Dating with an Invisible Illness

July 27, 2023 Natasha Tracy


Dating with an invisible illness has its pitfalls. When do you tell someone about your illness? When do you explain the impacts your illness has on your life? How do you try to make an invisible illness visible to the person you're dating? My own forays into the dating pool have been making me think about just these questions.

Dating with an Invisible Illness -- The First Big Question

The first big question you face when you date with an invisible illness is when to tell the other person. Despite what some prejudiced people seem to believe, there is no way to look at another person and tell they have a mental illness. This makes the illness a secret you keep, and to me, that feels dishonest. Bipolar disorder takes up such space in my life that I feel like not telling the person I'm dating about my invisible illness is practically lying to them from the jump.

Of course, for me, this question usually answers itself pretty quickly. As soon as someone finds out who I am or what I do, the illness is obvious. A reverse image search will also do the trick. I try not to encourage reading my work, at least initially, because it's nice for someone to get to know me before delving into my psyche, but, of course, people do what they do.

If you don't happen to be a mental health advocate, author, and speaker with a huge online presence, you have the choice as to when to divulge your invisible illness to the person you're dating. I would recommend sooner rather than later because if they walk when they find out, it's best that it happen early before you're attached.

Dating with an Invisible Illness -- Discussing Its Impacts

The thing is, even if you discuss the invisible illness with the person you're dating, and even if they aren't scared off by it, it's unlikely that they will understand the actual impact that illness has in your life. (They can't understand, of course, as it's different for everyone.)

"Do you want to go see Oppenheimer?" they may ask.

 This is a completely reasonable outing to have on a date. But do I want to see a film about one of the most depressing things to have ever been invented in the world that grapples with subjects like war and death? Um, no, I don't. That's a wee bit too depressing for me.

If my illness were visible, the other person would understand the contraindication, but it's not, so the other person has no idea that such a movie would likely make me sicker. So, I must explain to the person I'm dating that my invisible illness stops me from watching certain movies and TV shows. It stops me from listening to certain music. It stops me from staying out late. It stops me from doing many things that are normal for everyone else. And understandably, this may not make sense to the other person because they may have no personal experience upon which to draw and because I look perfectly normal in many circumstances. It's the invisibility that causes this incongruence. 

How to Approach Dating When You Have an Invisible Illness

On the one hand, you're like everyone else. On the other hand, you're deeply different. That's what makes it so tough -- you need to strike a balance between making those two points.

Yes, people with invisible illnesses date like anyone else, but no, people with invisible illnesses don't date the same way as everyone else. We have additional factors and limitations to take into account. 

When talking bout your invisible illness with the person you are dating, I suggest a few things:

  • Talk about the realities of your invisible illness. Be honest. While your illness may be invisible, you can't hide it forever, and don't want it to become a source of dishonesty.
  • Rehearse what you want to say. I write stuff in my head constantly; sometimes, this is a rehearsal for conversations yet to be had. You can also rehearse what you want to say with a friend or therapist. This can help you get through a conversation that you find challenging.
  • Don't create information overload; not everything has to be said at once.
  • Choose a good time to talk about your illness. The first date probably isn't it, and in flagrante delicto (while having sex) probably isn't a good time either.
  • Talk about your invisible illness at various stages of your relationship. For example, the person that you're casually dating doesn't need to know the things that the person you're serious about needs to know.
  • Stick to your treatment plan, including taking your medication, getting enough sleep. and eating well. While dating is fun, creating chaos in your illness and life is not worth it. 
  • Don't be ashamed. These things are hard to talk about, but rest assured, no one gets through this life without baggage -- they have something hard to talk about in their life too.
  • Get support. If you find this type of conversation hard or are scared about the outcome, get support before and have support available after in case it doesn't go well.

In short, there is nothing wrong with you for dating with an invisible illness, but its impacts are also something you can't (and shouldn't) ignore or keep secret.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2023, July 27). Dating with an Invisible Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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