I ardently promote the idea that love connects us all. Familial love, the love between friends, a general sense of love for the world – it brings us together in our quest for sound mental health and a stable sense of belonging. Love is that big box of everything good about Homo sapiens. At our best, human beings are sentient creatures whose sole purpose is to love.
It’s a many splendored thing. It’s all around. It’s all you need. Puppy love, same love, higher love. It’s the greatest love of all. It’s a groovy kind of love. Love will keep us together – that’s the power of love. Real love. Big love. What’s love got to do with it? Love is the answer.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Centuries before the greeting card Casanovas seduced us with red lace and chocolates, it was randy Brit wordsmith Geoffrey Chaucer, who, with his epic poem “The Parliament of Foules”, turned the Greco-Roman February mash-up into a hi-def holiday superstar. So before you settle in for a night of rom-com rentals and shovelfuls of cherry-ripple-fudge, set aside any contempt prior to investigation and let Science offer its empirical Valentine: love is in our genes.
There’s a charming little neuro-hypophysial hormone called oxytocin whose primary job (in the most simplistic terms) is to regulate the electrically excitable cells in the brain. Oxytocin is known to effect numerous emotional responses and social behaviors, even improving one’s psychological perceptions. And although this may sound like a videogame reference, once it passes through the Seven-Transmembrane Domain Receptors, oxytocin’s peripheral actions can include trust building, altruism, empathy, and, remarkably, improved memory for happy faces.
Romantic attachment, sexual arousal, pair bonding, and initiation of maternal instincts are all behavioral effects considered to be directly linked to the influence of oxytocin. What’s more, it appears to protect against anxiety, stress, and fear, eliciting feelings of security and contentment. While it has other more varied and complex duties to perform, enriching our social interactions has earned oxytocin it’s nickname, “The Love Hormone”.
So with all of that Science to back me up, why am I still single?
Well, in addition to the overabundant levels of dopamine – that neurotransmitter responsible for motivation and expression in my multicolored grey matter – there appears to be a sizable deficit of oxytocin, directly relatable to the negative symptoms of schizophrenia: isolation, social withdrawal, and flattened or blunted affect. In situations which, to a normal person, might seem wholly exciting or sad, I get to be on the other side of the looking glass – watching and wishing but never quite belonging.
The excess of dopamine in my limbic system effects my ability to comprehend language nuances accurately; the lowered levels of oxytocin impair my ability to understand social cues. When I’m nervous, the result is often a blank face, word salad, or both. Confusing for everyone involved.
For instance, I recently found myself butterfly-tummied in the presence of The Most Beautiful Barista in Coffee Town. I had every intention of complimenting her, but inadvertently, albeit sincerely, blurted, “Tiara’s sparkle like snow motion cacti.” What could have been the most adorable meet-cute in the history of cafe romance was sabotaged by my mental illness. She stared right through me. I was the Schizo in Wonderland. I tried to apologize for being abstruse. Words tumbled out of my mouth like miniature Scrabble tiles, rearranging themselves to read “Thank you Henry, but your Princess is in another castle.”
Schizophrenia’s negative symptoms can sometimes create relationship challenges. Family members might assume that I’m being aloof, when in fact I am longing to be included. Friends may perceive a one-sided tête-à- tête, while I’m convinced that we’re chatting fifty-fifty. My respect for a lover comes straight from the heart, but my mix-tapes sound like dust bunnies on the moon. I’ve had but three awkward dates in the past eight years. Each woman only wanted to know if my best friend was single and available. Ever the gentleman, I paid for tea and cookies so that they could have his number. Which is not a bad thing at all. Call me Cupid.
Every week, every session, I run my List of Reasons Why I’m Single past my therapist: I’m fat, old, ugly, poor, and crazy. So we talk about my eating disorder. She reminds me that age is relative, that looks are subjective. It’s true that I’m on disability and that I live with a mental illness. It’s also true that I’m a person and I’m worth knowing. There is more here than meets the eye. So I’m not giving up just yet. The List is not the Truth. Hurdles are just hurdles. You can’t hurry love.
Henry Boy Jenkins is a Seattle artist, writer, and musician living with schizophrenia. He received his diagnosis in 2010 and has been managing his illness with a passion ever since. He is currently writing a memoir chronicling his experiences with schizophrenia and trauma in the hope that people living with a mental illness – as well as those who love and care for them – will find something in his story that compels them to share their own. Publicly open in his advocacy for awareness and change, Henry focuses on education and communication as the most effective tools in any superhero’s utility belt. Honesty and courage work hand-in-hand to combat stigma.