The process of being diagnosed with a mental illness can evoke various emotions.
Embarrassment. Relief. Sadness. Anger. Confusion.
It varies from person to person.
But one common emotion that can be felt at this time is worry. Worry about how this diagnosis will affect our life, worry about potential treatment options, worry about if it will affect how others see us. And a major worry that can arise is how to explain our new diagnosis to our partner.
Of course, some will be in a position where this is not a concern, and they will feel perfectly comfortable having a direct conversation with their partner to explain their situation. But when it is a worry, it can add more stress and anxiety at a time when we most need support.
Feeling worried about revealing and explaining your diagnosis to your partner doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you or your relationship. As I said previously, receiving a new diagnosis can be stressful in itself, but we should also remember that if we are receiving a diagnosis, chances are we not feeling on top form in terms of having the energy or the confidence to accurately explain the diagnosis and what it means for you.
This is not a personal failing.
It’s not something you’re “doing wrong”. You might just need a little help, and that’s perfectly okay.
So how can we go about explaining our diagnosis of mental illness to our partner, without having to have “the conversation”?
Here are just three ideas.
1. Ask them to attend a CPN/psychiatrist’s appointment with you
This method is a good choice if you feel like you need some professional support in the explanation of your diagnosis. Your CPN or your psychiatrist will be able to offer a medical explanation of your diagnosis, such as the diagnostic criteria and the treatment options available, and if you feel comfortable, you can supplement this with your personal experiences.
2. Give them a book
If you know of a book (or a few books) that you feel accurately illustrates your experiences or your symptoms, it’s a good idea to ask your partner to read this book. This means that they will be able to access the information for themselves, without you having to explain every detail.
If at all possible, try to read the book yourself first, or at least a summary of the book, to make sure it accurately represents what you are experiencing. For example, there is some disagreement among professionals regarding Borderline Personality Disorder (with which I am diagnosed) and some of the information and books produced on this diagnosis is now considered to be out-of-date, somewhat inaccurate, and in the worst cases, outright misleading.
If you are in a position to do so, recommend books that you are confident contains up-to-date, accurate information that is relevant to your experience. If you are unable to do this, it might be worth asking your CPN or psychiatrist to recommend a book for your partner.
3. Write them a letter
It may be that you feel confident to explain your diagnosis to your partner, but you are worried about getting muddled during the conversation or forgetting something important. If this is the case, you may wish to consider writing a letter to your partner. Writing a letter means that you can take your time and make sure that you include everything you want to say, without interruption.
Furthermore, writing everything out can also be quite a therapeutic process, and may help you to understand your diagnosis better yourself, so you feel more confident explaining it to your partner.
Once you have written your letter, you can decide whether you want to be present while your partner reads it or not. If you choose this option, I would still recommend coming together afterwards in case your partner has any questions for you or would like you to clarify something that they have not fully understood. However, this method allows you to express everything that you want to express first and should help to relieve some of the pressure when you eventually come together to discuss it.
Whichever method (or combination of methods) that you choose, that’s completely up to you. The only thing that I would really encourage is that you have this conversation in some form. It’s important for both you and your partner to be open and honest and to communicate with each other about this significant aspect of your life. How you do that is up to you, but please communicate – this will be crucial for your relationship moving forward.
Do you have experience of discussing your diagnosis of mental illness with a partner? Perhaps you used a different method of communication that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments.