Nine years without a kiss. Without so much as a hug. Without intimate contact of any kind. Over three-thousand days and nights without human touch. Celibate. Unthinkably so, and not by choice.
A person is defined by body, mind, and soul, yet I’m missing a third of the pie. It’s Valentine’s Week and I’m watching the rest of the country have their slice à la mode. Were I of a different mettle, I would have caved by now. I believe in miracles, but some days that’s easier said than done.
Finding a partner is often more challenging for those of us living with a mental illness than it is for “normal” people. The stakes are higher because the risk of rejection is more likely. We know that we’ll have to disclose our diagnosis if we ever hope to makes friends or be in a lasting relationship. Invariably, we will be dealing with stigma on both sides of the arrangement.
Told too often that there are plenty of fish in the sea, we reply we’re not interested in the life aquatic. No one appreciates being patronized. We have the same needs and longings as any other human being. Love is not relegated to intellectual pursuits alone, otherwise clones would be legal and dating superfluous. We’d be carbon copies of one another, agamic little bots with no use for chocolates or unmentionables. Where’s the fun in that?
While I’ve experienced acceptance among the free thinking faithful, I have yet to see a shift in thought when it comes to the scariest notion the public can muster: frisky shenanigans among the mentally ill.
“Oh, my stars, Martha – what if they breed? Won’t that just create more of them? Like rabbits, those people! There ought to be a law!”
Right. For centuries, those laws kept like genders from conjoining, differing ages from uniting, and divergent races from blending. And how did love respond to that? With advocacy, education, hard work, and votes. Change is inevitable, especially where the human condition is concerned.
Greeting cards and negliges have little to do with acknowledging Cupid, but that shouldn’t stop the champagne-and-flowers set from diving deep into the bubble bath of romance and tomfoolery associated with the annual tipping of the pink doily hat. Cartoon prurience is a joy to celebrate, and I, for one, champion their right to indulge. How to join that legion of lovers is the challenge, and by challenge I mean formidable undertaking.
I’ve dated twice this decade, and in both cases the person I was with told me that they were more interested in obtaining my best friend’s phone number than they were of being out with me. Despite my mental illness, I put my best efforts into both of those occasions. I listened intently to my two dates’ individual stories, allowing them plenty of room to share their experience. I stayed engaged in the conversation. I appeared confident because I felt confident. I wanted them to feel comfortable with me, so I showed that I was comfortable with myself. In the end, I still gave them my buddy’s number. That’s what friends are for.
In therapy I learned that being willing and open rewards us with a greater knowledge of ourselves and one another. This helps cement the foundation of any relationship. When asked, I’ll tell the truth. I’m not ashamed that I have schizophrenia. It shouldn’t come between us. Based on results it has – nine years without a kiss – but that speaks more to the stigma surrounding schizophrenia that it does to the person that I am. I may live with a mental disorder, but it’s only one-third of the pie.
I crave love and respect as much as anyone does, so I need to be honest and frank from the very beginning. I need to pay attention to how a person responds to me, so that I can get a glimpse of how they feel about mental health. If they’re willing to challenge the social norms and understand that I deal with my own self-stigma, then between the two of us we have a chance. It won’t be easy, I know that going in, but it will be an adventure, and one worth taking.
When mental illness is a part of the picture it takes more effort than some people are willing to give, but I’ve seen it work. I know couples where one partner or the other manages a difficult diagnosis and they both live through the facets of that illness together with strength and grace. They might even throw in a bubble bath or two.
If there truly is someone for everyone, then I welcome whatever the future holds. In the meantime, I’ll remain Rated: M – for Me.