July 15, 2013

SteveI have been in and out of psychiatric hospital since 2007. In 2009, during my second spell in hospital, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. At the present time I am living in the community in supported housing and I am taking medication (a depot injection), which does have some side effects but is not too troublesome compared to some of the other antipsychotics I have taken.

When I am going through a good phase and am out of hospital and feeling well, my thoughts often turn to my social life and how I can find people who are good company to spend time with. Being a naturally very anxious person, I find it difficult to meet people in some of the traditional ways (going to bars and clubs, playing sports, etc). I do spend quite a lot of time online and I have a good network of friends who I communicate with regularly on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites.

Meeting new people can be difficult when you have a mental illness

Meeting new people can be especially difficult when you have a mental illness. My illness has been such a significant part of my life over the last six years that when I meet new people now it is pretty much impossible to avoid the subject.

I tend to open up quite easily and I also tend to be quite open about my condition on the websites I use. I feel that if people really want to know who I am, they need to know a little about my illness and how it affects me.

One exciting way of reaching out and meeting new people is online dating. A couple of years ago, during a good phase in my life, I decided to give Match.com a try. I suppose the fact that I joined in the first place demonstrates that I believe I am worthy of having a girlfriend despite my mental illness.

How open should I be on my Match.com profile?

When it came to writing my profile on Match.com I had an interesting predicament. How open should I be about my mental illness? I actually decided not to mention it specifically. I explained that I was a person who had experienced a turbulent spiritual journey, but I didn't mention the words 'schizoaffective disorder' or 'mental illness'.

When it came to messaging people on the site I tended to be more open but only with those people who seemed as though they were caring, open-minded, and compassionate. I decided that I wouldn't meet up with anyone in person until I had told them about my illness and they had responded favourably.

Our relationship gave me confidence that online dating can work

In time (and you do have to be patient with these sites) I actually met someone with whom I clicked and we ended up dating and became girlfriend and boyfriend. I had opened up to her about my illness and she responded with warmth and kindness, even though she had lots of questions about my illness and how it affected my behavior. Even though it didn't last and we eventually broke up our relationship gave me confidence that online dating can work, even when you have a mental illness.

My advice to other people with mental health problems who are considering online dating would be that if you can afford it and if you are in a good frame of mind, why not give it a go? While you don't need to go into details about your illness on your profile it is best to be open with people before meeting up with them. It’s better to see how people react when they are at a distance rather than opening up for the first time on a date. Please be careful, take things slowly, and only meet up with someone after a fair few conversations when you have a real sense that you can trust them. Don't be defined by your illness but it is an important part of who you are so don't avoid talking about it.

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Steven blogs about philosophy, religion, spirituality, and mental health, at www.perfectchaos.org. He has written a book called The Philosophy of a Mad Man in which he discusses his experience of psychosis as part of his spiritual journey.


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