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.