I’ve never been in a relationship. I’ve been on dates, sure, but none of the potential relationships lasted past the second date.
I’ve heard that I’m picky, that I’m not vulnerable enough or that I’m just plain afraid of being in a relationship. I don’t think others’ thoughts hold any real bearing on my thoughts and emotions when the prospect of a relationship presents itself.
I know what I’m looking for. I know what my type is. Either because of a poor fit or because I’ve been too nervous, pushy or paranoid, it’s never clicked.
For the last eight years, I’ve had a major red flag hanging over my head: the diagnosis of a major mental illness. When exactly do you tell someone that you have schizophrenia? That alone is almost assuredly a relationship killer.
I have been symptomatically stable for years. Although there have been periods of uncertainty and minor episodes, there has never been the stereotypical hundreds of phone calls in a single night threatening to kill myself that most people would associate with a crazy lover. I’ll be the first to admit that at times my impulse control has been a little out of whack, but never to that degree.
There also have been times when I completely misread a situation as flirting when it was simply friendly joking or being nice. That’s cost me a couple of friendships that afterward I regretted screwing up.
I am a good guy, though. My friends say so, and my parents say so. Their concessions, however, mean little in the heat of the moment when a girl asks “So what do you do,” and I respond “I’m a writer for Salon.” She’ll then inevitably ask what I write about and I’ll inevitably tell her that I write about issues facing mental illness and schizophrenia.
Of course, she will then ask if I have a background in psychology and that’s when I have to make a decision. Do I tell her that I was diagnosed with schizophrenia eight years ago after I took a trip to the U.N. where I thought I was a prophet and I was trying to save the world? Do I tell her an outright lie, something along the lines of “My brother has schizophrenia” or that I majored in psychology when in fact I only ever took intro to psych but my illness has made me an expert, or do I simply say “I just have a history with the subject” and leave it at that?
The truth is, for the longest time I was a nervous wreck and I doubt I would have been able to consider datingwithout stressing out and losing a little bit of my grip on reality. In most of my dating encounters the subject of schizophrenia may have never even been broached, but it’s scary to imagine what would’ve happened had it been.
In situations where the ice has broken and they know, though, it quickly devolves from a date to a several-hour-long explanation of all of their anxieties and drug problems and psychological history simply because they trust me with the information. Once that happens, it’s hard to find someone attractive, and whether I like it or not a friendship, perhaps dysfunctional at that, has been formed. I don’t consider this a bad thing and I’m always up for listening, but I just kind of wish it had gone another way.
I won’t judge you if you tell me these things. I will listen to you for hours and give you my perspective if you ask for it, but at this point I’d rather cuddle with someone than listen to their history of drug abuse and emotional anxiety.
There also exists in the mental illness community the idea that people like us can’t possibly date non-mentally ill people unless they’re psychiatric doctors or nurses or unless they have some history with mental illness in their families. The belief is that no one can truly understand what it’s like to have a mental illness unless they’ve either experienced it or been around it for a long part of their lives.
I don’t think that should be a limitation. After all, everyone has anxieties, everyone has insecurities, everyone has a little paranoia from time to time so, to a degree, everyone can kind of relate.
I’ve come to the point in my life, though, that I’ve accepted my insecurities. I’m as confident in myself as ever and I know what I can and can’t do. I think that dating is something that I might be able to do. I think that maybe, if given the chance, I could find the right time to kiss a girl, I could find the right time to tell her that I think she’s beautiful and I could find the right time to let her know she’s loved.
Call me a romantic, but I think love can exist for a person with schizophrenia if the conditions are right. It can exist if the friendship is there, if the stability is there, if the humor is there and if the self-confidence is there.
Sadly, stability, humor and self-confidence are things that don’t come easy for people with major mental illnesses. It takes work and it takes time to develop those things. I do think, though, that it can happen, and not just with people who are also sick but with actual normal human beings. At least I would hope for as much.