#SWAAYthenarrative

How to Balance Unraveling Mental Health and Dating

4 Min Read
Health

To maintain your mental health, you need your friends, family, and potential life partner's support. It's important to ask questions like, "Who's the better fit?" and "When's the right time to open up?" Educating your perfect match on your health needs may also be necessary. Below are four dating scenarios to illustrate that everyone comes to the table with a different understanding of mental health.

It's not easy to be vulnerable when you are dating.

Self-Proclaimed Expert

When I dated an EMT, he thought he was an expert on mental health. I met him in the ER after I fell on a running trail. It was easy to talk about mental health with him. Maybe it was because he already knew, he had seen lithium on my medical chart. He was unphased when I told him my mental health story.

When we talked about how to manage my mental health, he said I was "more normal" than the other psych patients who he saw or picked up in his speedy ambulance.

We faded out when he moved on to another girl. My mother must have scrolled through my contacts and called him when I was hospitalized for a manic episode. I'd usually be embarrassed that my mom remembered a guy that I was trying to forget. He appeared wearing a shirt I had given him years ago. It was a sign of something familiar and a better time. The hug goodbye was the best medicine as he whispered, "You're going to be ok." He floated out of my life, again.

He was unphased when I told him my mental health story.

Lesson: Telling your medical-expert-date might come easy but managing mental health together can be tough when he's moving onto the next emergency.

Casual Hunter

I never talked about mental health on casual dates. Most of the Chads fell into this bucket. We had a mutual understanding of keeping things light. But some of them stuck around longer than predicted. When we talked about every aspect of our lives, I purposefully glossed over one topic. I learned to naturally skip over being bipolar. After all, no one wants to be defined by a chronic disease.

When we went to the beach or camping, I'd hide my medication by putting my pills in a vitamin bottle, or a few pills in the bottom of my makeup case. I avoided talking about my family's mental health history since that would be a tip that I was either managing something or potentially not well.

I never talked about mental health on casual dates. We had a mutual understanding of keeping things light.

This loafer-wearing guy was hunting for his perfect wife. He was looking for the entire package and that didn't include a pre-existing condition. He was under-informed and misinformed about mental conditions. He made jokes about crazy people. It was too hard to break his preconceived notions of people like me and it wasn't worth the effort because I wasn't going to pass his tests.

Lesson: An omission is not lying, but it can get more complicated to talk about "it" as time passes.

Simpatico

One way to avoid secrets is to date someone like you.

During one group therapy many summers ago, I met a guy. He was a wanderer with a goatee and lived with his mom in the suburbs. When he asked me to hang out after the session, it was clear he needed transportation more than me. He directed me to random places like an office supply place and a hardware store to pick up a gallon of paint.

After running all of his errands, there was little to say. We easily covered the meds I was taking (one) and all of his (many), which wasn't his problem in my eyes. He asked me if I had any side effects from my daily medication. I said, "Not yet."

The chemistry had cooled from earlier in the circle, so I returned him to his mom's house. It was a good try, my only attempt to be with someone who understood me because we were going through something similar.

Lesson: Being the same does not equal a great match.

Deepest Love

It's pretty much impossible to locate this person.

No one wears this qualification on their sleeve. My former boyfriend/now husband and life partner had experience with bipolar girlfriends. Plural. He knew the best bipolar recipe of well-being before we met at happy hour, became friends, and then went on our first sushi date years later. He knew the importance of sleeping, taking medication, and seeing a good therapist.

When you feel it's safe to discuss your mental health history, you can outline your trials and how you currently manage yourself.

When I told him about my personal health challenges and family history, he stepped in to support mode. When he met my mother months later, she warned him, "Living with a bipolar is a lifetime commitment." He declared that he would be the one for the job.

Lesson: It might be a long shot to find a guy with this particular experience, but you can nurture a partner through education.

It's not easy to be vulnerable when you are dating.

When you feel it's safe to discuss your mental health history, you can outline your trials and how you currently manage yourself. You can educate your special person about the condition. This conversation can serve as a reference point, when you need help. After medication and following the guidance of your therapist, support from your loved ones is key. When you are open, you might also learn about their medical or mental health challenges and how you might support them.

Managing your mind and moods alone can be scary. Stepping out and talking about it can lead to a healthier relationship where someone else knows everything about you.

5 min read
Self

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.