The Dating Game: Romance and Mental Illness

By June 15, 2017Blog

I have absolutely no idea how to go about dating. All I hear is that it’s hard to do. I’ve been out of the pool for so long that I’m at a loss how to go about even starting up a conversation which leads to flirtation, let alone an actual date. I’ve seen plenty of romantic comedies. There’s always the “meet cute” that gets the ball rolling. But how do I do that as a person living with schizophrenia?

I recently brought this topic up with my two best friends. I wanted to get a perspective from both a woman and a man. I voiced my concerns about dating and they honored them with grounded advice. The one thing that kept coming up was to let go of my fear that someone would find my schizophrenia a deterrent. That’s harder than it sounds.

I’ve had the unpleasant experience of being responded to flatly when I’ve disclosed my diagnosis to a possible new friend. One person even asked me, “Is this something that you say to every girl you go to coffee with?” I took that to mean that she was somehow offended. My friends suggested that maybe she was flattered by the honesty of my disclosure. I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps she was. We didn’t get past the coffee.

Of all the things that I am, schizophrenic is only one component. I’m also a writer, a musician, an avid movie collector, and an artist. That I have a mental illness is only one aspect of my life, not my entire life. It’s easy to get wrapped around the axel and believe that others can sense my symptoms through my shyness or awkward social behavior when, really, I’m the only one who notices.

My friends assured me that I’m a charmer when I’m being my authentic self. Which brought me back to the question of how to meet someone to share that authentic self with. Because of the role it plays in my life, they suggested meeting people who were like-minded when it came to mental health advocacy. Meeting someone with a similar passion might be just the ticket.

 

The real problem that I face concerning dating is self-stigma. I can’t imagine myself ever disclosing my diagnosis again for fear of being rejected, but that is precisely what I’ll have to do if I ever expect to form a special bond with another person. I would have to hold myself accountable for feeling insecure about opening up to that degree, and I’d have to be willing to accept the other person’s interpretation of my being forthcoming.

Some might say, “Just tell them. If they can’t handle the truth, they’re not the one for you.” I find that to be a somewhat counterproductive way of looking at it, because by the time I’d be willing to open up about having schizophrenia, I would already have determined that the person would be compassionate and caring enough to accept an admission of something so personal. Then again, I’m a trusting sort when I’m not dealing with symptoms of paranoia.

It’s hard not to let my mental illness take center stage in my life. I begin each day with medication, spend hours writing, doing research, and reading about mental illness, and finish my day with another helping of medicine. So the illness and its culture are with me every minute of the day.

Do I want to disclose my diagnosis to a complete stranger? No, of course not. Am I willing to be open and honest with a prospective date? Absolutely, when the time is right. It’s not an easy thing to let someone in. It’s compounded when I share details of my diagnosis. I have no idea how they’ll respond. It seems to be a deal breaker that overshadows the “meet cute” and everything that follows.

The public’s misconception of schizophrenia is almost as confusing as the illness itself. To share my diagnosis is to open up the Pandora’s Box of misunderstanding and presuppositions inherent in the social apprehension surrounding the illness. I would have to be brave and rely on other aspects of my personality to make the connection.

I long to share myself with someone. I’ve grown tired of living a single’s life because of my mental illness. I want the intimacy and joy that come from communicating one-on-one with the right person. And that means I will have to talk about mental health, mine in particular. I have to be brave and not glance in the rearview mirror. There’s nothing back there worth looking at. I can only go forward. I have to believe that I’m worthy of love and that my mental illness won’t stand in the way.

5 Comments

  • Jan says:

    I think my mental illness combined with the environment in which I grew up, have convinced that I am incapable of initiating and maintaining a relationship.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you for commenting, Jan. I understand how environmental causes can have an adverse affect on seeking out and/or maintaining a relationship, as I face something similar myself, and was the impetus behind my writing this piece. My own self-stigma gets in the way more often than not. Still, all that considered, I hope that one day having a mental illness won’t be grounds for rejection. Thanks again for writing in.

  • Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. As someone who also suffers from schizophrenia, I have constantly told myself that I am better off alone, because I am afraid of what the reaction to telling them might be, and I am ultimately scared of feeling like a burden to someone down the road. So I tell myself that I’m not meant to have someone special in my life. But you know what? That mentality gets old really fast. I know I should focus more on the positive, that someone who really cared about me it wouldn’t matter to them. I should tell myself that I too am worthy of love. Yes, it’s taking a chance, but like with most aspects of life, if you don’t take that chance then you’ll never know what might have been. Yes my diagnosis is schizophrenia, but that’s not what defines me, and if that’s such a problem for someone, then they clearly were never the one for me anyway! Again thank you for sharing. It’s always nice to feel like I can relate to someone, and that I’m not the only one dealing with these issues regarding mental illness.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Sarah, thank you for your comment. It does me good to hear from someone else with schizophrenia—it means the blog is working.

      I, too, I tell myself that I’m not meant to have someone special in my life, but it always feels uncomfortable when I say that. I have a whole litany of reasons why someone would not chose me, or why I’m undateable, my mental illness being at the top of the list. But you’re right—that mentality gets old really fast because I know that I’m worth loving. Our diagnoses do not define us; we’re so much more than a list of symptoms. Here’s to a brighter future!

  • smileandrelax says:

    I have so much experience with this issue, HBJ! And my reflection is that the reality of dating with mental illness is ten thousand realities, i.e., every relationship formed is unique. There is not any single “truth” when it comes to relationships, with or without mental illness.

    Upon sharing my mental illness, I have had men who: a) embraced me compassionately; b) freaked out and dumped me; c) shrugged as if they already knew all women were crazy anyhow; and d) told me there is no such thing as mental illness. And a bunch of other encounters, too varied to describe…

    I think you are probably on to something when you say your illness is just one aspect of who you are. My beloved man (who has schizophrenia) visited me earlier this week, a 5 hour drive each way… he picked me up from work, we went to a concert together, he slept over, dropped me back at my office in the morning, and then drove home. We had fun talking, enjoyed the music, threw a late night snack together from the pantry and the fridge, fell fast asleep, and then chatted until 9am when my workday began. He apologized for not being as “present” as he wanted to be but other than that, his illness – and my illness – were not at the forefront of our time together. Camraderie and shared taste in music was…

    BUT I will also say that both of us has symptoms from time to time and each of us has decided independently that the challenges of illness don’t cancel out the value of our connection, even when those challenges really, really suck and are draining. There have been long spaces of time when we did not connect in any way because relating had become too difficult or too exhausting. With perseverance and with therapy, each of us continues to gain coping skills to better manage our experiences with one another. These skills include giving the relationship a ton of breathing room and rather unclear definition. We are not a couple, in any traditional sense of that word. We are friends, who are sometimes intimate, and who permit one another a lot of freedom to evaluate what is right for one another… and then who may argue about what is fair, but who agree to respect each other’s decisions.

    This has been a friendship that at times has been deeply painful. Over time, it’s been healing and therapeutic, though. It is illusions about love and relating, and misguided, unrealistic expectations that caused pain, along with low self-esteem. With therapy, each of us has learned to have a more sensible idea of what we can give and what we can get from ourselves and each other. Each of us has learned to value what that is – to value ourselves where we are, with any limits that arise, too. To embrace our weaknesses.

    And we are still working on it.

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