As I stood in the warm kitchen with my back up against the sink for support, trying to contain my anxiety, the voice inside my head kept repeating:
” You can shut this down right now”
“The escape is the backdoor, 2 steps to your left”,
“Don’t tell him you are crazy, he won’t want to be in a relationship with you”
This repeated in my head over and over and over again.
The warm breeze of late summer was making everything hotter than it should be. I kept reminding myself that there is an escape plan – the back door and my freedom was just steps away. I could be outside away from this conversation in less than 3 seconds.
In the summer of 2000, I had been dating Neil for a couple of months. You see I was following The Rules, one of which was don’t get serious on the 1st date. So I took the some of the advice and was casually dating for the 1st time in my life. My typical pattern was to meet a boy and almost instantly make him my boyfriend. I had never dated and I was 30 years old. I had gone from one boyfriend to the next and I had had it with how my romantic relationships had been going. I decided to only get “serious” with someone if there was true potential for life-long commitment. Hence the dating and The Rules.
Neil and I met on a blind date and spent the next couple of months getting to know each other. We would meet for a coffee, a meal or a walk and learn about each other. We had no history with each other so this ‘discovery” time was really critical for me to make a decision about getting serious. What I never discussed was my manic episode in 1997 and my Bipolar diagnoses. Each time we met, it was always in the back of my mind. If this relationship was going to get serious, I would want Neil to know about my “craziness” so that I could control when he found out, when and by whom. I also didn’t want to be wasting my time, you see I was at a point in my life that was critical, I wanted to get married and find my life mate but didn’t want to spend any time in a relationship that didn’t have potential. I couldn’t trust my relationship patterns of the past as an indicator of whether I was going to be successful, as I broke up every relationship I had (sorry guys) – I know that’s another issue for another blog, my point is I had to do something different – thank goodness for The Rules.
Back to Neil’s kitchen, our relationship was progressing really nicely and I was adamant that I wouldn’t get serious with him until he knew – so this was the big night. No matter what, I was going to tell Neil my story. It was hard to imagine that someone would not judge or shame me for it. This would be the first time I told someone about my mental health experience outside of talking about it with medical doctors.
Brené Brown says when you are going to tell someone about something you feel shame for, be sure they have earned the right to hear it. At that moment in the kitchen, there was something about Neil as he stood there talking to me, relaxed, attentive and strong. I somehow knew that he was the one I wanted to spend my time with, and I was willing to put it all on the line for him. I was clear that my “boyfriend” needed to accept me for who I am, with all my bumps, bruises, and imperfections. I didn’t know that he would be my husband but did know there was something about him that I could trust.
Sometimes telling someone about your mental health history,
is more about your own courage than anything else.
Neil and I are celebrating our 10 year anniversary this month. That night in the kitchen Neil was awesome. He didn’t react the way I had expected. It was more like I had told him I got my haircut than admitted to being mentally ill, committed to a psychiatric hospital twice, and on medication for the rest of my life to control my moods. He was so great about it. He asked me questions, I explained about the treatment and what I do to have support for the illness to ensure my success. I am blessed to have a man like this in my life. He is my best friend, best support and most importantly the person that breathes air into my life when I most need it.
Insights from my husband Neil Bennett
What do you see is your role in my mental health?
Neil: I see my role as the front line support. We spend the most time together. If you need something or have an issue I would be there on hand to help you through them.
What support do you find yourself providing?
Neil: I think I often find myself not knowing what support to give. Sometimes I forget you have this disorder. In the 12 years, we have been together you have been so strong that for me it is not a concern. I think that makes me lucky and also a bit unsure or naive. I have had the strong and independent Leslie. I have not had to see you at your worst. All I can give is my ear, my thoughts and my heart.
What concerns do you have of past, present or future re: my mental health?
Neil: My biggest concern is that I didn’t see you during the illness or the initial recovery. I never worry that you won’t be you. So my being somewhat naive is my concern.
What is the one thing you could offer as a piece of advice for those reading this?
Neil: Mental health affects us all. We all know someone affected by a mental health disorder. The best way to help is to educate yourself to help the loved one affected. And of course, let them know you love them and support their journey.