So before I dig into your awesome questions, I wanted to let you know that there are a few types of questions I’m not going to be answering here. As you know (cause you’re reading this) this issue of Graceless is the Mental Health Issue. Mental Health is an incredibly important topic, and I got some fantastic questions from y’all. I have chosen very intentionally to answer three of those questions here, and to not answer several others.
It is true, I am a super wise queen, who knows lots about pretty much everything, but, I am not a mental health professional, and I don’t play one on TV. I have struggled with my own mental health issues for like, forever, and been to a fuck-ton of therapy (wondering now if “fuck-ton” is a billable quantity for my insurance…), but I have not been formally trained in mental health treatment practices, so I’m not going to be addressing any mental-health treatment questions.
If you’re struggling with a mental health issue, then I strongly encourage you to seek out a professional for advice and the National Alliance on Mental Health is a great place to start. It can be scary to reach out to a professional, but it is so profoundly worth it.
Now, on to your questions.
I’ve struggled with depression since I was in high school and when I was in college, during a really dark time, I attempted suicide and had to be temporarily hospitalized. I am happy to report that now, thanks to consistent therapy and medication, I’m doing really well and my condition is under control.
I’m also a single woman in my late 20’s and I’m actively dating. I recently started seeing a guy I met online, and I really like him. I would like to see our relationship go somewhere, but I’m wondering at what point I need to disclose my mental health history, and the fact that I still take medication and probably will forever, to this new potential partner. I know that depression is common and that I shouldn’t feel ashamed of my condition, but I also don’t want to scare this new guy away.
When is the right time to tell someone that you have a less than perfect brain?
Dark Past, Bright Future
Dear Bright Future,
Did your new boo’s profile read “Man: seeking intelligent, beautiful, funny, cool woman with a flawless past and a perfect brain.”?
Yeah, I didn’t think so. That’s because there is no such thing as a perfect brain. All our brains are beautiful and broken in unique and personal ways – that’s what makes getting to know someone else’s brain so scary, fulfilling, sexy, and fun.
You’re 100% right that you shouldn’t be ashamed of your mental health situation. With 44% of college students experiencing symptoms of depression, and suicide listed as the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15-34, the fact that there is still so much stigma around mental illness, is…well…ridiculous. Hands in the air if you’ve ever been on meds! (Literally every hand goes up).
That being said, I totally hear your concern about finding the right time to share something so vulnerable with a new partner. In this situation, as with most things in love, timing is indeed everything. But, and this is a big important ‘but’, I would urge you to make your decision about when to share your status, not based on whether you think you’ll “scare him off”, but based on when you feel ready to establish that level of emotional intimacy with him.
I would also urge you to approach your disclosure with pride and not shame. You aren’t sharing your darkest secret, you’re sharing your boldest accomplishment. You have been through hell and you’ve worked hard to come out on the other side. You’re taking excellent care of yourself by going to therapy and taking your meds and for that you should be very very proud. I would actually argue that your mental health history makes you a better potential partner than someone who has lived their whole life in a fog of ease, happiness, rainbows and unicorns. It has built fortitude, and an understanding that living a good life takes intention, work, and trained professionals. Personally, I refuse to date anyone who hasn’t been to therapy. The world is such a challenging place and it’s damn near impossible to make it through even 5 minutes here without internalizing some sort of trauma. When a person has sought professional help, it shows that they take responsibility for their health, which, IMHO is sexy as hell.
I am so proud of you for everything you’ve accomplished, and I’m so fucking happy you decided to stay in this world. I can’t tell you if new boo is your forever boo, but I can tell you if new boo is a good boo, he’ll receive your disclosure with compassion, care and respect. And if he doesn’t then in the words of everyone’s fav self-care-advocating diva, ‘thank you, next.”
Congratulations on literally everything. Your future is looking pretty damn bright.
I’ve been seeing my new therapist for about 3 months and until recently I really felt like we were connecting. I was starting to open up and make progress with her, but last week she called me the wrong name in a session…twice! I know this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but I just feel like if she can’t remember my name, is she really listening when I tell her my most intimate and personal thoughts and feelings?
When it happened I ignored it and pushed through the rest of the session, but the whole thing just left me feeling really crappy.
Should I tell her what she did and how it made me feel? Or just let it go and move on?
Woof. That sucks. I can only imagine how disappointing that must have felt at the time.
A few years ago I had a therapist who was consistently late for every appointment we had scheduled. It was a major bummer, and I found myself getting angrier and angrier about it until, eventually, I quit therapy altogether (cue: months long depression and negative mental health spiral followed by the total agony and stress of searching for a new therapist). It was great.
Years later, in an appointment with my new therapist, I brought up the situation when we were talking about how I don’t really trust anyone to be there for me, and my new therapist, being the flawless queen that she is, politely pointed out that I was consistently late for all my appointments with her. Whoops.
The point is that therapists are people and people mess up. Some people suck at names, some people suck with time, some people just suck, and we need to allow a little room for our mental health professionals to have a few flaws. Does that mean it’s ok that she called you the wrong name? Nope. It definitely doesn’t. And it is not ok that my therapist was consistently late for our appointments, but anytime the question is “should I tell my therapist how I feel?”, the answer is pretty much always gonna be “yep”, even if your therapist is the one who made you feel like shit.
Part of the value of therapy is in building intimacy with a human being. Sure, they are highly trained professional human beings, but they aren’t robots, and they wouldn’t be effective if they were (finally, an automation-proof profession!). A good therapist can relate to our hurts, worries, fears and flaws, in part because they themselves have hurts, worries, fears and flaws.
In your next session, let your therapist know that they called you the wrong name, and how it made you feel. You’re paying her to talk about your feelings, so it would literally be a waste of your money not to…talk…about…your feelings. I would be very surprised if she isn’t embarrassed, apologetic, and super intentional about getting it right in the future.
I sometimes think about my perpetually tardy therapist and wonder if we would still be together (sigh) if I would have just let her know that her lateness was a problem for me. I’m with a great doc now, but anyone who has done therapy knows that finding a new therapist can be emotionally exhausting. It’s a true goldilocks quest for the right cocktail of affordability, treatment philosophy, scheduling, location, and personality and if you vibe with your therapist, then it is worth it to try to work it out, especially because addressing an issue and trying to work something out is like…a really important life skill to practice anyway.
Good luck MEGAN! I love ya.
I just started a new job and I’m not sure how to request time off so I can go to therapy. My old job was really flexible and I could just take a long lunch once a week to have an appointment, but the new job seems much less flexible. I struggle with anxiety, which I manage pretty well, but I also worry that if I tell my boss that I need to go to therapy for anxiety, he will view me as mentally unstable and it will affect my job. Please help me navigate this tricky situation.
Dear Bee Bae,
Congrats on your new job, and on managing your anxiety! Both are very exciting accomplishments.
I feel your question BIG time. I also recently started a new job (shocker, I’m not a full time Ada!), and I have been trying to figure out how to navigate a very similar situation myself. It’s a delicate one for sure, but I actually think we both actually have a tremendous opportunity in front of us.
In my new job, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be my most powerful self (I know, I know, that’s mad self-help-y, but just bear with me). For a long time I lived under the illusion that working harder, longer, and more self-sacrificially, was the best way to get ahead. Only recently did I start to understand that that mindset is actually le petit bullshit. The best way to get ahead is to be intentional about how you spend your time, energy, and personal power. Advocating for yourself and setting boundaries are two great ways to do that.
Por ejemplo, everyone at my office works super late every day, but I’m not exactly sure they’re actually getting more done than I am. I’m mad efficient (cause I’m a boss) and stupid organized (again, a boss), so I tend to be able to pack it in by 6 pm. For my first few weeks at my new job I would stick around until 7 or 8 with everyone else, because I thought it would reflect poorly on me to roll out at 6 like a happy-hour-hungry-laze. Was I getting anything done between 6-8? Nope. Did it mean I didn’t go to yoga or cook dinner for myself or see any friends after work for about a month? Yep. Did I get 10,000 promotions and a $100K raise because I stayed longer than everyone else? Newp. Newp. Newp.
So, I made the decision recently that I was going to leave work when I was done with work. It was a little bit of a scary decision, because, of course, I was worried what people would think of me as I hit the elevator at 6:00 on the nose every day, but then I noticed that other people started leaving a little earlier too. Turns out we all were just pretend-working from 6-8! By setting this boundary for myself, I showed my employer and my co-workers that I respect myself and value my time, and that is some powerful shit. Even more than that, I felt like a leader (granted I was the leader in the field of leaving early, but I was a leader nonetheless).
I would be very surprised if you’re the only person in your company who wants to go to therapy, and I would also be very surprised if taking a two-hour lunch break once a week destroys your company’s profit margin and obliterates your personal productivity. What advocating for your therapy time will do is establish you as someone who takes care of their health. It will also ensure that your company has one more balanced, happy, productive employee, who feels seen and valued by their employer. That, my love is the literal definition of a win/win and any boss who is any good at managing living breathing human people will understand this.
So go forth and lead. Have a conversation with your boss, or an HR person at your company sooner rather than later, and have that conversation with unapologetic assuredness in the reasonability of your request. What you’re asking for will help you be the best employee you can be, and if you approach it with confidence, I can guarantee you won’t be seen as mentally unstable, but as your most powerful self.
From one badass boss to another, you got this.