The Difficulty of Dating with a Mental Illness

Michael Hedrick
November 22, 2017  | Last Updated: November 22, 2017
13 Sep 2014 --- Caucasian couple hugging outdoors --- Image by © Inti St Clair/Blend Images/Corbis


I think in my 12 years of living with schizophrenia I’ve been around the block in terms of dealing with romance. The only thing I can say is that it’s hard, inordinately so. Granted, nobody actually likes the act of going on dates, at least that’s what I’ve heard from my friends.

When you have a mental illness, though, there are so many other things to consider that normal people don’t even have to think about. These are things like paranoia, anxiety, and if you can get past those two eventually you have to disclose your illness to this new person.


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Overall it’s almost an exercise in futility. First, if you live with paranoia or an illness that predisposes you to it, you are well aware that there are simply just places you can’t be. For me those places include crowded bars and restaurants, the places where it seems most logical to take a date. Something happens in those places where I start focusing intently on the words and laughter of the other people there. It’s like I’m hyper-aware of what they’re saying, and even though I just catch snippets of conversation if I hear something even remotely resembling on observation on my presence there my mind kicks into overdrive, and I start thinking about how they’re judging me and making fun of me and how there’s no possible way a disgusting man like me would be on a date with a cute girl.

My mind will keep telling me this throughout the entire date, and as you can imagine, it makes the social graces that are required on a date, focusing on conversation and asking questions and flirting seem almost impossible to accomplish. This paranoia then feeds into your overall social anxiety, and you start to worry intensely that you’re saying and doing the right things.

You find yourself paying more attention to the fear response that’s gripping your chest and the things you think other people are saying than your date, who is probably having a bad time. It’s like there’s a vice around your chest, and you’re trying in vain and failing to have a somewhat normal conversation, despite the fact that your mind is going a mile a minute and you’re thinking intently about how bad you’re doing and how bad of a date this is and then inevitably that no one will ever love you because you’re not proficient at social interaction.

All that, I think, pretty accurately describes what going on a date is like in my brain. If, by the grace of god, things go well and the date is good, eventually you’re faced with the idea that, at some point, you have to tell this person that seems to like you that you are clinically insane, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms.

I’ve talked about how in those situations I’ve faced the inevitable trip to the bathroom to call her girlfriend and then the questions when she comes back which can range anywhere from … what is that like?  … to … have you ever killed anyone?

And, yes, that really happened. Suffice it to say, dating is like gym class was for the scrawny kid. It’s not fun, but I do it because there are times when I’m faced with desperate terminal loneliness and even then I hate doing it. Keep all that in mind when you tell your loved one with mental illness that they just need to meet a nice girl.


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