I have read many blogs and books by people with schizophrenia, and many of the writers express a desire to date and eventually get married. Unlike me, there are many people with schizophrenia who live in hiding (not disclosing their illness for fear of the consequences), and many of those people are married. I assume their spouses must know of their illness even if most people in their lives don’t.
On the other hand, I am open about my schizophrenia, and I am married, but it may not be like someone would assume. I was married early in my twenties and divorced before my first psychotic break. I don’t think my first husband would have stayed with me and worked with me if he had experienced my illness. (I say this not knowing for certain because he never had that opportunity, chance, test, whatever it is someone would call it).
I met my second husband after my first psychotic break, but at that time my diagnosis was bipolar disorder. If we had both known at the time that my true illness was paranoid schizophrenia, would we have made it to our wedding? I don’t know. I can’t say. I wasn’t diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia until I was in my early forties. By the time I had the correct diagnosis my husband, and I had been together for at least ten years.
During ten years of marriage, my husband had grown to know a lot about me. The diagnosis of schizophrenia came as a shock to us, and I suppose it could have caused some people to throw their relationship away, but not us. When I received my diagnosis, I had just started to recover from a six-month episode of psychosis. Our marriage was on wobbly ground during that period. I thought during that time that I wanted a divorce. My husband thought that is where we would end up – in front of a judge with a no-fault divorce.
Once I was on medication and started to return to my old self, my husband started to heal from the injuries I caused him during my psychosis, and he started to understand the difference between schizophrenia and me. I am one person when I am on the right medication and someone quite different when I slip into psychosis. This period is where I find my husband to be remarkable. Not while we were dating and thought I had bipolar disorder, but when he had lived with me as someone who was psychotic for six-moths and received no love, or understanding, or connection from me, and then, when I recovered, he stayed and helped me rebuild my life.
Even though my husband and I had a whole history together before discovering I had schizophrenia, I think it is possible for people to find a lifelong partner if they already know that they have schizophrenia before meeting their potential mate. I think having the opportunity to get to know each other is the critical step in the process. Two people need to have some feelings and history together to be able to navigate and process a diagnosis of severe mental illness.
I think the same is true for making new friends. If those of us with schizophrenia let people get to know us a little bit before we tell them our diagnosis, then they will have already developed their impression of us, and first impressions are powerful. Many people meet me, and they know about my schizophrenia before even shaking my hand because other people have told them and many saw an article about me in People Magazine a couple of years ago.
I would prefer that people get to know me before they know my diagnosis, but I don’t always have control of that. I think if you do have control over when and where to tell someone about your illness that it is beneficial to wait until they see who and how you are so that stereotypes and stigma don’t overpower their decision to stay in a relationship.
Everything that is possible for people without schizophrenia is possible for people with schizophrenia we just have to be more creative to make some things work.