DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I read your piece about asking for help, and it really struck a chord with me, because last year I was diagnosed with depression. The good news is that I’m getting counseling and medication to help me with the issue, and shortly after the episode that led to the diagnosis I met someone who has now become my first girlfriend. I’m not out of the woods yet, but the issues are easier to handle now that I can open up and talk about them with my family.
My question is: when would be an appropriate time to tell my new girlfriend about these issues? I’ve come a bit later to dating/relationships than most other people do, so this is kind of an unusual situation for me. But I feel like she could be a really good support, particularly since she’s the only person (besides my therapist) living in the same city as me who I might feel comfortable talking about this stuff with.
No Clever Acronym
DEAR NO CLEVER ACRONYM: First of all NCA, congratulations on doing so well. Depression is a heavy burden to bear (Winston Churchill – who dealt with chronic depression himself – used to call it “the black dog”) and there are a lot of well-meaning-but-ignorant people who don’t get just how hard it hits you. The fact that you’ve gotten treatment and have someone you can talk to is huge and you should be proud of yourself for taking those steps. And it’s great that you’re able to talk to folks who aren’t your therapist; the support of your social circle is incredibly important when it comes to your mental health and emotional well-being.
Now, as for when you should tell your girlfriend? Honestly, the quick and dirty answer is “when you feel comfortable doing so”, which I realize isn’t necessarily helpful when it comes to issues like mental health. Some people are understandably nervous about divulging that they have an issue like depression and get worried about when, how or even if to disclose. As a result, they tend to end up overthinking things.
The biggest questions are, simply, where are you in the relationship and how much does your issue affect your day to day life? If you’re sharing intimate details of your life beyond the surface issues – less “what do you want to do with your life in the future” and more “here’s these deep and meaningful things about me” – then you’re likely in a good position to talk about your depression. Similarly, if you’re still having black days on the regular – and believe me, even with meds and therapy, they can happen – then it’s worth bringing up just so that she understands what’s going on in your life.
Now as for how you tell her: just lay it out there as plainly and neutrally as you can. People – especially people you’re intimate with – will follow your lead on how you tell them about things from your life. The last thing you want to do is roll this out like it’s something dark and shameful; it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s an issue that you have that you’re dealing with and are bringing under control, and one that lots of people have. When I’ve told people, I usually phrased it along the lines of: “Just so you know: I’ve been wrestling with chronic depression. I’m getting treatment and talking to a counselor, but occasionally I’ll have bad days; don’t worry, I’ve been learning how to handle them.”
Your girlfriend may have some questions – answer them as best as you can, even if the answer is “I don’t know”. She may not fully understand at first, but if she’s a cool person (presumably she is, otherwise you wouldn’t be dating her) and she cares about you, she’ll at least try to.
While not exactly guidebooks on dealing with depression, you may want to check out Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney and Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. Ellen and Allie both write about life and relationships while dealing with depression (or bipolar manic-depression in Forney’s case) – including talking to friends and lovers about the issue. And they’re excellent books as well.
And while I doubt you have anything to worry about, it’s understandable that you may be nervous about telling your girlfriend that you’re dealing with depression. Even in this day and age, there’s still stigma attached to mental health issues. But here’s the thing: if someone reacts badly to your telling them that you’re dealing with depression, they’ve just told you something critical that you needed to know about ’em: that you’re probably better off not seeing them. To paraphrase Dan Savage: you’ve told them one thing about yourself; their reaction tells you everything about them.
But honestly? I think you’re gonna be fine. If she’s as awesome as you think, then yeah, she will be a good source of support for you.
Good luck, NCA.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Dear Dr. NerdLove,
First off, thank you so much for all that you do. It was due to one of your articles that, about six months ago, I went to see a therapist about some issues (mainly confidence and anxiety) and I’m on the right track toward being a happier person. I owe you one.
My question has to do with the appropriate way to leverage my job to finding dates. I work at a library (yes, it’s the best job ever, if you were wondering) and as a result I get to meet and chitchat with people on a consistent basis. Sometimes these people are women, and sometimes I just really want to ask them out.
I mean, not only do I get to see and talk to them, but I’ve got a leg-up on what they’re into and a conversation topic built right in, you know?
“Oh, you’re learning Sanskrit, that’s neat!”
“Is this your first time reading A Canticle for Leibowitz? It’s my favorite book!”
And so on.
So conversation and small talk aren’t the issue. That comes automatically with every patron. The problem is that I don’t know how, or if it’s even appropriate, to take it to the next level with some of them.
I’ve spent a lot of my life telling myself that a waitress or a cashier or whoever isn’t into me, it’s just their job to be friendly. Now I’m the one whose job is to be friendly, so how do I actually make myself clear that I’m not just being nice to a person because I have to, I’m being nice because in the space of about five minutes I’ve decided that she’s pretty neat and I’d like to know her better?
Thanks so much for all you do,
Crazy In The Stacks
DEAR CRAZY IN THE STACKS: Hoo boy. Don’t take this the wrong way, CITS but… this is a REALLY bad idea.
Now strictly speaking, yes it’s possible to successfully ask a customer or patron out while you’re at work. But a) it’s Dating 301 at best and b) it has the potential to go horribly, catastrophically wrong all over the place if you screw up.
Let’s put it this way: depending on the type of library you’re working at, people are rarely going there just to hang out and socialize. Most of the time, they’re there with a purpose – to study, to find specific resources, etc. Your job is to assist them in this matter and to help keep the library organized and in working order. This makes you, in many ways, part of the public face of the library. If you’re busy flirting with a patron, then you’re not doing your job, which is hindering their goals. Worse, if they feel like you’re using your position at the library to try to pick up women… well, that can make some people feel incredibly uncomfortable and then they’ll feel less comfortable using the library. And that, in turn, can make trouble for you. Like, lose your job trouble.
And as much as I hate to say it: there’s a gendered element to this. As I’ve said before: women have more to fear from men than men have to fear from women, and most women have had the experience of dudes hitting on them and not taking “no thank you” very well. And when they’re in a position of needing something from you… well that’s not a comfortable place for them to be in.
So having said all that: there’s nothing wrong with chatting and being friendly to the patrons while you’re on the job. That’s just good customer service. But while you’re on the job, unless you’re VERY well socially calibrated, flirting is a bad idea. The best thing you can do is keep things very light and very low-key and let them lead with any flirty behavior. Make yourself approachable and let things build over time – be the cool, fun-to-talk-to guy at the library that they’re happy to see when they come in. That way, when they realize that they’d like to get to know you better, they’ll feel more confident about either sending very clear signals that they’d like to see you after work… or they’ll ask you out.