No matter how many blogs I write, no matter how many people I personally talk to, or no matter how many speeches I give, I feel like I can't stress enough that people who live with mental illness are just like everybody else. We love to do "normal" things however some of those things can sometimes present additional challenges. Something that I find can pose a challenge to me as somebody that lives with mental illness is dating.
I have always found difficulty in dating because in addition to living with mental illness, I am gay and live in a region outside of Toronto in which there aren't necessarily places the LGBT community choose to gather; I've turned to online dating which seems to be the norm these days no matter where you live.
Like other people I've met, I always debate how soon I should disclose to somebody new in my life that I live with mental illness, and I don't believe there is a perfect time to tell somebody. I've been accused by dates of telling them too soon and they can no longer look beyond my mental illness. Other dates have accused me of not telling them soon enough. I am no celebrity but I am public with my story and I've had dates tell me they've seen me in the media and wondered why I didn't bring it up sooner.
I don't like thinking of my mental illness as baggage, but everybody has skeletons in their closet and there are certain things that have happened to us in our lives we may not disclose immediately. But these intimate details tend to have a different context once we have gotten to know somebody. My mental illness is no different.
Whether or not you live with mental illness, I know for a fact almost everybody I've gone on a date with has been anxious. I live with diagnosed anxiety; while theirs may be temporary it is still a feeling they must contend with. Knowing how they feel usually tends to comfort me and put me at ease.
At the same time my date's anxiety has a tendency to fuel my own. I start to ask myself questions "What if they're so anxious they stand me up? What happens if they meet me and don't like me?" But as I've learned and have told myself, if they don't want to meet for whatever reason, then it wasn't meant to be.
My mental illness tends to go far beyond the date itself. If anything, I feel most calm during the date. Before the date, as I just mentioned, my anxiety is through the roof, but I also experience it after the date too. I begin to compulsively check my Blackberry for text messages from my date. I constantly review the date in my head and question whether or not I could have done anything to make it better even if I think it went well.
While I am currently single and on the dating circuit I have had two previous relationships that lasted several months each, and yes, I met both men on dating websites. I never believed for a moment that my mental illness ever had an impact on the success or the failure of these relationships.
I was fortunate that my exes allowed me to have an open conversation with them about what triggered my anxiety and depression. If I hadn't heard from them in a day or two, they absorbed the fact that I may begin to contact them frequently for assurance they everything was okay between us. I don't believe they labeled me as somebody with mental illness either and I was normal as anybody else they had dated in the past. But part of the reason why I think we were so compatible was because one ex's parents worked with people with mental illness, and my other ex was a former social worker who understood from the start that my mental illness did not define me.
My mental illness was not the reason these relationships ended either. One ended because he decided to accept a job outside of Canada, and the other relationship ended because we learned sooner then later that we weren't as compatible as boyfriends as we had initially thought. Whether or not you have mental illness, these are reasons why couples breakup. Post-relationship, I was a mess; I cried for days, I didn't get out of bed, and I barely ate. While it may sound over-dramatic I know plenty of other people who have had similar experiences and they don't even have a mental illness. But I would argue the intensity of the emotions might have been stronger due to my mental illness.
I know I can succeed at maintaining a stable relationship, and from my perspective my mental illness will not have an impact as to whether or not the relationship will succeed or fail. If somebody chooses not to date me because of my mental illness then I don't want to date them either!
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