This last SharePost of the month will talk about schizophrenia and relationships.
In the fall of 2007, when I first started working here, I interviewed Jim, the founder of NoLongerLonely, an Internet dating service for people diagnosed with mental illnesses. Since then, TrueAcceptance also offers the chance to be matched. Read my NoLongerLonely Interview here.
The two online dating sites operate on the premise that because everyone has a diagnosis, we'll be more accepting and open to meeting each other. The diagnosis is the icebreaker and after that you have to prove yourself, just like in any relationship.
In my humble opinion, a diagnosis of schizophrenia becomes irrelevant to who you are, thus it is not stigmatizing, when you have a "full and robust" life of your own choosing.
As a guy I interviewed for SZ magazine suggested, "The point of recovery is to be in relationships. If you can't open up to and trust a few people, it will be harder to be in a relationship."
I take my medication every day as prescribed. It takes every ounce of energy and active dedication and hard work to succeed. It would be a heartbreak for me to date a guy with SZ or BP who refused to take medication. Would I have the ability to take on the role of actively managing someone else's illness full-time, in addition to mine?
The option of dating a guy who is not a peer is appealing, even if, as a friend warned, "Everybody's weird." Nobody's totally normal.
For those of us who want to try dating other people, the Schizophrenia: Public Attitudes, Personal Needs survey (conducted by NAMI, June 2008) revealed:
"80 percent of members of the general public expressed discomfort with the prospect of dating someone with schizophrenia who has not received treatment, compared to only 49 percent if the person has received treatment."
This is understandable. The odds are OK that a guy would want to date you or me if we were in treatment. It's half and half. So we can look on the bright side.
I've written elsewhere that people with schizophrenia need to take their medication and stay in treatment as part of the social covenant of living with others in society.
It's only fair that a guy wouldn't want to date a woman who didn't take responsibility for her own health. It would take a supreme amount of open-mindedness to overlook the fact that your untreated lover was actively symptomatic.
We need to look on the bright side.
I would tell anyone:
Just be yourself. Be authentic and own up to the idea that we're all vulnerable as human beings. Take the risk to be in relationships, because love is worth the risk.
The survey's unspoken twist is that a not insignificant number of guys would date us gals with SZ. I'm reading the book Love In 90 Days by Diana Kirschner who gives some good techniques for connecting with another person socially or romantically:
Imagine that the guy or woman you meet on your first date is your best friend. Take an eager interest in him or her and smile and use his or her first name repeatedly in the conversations.
Create a 10-second sound bite for when the person asks you what you do for a living. Instead of saying, "I'm a writer and librarian," I would say, "I uplift and inspire people to change their lives for the better."
Give the person you're meeting your Complete Focus, that is, ask him or her open-ended questions and get the person talking about his or her life and passions, instead of running on and on about your own life and making the focus all about you.
Use the generosity networking technique. Be kind and generous to the people you meet, whether it's on a date or at an event.
In the book I read, the author described how a woman wearing a beautiful necklace was in the receiving line to speak with a political figure. As it got to be her turn, the esteemed woman said she loved the necklace, and the unknown woman took it off her neck and gave it to the politician. This instantly impressed the public figure who introduced the other woman to influential people.
Read my Bruni in the City: The Dating Game newspaper article on my website about my own experiences lately and my Top 10 Tips for a Successful First Date.
I once bought white dessert plates with a fortune cookie design on them out of which a fortune greeted you. The fortune I take to heart is "Love is Worth the Risk." Another fortune boasts "Suppose You Get What You Want."
Life involves taking risks, and recovery is no different. In recovery as in life, there are no guarantees.
I submit that taking the risk to live in love and to risk rejection is the only healthy thing to do. Just remember: you will be doing the rejecting too. The two of you might not be a match because of something that has nothing to do with your diagnosis.
Two websites, Chemistry and eHarmony, offer quizzes you can take to help you narrow your potential matches to the most compatible. (These are only links; HealthCentral doesn't endorse them or vouch for them.)
As always, exchange phone numbers only after you've talked online or via e-mails securely and long enough to get an idea of whether you want to go further. Meet in a public place. Women: carry a cell phone and enough money for a cab home should you have to cut the date short because the other person isn't on the level.
Note: every dating advice book I've read will tell you to use a condom and not have sex until you've qualified that the other person is the one you want to commit to.
Diana Kirschner tells women to date three guys at once, and as a guy falls away, you meet a new guy, until you get a feel for which guy is The One. This helps you not get clouded by the "love hormone" or oxytocin, that makes you keep a guy around who you're sleeping with who is undesirable or actually toxic. You only get physical with the one guy of the three who wins the crown of your heart.
As with any relationship, get out when there are signs of domestic violence.
I'll end here by reminding everyone to look on the bright side. It's possible to find true love and I hope I've inspired you to risk taking the chance on love if this is what you want.
The first SharePost in May will talk about National Mental Health Awareness Month.