle but doesn’t damage my relationships. I can answer any
questions you have about the illness. I’m very open with others about what I go
I’ve said this to every date I’ve been on in my life. Everyone
looks me up before meeting me, so I have no choice! This is why I know so much
about the topic. I’m rarely in a situation where there is a space without
bipolar in the picture.
In over 20 years, it has never been a problem. Not once. If
a person doesn’t want to be with me due to bipolar, then that person could
never be with me long-term anyway. Bipolar is an enormous part of my
I finally decided that bipolar is not going to keep me down, and
it’s not going to affect my dating or romantic life. Telling the truth from day
one is key to my well-being.
When Do You Tell a New Love about Bipolar?
The answer is immediately. You have to know whether or not a person is going to partner with you as you move forward with life with bipolar. If you are already in a love situation and you have not told the other person, it will hang over every meeting.
We are responsible for our illness. It’s in our brains and
There is nothing shameful about having bipolar disorder. It’s OK
to feel shame. We can and sometimes do feel embarrassed about it! That is OK,
but it doesn’t mean we need to continue to feel this way. We can make the
choice to see bipolar as an illness. I made that change, and it made an
enormous difference in my life and in all of my relationships.
Julie A. Fast is the author of "Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder," "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder," "Get it Done When You’re Depressed" and "The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder." She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
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