Finding Love While Living With Mental Illness

Joel Eisenberg

Judging a sufferer’s frame of mind or fitness regarding the desire for personal romantic relationships is often a futile exercise.

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Introduction

Mental illness is an umbrella terms for psychiatric or behavioral patterns that cause persistent or intermittent distress on the part of the sufferer. The AMA (American Psychiatric Association) publishes The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders on a regularly-updated basis, of which the fifth edition, or DSM-5, is in the currently utilized volume.

Unfortunately, the stigma of mental illness is such that those to whom the label is applied are often called “crazy” or “mad” by those not afflicted, when in fact many of those sufferers strive to live a so-called “normal life,” which includes engaging in healthy interpersonal relationships.

As a reminder of my qualifications addressing the topic of this article, prior to working in the entertainment industry as a writer and producer, I was a licensed special education teacher for ten years. My college minor and majority of my course load was in the field of Abnormal Psychology, and my student population based on my training included children and adults labeled as SED, or Severely Emotionally Disturbed, low-functioning autistic children and adults, substance abusers, and gang members. My regular interactions on behalf of my students in all cases included psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and other mental health staff, and I was required to write IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) based on their feedback and my observations.

The students referred to in my experience all had difficulty functioning in everyday society based on either cognitive or behavioral issues.

It is the latter group I will primarily address here, as well as those who suffer from bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and related challenges.

(Caveat: Three years ago, my wife and I attended a wedding of two mentally retarded high-functioning adults, and during my teaching period have seen others with cognitive disadvantages find partners and fall in love. Addressing the concept of love and relationships as it relates to moderate to higher-functioning autistic, mentally retarded, or other cognitively-challenged groups, however, will be the topic of a future article.)

Relationship Myths on Behalf of the Sufferer

In this section and the next, the type of relationship of which I am referring in the subtitle is that of a romantic nature.

I have written on NewsBreak about my own issues regarding romantic relationships with partners suffering from mental health issues. See here and here.

From both my personal and professional experiences in the matter, I’ve learned — as one who does not suffer — it is all-too-easy to judge those who do.

Myth #1: A sufferer of mental illness is incapable of finding love.

Truth: Not true. PsychGuides.com has published a terrific article on the topic, which can be accessed here. Many sufferers frequently go out of their way, in fact, to find that elusive relationship. Subsequently, though, fear and related barriers prevent the relationship from blooming. Therapy can substantially help in that regard.

Myth #2: A sufferer of mental illness is incapable of maintaining a romantic relationship, or of keeping love.

Truth: According to innumerable articles and studies on the subject from respected sources such as NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness), as many who live with mental illness are determined but scared to find or maintain relationships, it is difficult for them to determine — or trust — one who expresses sincere interest. Again, with professional therapies, the breaking of such hesitancy may be part of the benefit.

Relationship Myths on Behalf of the Non-Sufferer

Myth #1: A person who does not suffer from mental illness will never date one who does, as those who do suffer are not good enough.

Truth: Let’s blur a line: Everyone has their share of psycho-emotional issues, even if they have not been diagnosed with a specific mental illness. Who among all of us does not feel emotions such as joy or sadness, anger or uplift? Emotion is a human trait. As is the eternal quest for love.

Myth #2: Those who do not suffer will not take the time to understand.

Truth: This is actually true, to a point. Once again, it depends on the individual, who may be looking for someone to put up with their own non-illness-related issues. Being accepted for who one is, as opposed to who one can be or will become in the future, is an invaluable positive for both parties.

Conclusion

There are no ”rules” when it comes to mental health challenges and finding true romance, just as there are no rules when it comes to romance and those non-afflicted. Certainly, those who suffer will succeed or fail in such relationship based on several factors including severity of the illness, ability to focus, self-esteem issues (a major factor of interpersonal relationships of all natures, regardless of whether one is challenged by a mental health-related issue), self-control and more.

A severely bipolar individual, for example, who may deal with extreme mood swings with a tendency towards violent verbal or physical outbursts, may have difficulty keeping a partner. Same with at-risk children and adults. However, multiple therapies including medicinal are available to help control symptoms. A depressed or anxiety-ridden individual may encounter similar difficulties, but again, the most productive message I can reiterate is help is available.

Such help also includes those who fear they may suffer from a mental illness, but fear a potential diagnosis all the more. In this regard, a diagnosis opens the door to being treated.

Hearkening back to my own experience in these matters, therapies are successful based on the diligence of the person undergoing them. In other words, giving up is unnecessary but abiding by a professional’s advice until treatment is deemed beneficial is a necessity, as opposed to skipping medication dates or follow-up appointments.

Finally, I will directly address those reading this who have been diagnosed with a mental health-related disorder: Understand that though non-sufferers want love too, sometimes they will indeed not understand a sufferer’s wants, needs, and difficulties. They may not be the right person for you. But, sometimes you may meet the person right for you. They do exist, and may even appreciate you that much more for your willingness to work together through your challenges. We just have to find one another.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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