Dating When You’re Mentally Ill

I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

For years, I struggled just to exist, with my depression rearing its ugly head at every corner. And I made it through. It took 3 major episodes, a hospital, and two psychiatric clinics. But I made it through.

Yet, when I started dating, I realised I’d entered a minefield. How much did I tell my dates? At what point did I share? Is it okay to be dishonest?

I understand that my experience with depression is different to those with other mental illnesses. I know that it’s the easiest illness for others to relate to. And so, what I’ve gone through is probably nothing like what people with bipolar disorder, BPD, schizophrenia, etc. go through.

Nonetheless, this is the balance I found in sharing my experience with depression while dating.

Withhold (lie)

The first date I went on after leaving my second psychiatric clinic that year, I spilled everything. I was so nervous about being rejected for it, that I feigned confidence and I disclosed my entire history.

Needless to say, I scared the guy away. I never heard from him again, even though we had what I thought was a nice two hour chat.

I didn’t have to agonise over what went wrong. It was obvious. Choosing to date someone who has just come out of a psychiatric clinic is a huge risk. Even I would have reservations about it, and I can see behind the stigma. Who’s to say I’m “cured”, and won’t fall back into a depression that takes it all out of me and everyone around me?

From then on, I learned to withhold. Not just to withhold, but to lie sometimes. When someone asked me what I did (a basic first date question), I did not tell them that I’d only started to get my life back on track. I told them an approximation of the truth. It’s like saying you’re an entrepreneur, even though you have nothing going on at the moment. It’s kind of true, but it is purposely misleading.

This might sound unfair. Was I trying to get someone to fall in love with me before burdening them with my illness?

Not quite. Someone doesn’t have to fall in love with you in order to accept the risks. They just need to see the potential in you. So, when I told Kyle about my depression, he could have walked away. But he already knew he wanted to give this a chance.

Think about your own requirements of a perfect match. You might want them to live in your area, share the same political views or religious beliefs, and want the same amount of kids as you. You may filter your dating pool according to these requirements, but they’re not necessarily deal-breakers. If you meet someone you click with, there are many things on your wish list you’re willing to let go of just so you can see where it goes.

Be honest (eventually)

That said, it’s important that you don’t keep your secret for too long. Not just for their sake, but for yours too.

Your mental illness is a major part of who you are, for better or worse. Managing it is part of your lifestyle. You might, like me, see it as part of what shaped you into the person you are, who you can admire. If your date is not going to accept that, it’s not going to work.

Once you’ve gotten to know each other – once you know that you have chemistry – share your story. At this point, s/he is probably not going to run away, but they will have a lot to think about.

If they think that you’re too high-maintenance or see you as a lesser person because of it, they’re not the right person for you. Chances are, you’ve dodged a bullet. Just because you have rapport with someone, does not mean you know how to support each other, and this person clearly cannot support you.

As with everything related to your mental illness, you’re going to have to take a risk. This is an integral part of your life, and a negative response to it will be a dating deal-breaker.

Let them be a part of it

Early on in my relationship, I mostly kept my emotional struggles to myself. Although Kyle knew my history, I did not want him to see it manifest in our present lives. I was scared he’d treat me with cotton gloves, like a porcelain doll that might fall apart with any wrong move.

Turns out, he had similar fears. He did worry about me, but he also worried about not being real with me. He did not want to treat me as fragile, but at the same time couldn’t tell when or if it was ever necessary (and sometimes it is).

It took a lot of personal work for me to begin opening up to him more and more. And what helped was making him a part of my journey. We had to navigate the minefields together, so that he could know me intimately enough to intuit how to relate to me. He learned that I’m a strong person, who does not need to be treated as anything but, and he also learned that sometimes I need a bit more TLC than the average person.

To this day, I still have the instinct to hide my struggles. When I’m feeling depressed or particularly anxious, it can take a lot for me to disclose it. But ultimately, I share, and it’s crucial that I do. Kyle is my partner in this, and remembering that is key to keeping our relationship honest and supportive.

Don’t compromise yourself

Ultimately, it’s crucial that you don’t compromise who you are. Yes, start with a life story that’s only something like the truth. But be sure to clear things up early on, before you get caught in a lie you can’t escape.

If, once you’ve disclosed your personal truth, the other person bails, so much the better for you. They’re not the right person anyway, and staying the course would have only led to problems later on.

In the end, you know you’re worth it, and you should never accept anyone who’ll run at the first sign of trouble.

The Worst Day Of My Life

February 1, 2013

I’m finally back at the house. Today was a long one. I walk into my room and feel the weight of failure pressing down on me. It’s worse than failure. It’s hopelessness. I don’t know what I’m doing for the next hour, let alone the next week, month or year. And then the years after that. They’re all mysteries too.

I go to the kitchen and Rhandzu is there, getting ready to run.

“Hey,” she says. “How was your day?”
“I feel like shit.”

“Oh… What’s wrong?”

“Just depressed.”

“Do you want to come running? Maybe the exercise will help.” Everyone always suggests something.

“Sure.”

“Mia’s on her way with Thor…”

We stand around waiting. My chest is light, and it’s hard to breathe. I take shallow breaths and try not to pace. I wish Mia would just come already. I need this run.

Mia is taking forever. Every second feels like forever. I don’t even know what I’m waiting for. Mia will come and we’ll run and maybe I’ll feel better for half an hour, and then I’ll come back to this. Then what? Dr Schneider can’t see me today. My medication’s not working yet. It reminds me of April last year, when I was waiting to see Dr Nossel. There were still three hours till my appointment, and I went on a run around the block that took forever. I got home and it was eleven minutes later. I don’t remember what I did next.

When I saw Dr Nossel, he couldn’t do anything that we hadn’t already done. You have to wait for the meds to work. And they never work quick enough. I had to stay a night in a psych institution then. I don’t ever want that to happen again. I need a way out.

I consider taking sleeping pills. Three or four so that they knock me out for a while. But the problem is that it always makes me feel worse. That moment just before, when I know my solution will just be a timeout from this eternity of suffering. Then I’ll be groggy, and I can take more and more until I’m immune to them, and I have to be fully awake.

Mia has arrived, along with Thor, her dog. We run, but after ten minutes I’m tired. Exhausted. The run is not nearly over. We’re going up quite a steep hill. Mia and Rhandzu are talking. I can’t say a word. I don’t want them to worry about me, but I just can’t say anything. They’re letting me be in my silence.

After another twenty minutes, my body won’t let me run anymore.

“I’m too tired,” I whisper to them.

“Maybe you should take a walk back,” Mia says. “Are you alright?”

“I’ll be okay,” I say. It’s important that they think I believe it.

It’s a long way back. I don’t know how I’ll make it that far. I don’t know how I’ll take the next step. But I can’t just stop here. I need to get back, lie down on my bed, and then I don’t know what. I’ll smoke up. That might make me feel something.

When I arrive back at the house we share, I decide to shower. Before I get to the shower, I wonder how I’ll manage to get to the shower. In the shower I wonder how I’ll manage to get out of the shower. I somehow get out and get dressed.

I go to the kitchen. I will wait here until Rhandzu gets back. Then I’ll speak to her. She might help me feel better. She is taking a long time. I don’t know if she’ll ever return. I don’t know if I’ll still be here. I pace, breathing quick, shallow breaths.

Eternity.

Rhandzu arrives back.

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Worse,” I say. “I think I’ll just smoke up and go to sleep.”

“Can I join you?”

“Do you smoke weed?”

“Sometimes,” she says. She goes to shower. I walk back to my room. I pick up the wire dog that I hang my keys on. I stick my hand underneath, into its stomach, and pull out my bag of weed. I went through a lot to get this bag. I drove around for two hours trying to find the dealer. I was groggy from the sleeping pills, and I guess I just don’t know Cape Town well enough. Eventually we met in a wide, empty alley. It felt stupid, like a cliché that’s just not meant to be true for me. The dude had just picked his kids up from school. A girl and a boy. Around four to six years old. He was sweet. Told me not to worry about the time it took us to find each other. Hard getting used to a new city. I told him I was groggy from the pills. I didn’t want to seem like a loser.

Now I sit down and take a Rizzler out of my drawer. I lay it out on the desk. I shake weed into my grinder, and grind it into much finer granules. I knock it evenly onto the Rizzler. I cut a small piece of cardboard off the Rizzler box, and fold it into a filter. I place it at the end of the joint and roll the paper, lick it at the end, and stick it. It holds up.

I thought the process would calm me, but I’m still agitated. I still don’t know how I’ll get from here to the door. I still don’t know how I’ll wait for Rhandzu. I still don’t know how a joint could possibly help me.

Rhandzu and I lie on our backs looking up at the sky. I light the joint and take a drag, and immediately I get that 3D effect of the world that weed gives me. Like I’m only seeing it for real now. That usually my world is flat. I pass the joint to Rhandzu.

We talk. I tell her about my past depressions. I tell her that I’m gay. I tell her that coming out has to be done over and over again. I start to feel better. She tells me about her life. She tells me that… I don’t know. I didn’t listen to what she just said. Now she tells me about how she doesn’t think she’ll finish her Masters by the end of February, even though she has a job offer starting in March. She tells me about her family. The township they live in in Pretoria. Her mother is a doctor. Her father is a lawyer. Her brothers, who she loves, are moving in a direction she can’t recognise. I lose focus.

I think about the depression I felt so strongly just ten minutes ago. I feel great now. I think about how life can be perfect. I realise what I’ve been doing wrong. It’s that I haven’t been doing. Tomorrow I’ll wake up early and get started on what I’m here for. My expectations have been too high. I wanted to write the whole day, a ridiculous expectation for a novice writer with no clear plan. I’ll set an amount of pages to get done. After each page I’ll take a break. In the afternoon I’ll go explore somewhere. I’ll do this every day. Tomorrow will be Hout Bay. I’ll go experience the beauty there. I’ll look at the sponges and figure out what the fuck they actually are. I’ll figure out why they react differently to drinking water than they do to seawater. I’ll feel interested in life. I won’t ever be bored. I’m going to be okay.

Saturday

It’s going exactly as planned! I’ve been writing the whole morning, taking breaks with every page I finish. I just have one more page to do today, then I’ll go to Hout Bay.

I write about my main character, Danny Clark, feeling depressed. He rolls a joint because the process sometimes calms him. It works, unlike it did for me last night, and he doesn’t even need to smoke it to feel better.

I realise that this is not about Danny Clark at all. It doesn’t fit into his character arc. But who cares? It’s good writing, and it’s a start to my career. I’m fine. This day has started amazingly, and every day will be like this. I just need to keep to my plan.

I get into my car, and drive towards Hout Bay. Some of the malaise returns, but nothing I can’t handle. Once I start experiencing the joys of the natural world, I’ll be back on top of things.

I arrive at Hout Bay beach. I leave my slops and singlet in the car, and walk towards the sea. My chest is light again, and it’s getting harder to breathe. I take quick shallow breaths, trying to stay calm. I’m scared. I’m at this beach, around people I don’t know and can’t relate to, and if I panic now, I’m stuck here. There is no one to take care of me.

I move more quickly towards the sea. If I can just get there, I can do what my psychologist once told me – appreciate nature, the grooves in the rocks, study the sponges. That will stop the monotony, won’t it? I take in the beauty of each individual wave. It’s so boring. I walk towards where I last saw the sponges. They’re still there. I pour water on them. They’re boring. I don’t care about sponges. Why did I think this could help? Just because there are lots of details to life, doesn’t mean it’s not boring. It’s too boring to distract me from this indefinable pain that sits at my core. It’s an emotional pain, but it’s physical too. I can feel that the chemicals aren’t balanced. It’s my fault for stopping with Cymgen. If I knew I could feel like this… but I should have known. I’ve felt this way before. I just forgot how bad it was.

I don’t know where I’m going to go, or what I’ll do when I get there. If I get there. There’s nowhere to get. Nowhere to run. This is inside me. Maybe I’ll write again. That helped this morning. But then what happens when I get bored with that? Or have to stop to eat. This is the worst beach to be stuck at. These are all pretentious aristocrats, leading a life I would hate. A life of boredom. I really need to be home, safe. What more powerful a place is there than a beach to make you feel all alone? I was so fucking stupid in coming here.

I get back in my car and drive towards the house. I groan from the pain. I can’t stop groaning, not even to make a more apt noise. I arrive back at the house. I phone my mom. She’s a last resort, because I know she couldn’t help even if she was here. My dad could make things better, but he’s dead. She’s now worried about me. She keeps phoning me. Calling her was a mistake.

I remember that, last night, smoking weed helped. I roll a joint. The process does not calm me. I smoke it halfway, then stub it out. I walk to a beautiful spot nearby, with a small lake, surrounded by trees. A little distance away is a father with his kid or kids and maybe his wife and maybe others. There is an indeterminate amount of related people, is what I mean to say.

I sit and smoke. It makes me even more disoriented than I already was. Despair and panic build up in my chest. This pain will never leave, because the world is full of pain and I know it for a fact. I know it for a fact because I feel it, and the feeling is the most real feeling I’ve ever felt.

I walk back to the house and panic. I roll around on the bed. The despair has closed in on me. The world has nothing for me but pain. No beauty can brighten that darkness. The pain is a fist around my heart, slowly squeezing. I take sleeping pills. I fall asleep. I wake up. I’m totally disoriented. Every moment is hell. Hell times a thousand. A second is much worse. A minute is too much to think about.

I phone Aron. He doesn’t answer. He calls back. I tell him I’m depressed and I can’t handle it. He tells me I can pick him up if I want. I do that. Stupid, stupid.

“Let’s go to Clifton,” Aron says. “Clifton’s the sort of place that makes you happy. D’you know what I mean?”

We go to Clifton and stand by something that looks like a cave. It’s probably a rock. I can’t focus. He smokes a cigarette, and I tell him how bleak life is. I don’t know what I’m saying. All I know is I need to get away from here. I need to get back home, away from Clifton and away from Aron too. But I don’t know how I’ll do it.

I get to the car, somehow. I drive him back to the res at UCT. He’s worried about me. I drive home. I lie on my bed. I stand up. I pace. I take some sleeping pills. I lie down and roll around. I panic. I call my mom again. She’s going to book me a ticket home for tomorrow. I don’t think I can make it through the wait at the airport, and definitely not the flight. But I tell her to book.

I phone Dr Schneider. He doesn’t answer. I message him that I’m really desperate. Later he messages me that I can come by tomorrow morning and he’ll help me out.

Rhandzu asks if I want to go with her to Mia’s place. I go, have a glass of wine, get totally disoriented but feel much better. I’m barely awake as we walk back to our place and I get into bed and fall asleep right away.

Sunday

I wake up, somehow feeling worse than ever. How is it that I can feel something worse than infinite pain? I don’t know, but it’s no exaggeration. I get to the clinic Dr Schneider told me to meet him at. He tells me that he’ll put me on the waiting list there. I tell him to do so just in case.

He gives me a prescription and says that I’ll be feeling great in an hour. I drive to the pharmacy.

“Can I give you Truvalin?” the pharmacist asks.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a generic,” he says. “It’s exactly the same, but cheaper.”

I worry that it won’t be the same. I’m not motivated enough to have this conversation. He gives me the meds and I go to the car, get inside, and take them right away. I used to be on a variation of this. I don’t know how it will help me in an immediate way though. I drive home. I lie on my bed, roll around. After an hour, nothing has changed. I take sleeping pills. I roll around on my bed. I miss my flight.

Greg Gelb is here. I must have called him. We’re sitting in the kitchen. He makes scrambled eggs and does magic tricks for us. I appreciate his efforts.

Sobel comes over. I must have called him. He comes to my room and I lie in bed. I must have fallen asleep because I open my eyes and he’s cleaned most of the room for me. This is not the worst day of my life.

Monday

I have an appointment with Dr Schneider. I’m groggy from all the sleeping pills. I arrive at Dr Schneider but I don’t remember driving. He comes into the waiting room, and sees me half-alive.

“How did you get here?” he asks.

“I drove.”

Sobel arrives. I must have called him. He drives me to the house, with the receptionist following in my car. I pack some clothes and they drive me to the hospital.

I’m sobbing. I can’t stop. It feels better than not sobbing.

“It’s okay,” Sobel says. “Don’t cry.”

The nurse says the same thing. Maybe only one of them says it. Sobel’s gone and I’m alone in the hospital bed.

They haven’t taken my sleeping pills away from me. I take some. I feel infinite pain. I take some more. Nothing works.

I ask the nurse to give me something. She tells me I’ve already been overdosing. I tell her I need something. She is busy. I beg her. She won’t give me a moment. She says she’ll get to me. I go back to the bed. I roll around.

An eternity of infinitely painful moments later, Greg Gelb arrives, with brownies made by Leeanne, his wife. He also has some series for me. I watch The New Girl for the first time. I hate every moment of it, as much as every moment of anything else.

I take more sleeping pills. I roll around. This is not the worst day of my life.

Tuesday

This is the worst day of my life. It is infinitely worse than yesterday’s infinite pain. I don’t know what makes it worse. I wake up in the hospital at 5AM to have my blood pressure taken.

My mom will arrive later. I make a courageous effort at giving a shit about anything, and I shower and shave. Somehow they forgot to take away my razor. I get back to the bed and my mom is there. She looks miserable. She doesn’t recognise that I’m doing slightly better at this moment in time, having managed to get up and shower and shave.

Dr Schneider has informed us that there is a spot open for me at Kenilworth Clinic. He is one of the founders of the clinic. An ambulance takes me, with two young paramedics.

The male one says that he wishes he could spend some time there. He is trying to make me feel better. I get taken to a room. I see other pathetic losers walking around. I have no idea how they have any motivation to do anything. I am told I will be here for three weeks. I can’t believe I’ve fallen that low. I want to leave, but I know that I won’t be okay to do so anytime soon. I don’t know how it is possible that I’ll ever be okay. I know far too well that life is a futile, painful hell.

I sit with my mom and Dr Schneider in a room, discussing me. I can’t sit still. I have waited for this little meeting to happen since I arrived an eternity ago. Now I am waiting for it to end.

“He says that he feels he might be gay,” my mom says to Dr Schneider. I don’t know the context. They continue talking with each other and me. I don’t know how I manage to say anything. Maybe I don’t.

I roll around on yet another bed. This is the worst day of my life. It is coming to a close. Tomorrow will be only slightly better. I look at my toiletries. They forgot to take my razor away. They took my sleeping pills away, but I’ve been put on a bunch of different meds.

This is the worst day of my life. It ends.