Dating With Schizophrenia
Dating is hard. Dating when you are overweight is harder. Dating when you are a big dude with a serious mental illness is nearly impossible.\
I’ve had a little success dating in the nearly 10 years I’ve lived with schizophrenia. But there are a lot of obstacles. Schizophrenia is a terrifying word for many people. It conjures up ideas of murderous intent, lack of control and a host of other scary things.
I live with this word, though; I am the word. But it is not a word you can just drop into a conversation and follow with “It’s not a big deal, though.”
I seem to fall in love easily, but it’s always with women who don’t feel the same way about me. I have seen more rejection than I care to admit, putting myself on the line like that, and it’s been a chore for me not to let my emotions get the best of me.
If it’s not outright rejection, it seems to be something else that always seems to happen.
I can remember one date I went on some months back. She was a big woman with blonde hair and eyes that had that squinty “I’m up to no good” look. We met over Match.com, and I was struck by how much time she spent going to Phish shows. Her profile was scattered with a number of bands that I had loved at different points in my life.
She was a teacher, and she mentioned in her profile something along the lines that because of her love of sparkles, arts-and- crafts, and rainbows, she was a 6-year-old in a woman’s body. Before I knew it, I was asking if she wanted to go get a beer. She said yes, a little too eagerly I thought.
I got to the restaurant about 15 minutes early and ordered a beer, apprehensive knowing that eventually I would have to tell her about my illness. Soon enough she walked in, and I was struck by the fact that she seemed a little disappointed to be there. There was no smile as she sat down to join me.
I asked how she was and, after almost 45 minutes, I felt I knew just about every detail of her life. She had ordered a couch that was too big for her living room. She had a plumbing leak in her apartment. She had spent her weekend making tie-dye onesies for her infant niece. I had barely said a word.
Finally she asked me what I did for a living, and I told her I write about mental illness. What came next were the inevitable questions: How did I get into that? Did I have personal experience? At that point I had no choice but to disclose my diagnosis, and after a trip to the bathroom to collect herself, she came back with more questions. Was I dangerous? Had I ever killed anybody? Needless to say the date was over shortly thereafter.
Sometimes the stigma of mental illness is a deal breaker. Other times I’ve noticed it’s me who can’t take the idea of being in a relationship.
Another first date several months later, with a woman with black hair who worked in Americorps. went better. We had started talking on OkCupid about our favorite comedians, then met at a brewery tasting room. Things were going well, and my disclosure to her about my mental illness was followed by the inevitable trip to the bathroom. She came back, though, and told me that she had struggled with a pretty severe case of anxiety. If nothing else we had that in common.
We texted back-and-forth for several days afterward, but this time I noticed it was me who couldn’t take the idea of being in a relationship. Whether it was fear at the thought of being committed to someone else, the raw vulnerability of being that close to someone, the feeling that I was in over my head, or just the fact that the spark wasn’t there, I ended it. I’m still not entirely sure why. She was great, and I still feel guilty about it.
Trust is a major issue for me, the crux of my daily symptoms revolves around paranoia that people are judging me and making fun of me, so trusting someone new that fast is, in the simplest terms, extremely difficult. On top of that, one of the major obstacles of living with schizophrenia is the fact that if I feel overwhelmed, I kind of go a little wacky. The paranoia spikes, and I can retreat into a fog of depression that can last for months. Usually it happens with pressure from work, but relationships are a huge source of stress. It’s tough to even think about.
To say I’m scared would be an understatement. Contending with the elephant of schizophrenia that sits in the middle of the room is never fun.
I’d love to get married some day, but for now I’ve resorted to the mantra, “Don’t chase people, just keep being awesome and you’ll attract the right person.”
I’d like to just let it happen naturally.