As with all preexisting labels, which some people term ‘baggage’, and others may akin to a mental health diagnosis, there is no question dating becomes more complicated with a psychiatric or medical condition. Simply stated, dating with a diagnosis is much more complex, problematic, and riddled with more expectations and appropriate use of self-disclosure than healthy courting. There are several reasons why finding a partner is more difficult when you are carrying a mental health diagnosis.
First of all, several questions immediately come to mind. For the person dating, these questions should come forefront for the person carrying the diagnosis and be mobilised to support a partner, loved one, wife or husband. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is the person who is supporting the partner with a disability, often privileged in their relationship, and in a position of relative power over the disabled member of the relationship.
I know from first-hand dating with a disclosed mental health condition some of these questions can be cutting, difficult to hear, and present a new sense of doubt in the relationship. As with all relationships in which one person has a disability, some of these questions can be: ‘Can he still work and support a potential family?’; ‘Is he safe to be around when he isn’t feeling well?’ or, ‘Can he be fully present while carrying this tremendous responsibility to take care of his condition?’
Without question, there are many questions people mull over when considering dating someone with a mental health condition, these are just a few questions my own partners have experienced concern over and stumbled upon during my past several relationships.
I’ll never forget the words of my first girlfriend at university when I dropped her off at her residence on the campus of Binghamton University for the last time when said said quite sharply: ‘You really are crazy, Max,’ before we ultimately parted ways.
As a Jewish American, the first time I celebrated Christmas with a family wasn’t until I was enrolled in graduate school. I was visiting my girlfriends family in upstate New York in the city of Delhi and it was the holiday season. Cheer, joy, and all the sudden, doubt filled the room while we were all opening presents and celebrating when my girlfriends’ parents discovered I was taking mood stabiliser medications and had recently been hospitalised for first episode psychosis a few years prior.
My girlfriend didn’t exactly hide my diagnosis, and I wasn’t exactly interested in being anything but open and honest about my history, so word got around the house quickly, and just as quickly as my diagnosis was learned about, her parents attitude towards me changed seemingly overnight. This was not coincidentally the day after my medication ‘turned up’ in her family’s washing machine when they did some of my laundry, as a guest courtesy.
My girlfriend advised me soon after the laundry was completed, that her mother was enquiring:’If he (that’s me) can still work and hold down a job?’ with my ‘issues’. Suddenly, I wasn’t the new family member invited to spend Christmas – I was assessed for my capacity and ability to maintain gainful employment. My illness was identified and marked for a potential prognosis, and the possibility of myself attaining a full recovery before entering the workforce or even worse, the likelihood of me needing care and be a drain on the resources of their future family.
I was once in a relationship that existed within the gates of a delusional system formed and marked by a constant stream of voices, cognitive distortions and hyper vigilance from uncontrolled mania. Given all of these problematic aspects of my own mental status back then, I shouldn’t have been totally shocked that I couldn’t find someone that was realistic, supportive and willing to be in an equal partnership with someone with an active diagnosis.
Sure, we all experience some level of distress at any given moment, but some of us just seem to naturally handle stress better than others or have learned, overtime, how to process dysfunction without becoming too overwhelmed by the impact of his partner’s symptoms. A good relationship will mean linking up with someone that compliments you and your need for productive rejuvenating self-care as well as residual or uncontrollable symptoms without also reacting to them.
Skills will get you only so far in furthering your relationship without having a partner truly interested in being there to witness you succeed in your self-care and healing. Just think that any expectations placed on your future success should be coming from you first, the person experiencing the distress and not your caretaker, caregiver, ally or anyone claiming to love you only when you can perform up to a certain standard of level of so called functioning.
People that are truly looking out for you and wanting the best for you aren’t surmising your medical value and supposing the chances of you becoming a future insurance burden. Mental health diagnosis aside, if it isn’t a diagnosis, it’ll be some other problem. So whatever it is that is getting in the way of you being happy in your relationship figure it it out like any other interpersonal problem out there complicating your happiness to connect with others.
Maxwell Guttman teaches social work at Fordham University. He is also a mental health correspondent for Psychreg where he shares his insights on recovery and healing based from his lived experience of schizophrenia – a journey which started as an undergraduate student at Binghamton University. His diagnosis of schizophrenia wasn’t formally recognised until he was admitted to the state hospital in upstate New York. On his spare time, Max blogs on self-management at Mental Health Affairs. You can connect with Max on Twitter @maxwellguttman