Mismatch of the day

    In the minefield that is dating and mating, when is it safe to
    reveal a mental health problem? Does a history of mental illness
    ensure that psychiatric services users are losers in love?

    Since suffering a psychotic breakdown during my first romantic
    relationship, I’ve been wary of admitting to a history of mental
    illness to prospective partners.

    An ex informed me “depression is a sign of weakness of
    character” – this was from a young man whose own mother had
    suffered this affliction. I expected a little more understanding
    from him considering his experience, yet his reaction reflected the
    erroneous attitudes towards psychiatric disorders that are rife,
    despite anti-stigma campaigning.

    Most of the time, I’ve kept silent on the subject. When I have
    chosen to be honest after I’ve felt enough time had elapsed (and I
    hoped my boyfriend knew me well enough not to run off in fright),
    I’ve been surprised by different reactions.

    One said I was brave to have told him about my illness as many
    men would be put off. I knew he was right and felt foolishly naive,
    as I’d not considered this man would reject me. The fact that he
    had already told me he was on a waiting list for psychotherapy did
    not seem to sway his opinion: I was a bona fide psychiatric service
    user in the community, and he was a regular guy who happened to
    have an emotional problem.

    Another time I tried to tell a boyfriend why I had to take so
    much medication. Before I’d managed an explanation, he hastily
    assured me there was no need for me to reveal such a “secret”
    matter, and it was none of his business. It would seem the tricky
    (for some) subject of mental health problems is a yardstick of
    intended commitment: someone who desires minimum information from a
    mate clearly isn’t in it for the long haul.

    I have a schizoaffective disorder, but often refrain from
    telling people I also suffer from psychotic symptoms as well as
    depression. Clinical depression has become so commonly diagnosed it
    is now more acceptable. Psychosis, however, is subject to basic
    misconceptions and prejudice. I often wonder whether I will ever be
    accepted by a partner whose experience is not similar to mine.

    My most recent relationship offered a refreshing change of
    reaction. I was seeing a divorcee whose recent tumultuous emotional
    life prevented him being shocked. He realised we all go through the
    mill in different ways. The relationship ended for other reasons
    but it made me realise mental illness is not the terrible black
    mark others judge me for.

    I know in my heart that anyone who harbours a fear of such
    issues is not suitable for me. Openness and a willingness to accept
    negative life experiences along with the fun times are more likely
    to ensure compatibility. I’ve never expected to give less than I
    receive in this capacity and continue to hope I am not
    disadvantaged in the dating game.

    Helen Waddell uses mental health services.


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