When you have a preexisting label, “baggage”, and a mental health diagnosis, there is no question dating becomes more complicated than healthy courting. There are several reasons why finding a partner is more difficult when you are carrying a mental health diagnosis. Several questions immediately come to mind, and for the person dating, these questions come forefront for the person carrying the diagnosis as well as for the supporting partner. Primary, 1) can he or she still work and support a potential family? 2) is he or she safe to be around when he isn’t feeling well? 3) can he or she really be fully present while carrying this tremendous responsibility to take care of his or her self? There are many questions people mull over when considering dating someone with a mental health condition, these are just a few questions my partners have experienced concern over and stumbled upon during my past relationships.
I’ll never forget the words of my first love when I dropped her off at her college residence for the last time: “you really are crazy” (personal communication, 2008). The first time I celebrated Christmas was in graduate school. I was visiting my girlfriends family and it was the holidays. Cheer, joy, and all the sudden, doubt filled the room when her parents discovered I was taking mood stabilizer medications and had recently been hospitalIzed for first episode Psychosis. 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 and her parents attitude towards me changed overnight. This was the day after my pills turned up when they did some of my laundry. My girlfriend informed me that her mother was inquiring:”if he(me) can still work and hold down a job?” Suddenly, I wasn’t the new family member I was assessed for my capacity and ability to maintain gainful employment. My illness was identified and assessed for prognosis, and the possibility of 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 a future family.
The equation for a healthy balance in a relationship gets even more complex when both partners have a mental health diagnosis. During another relationship I was in, I dated someone self-identifying with anxiety and panic attacks. Now, the part that also throws me, was how I didn’t predict my partner accusing me of raising her anxiety due to misplaced concern over my existing and even worse chronic condition. If my condition wasn’t bad enough to manage on my own or during rocky moments in the relationship, I had to also be mindful of the interplay and obvious issues from the proximity of two opposing diagnoses. Most of the time, when we were both activated, and at odds with each other, the worst aspects of our personalities were free to roam and butted heads on what was a very broken landscape. A landscape riddled with pills thrown in rage, and self-loathing hatred, disappointment, and histrionic center-staging.
I was even in a relationship that existed in only delusional form in the context of voices and cognitive distortions. I am pessimistic about ever finding someone that is realistic, supportive, and willing to be in a partnership with someone in Recovery. We are all experiencing some distress, and some of us can naturally handle stress better than others. Skills will get you only so far so the people that support you will do so regardless of your particular situation, expectations placed on your future successes or ultimate failure. People that are 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. Metal 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 figure it out like any other problem in the relationship.