Imagine that, one day, you wake up and you don’t know how to speak anymore.There’s nothing physically wrong with your vocal cords; you just forgot how to speak. Maybe it was some massive trauma, or lots of little things that accumulated and led up to this, but, either way, you can no longer comprehend how to form speech. You just can’t do it.
What would follow? Well, probably years of intensive therapy and hard work that would, hopefully, get you back to a point where you could interact with other people. Every instance of human contact would essentially be practice in your all-encompassing goal to speak again. You might have little bursts of sound or even form words from time to time, but it would take years for you to get to a point where you feel comfortable talking to a gas station attendant or the guy who delivers your pizza.
While this is a purely hypothetical situation, it runs parallel to my own experience with paranoia, delusions, and social anxiety. When I was episodic, it was essentially as if I forgot how to interact with the world. I knew what you had to do, I just couldn’t do it because my paranoia and anxiety would get the best of me and then my delusions would start to take hold and say things like, “You didn’t do that right, Mike, now they think you’re strange and that you’re a misfit, and, ultimately, that you’re a serial killer.”
It sounds ridiculous, but that was the running dialogue that took place in my mind. I found it hard to speak to anyone, hard to go into crowded places and hard to even look anyone in the eye. With all that in mind; is it any wonder that dating was a wholly unrealistic pursuit for someone in that situation?
When you’re on a date you have to be at your best; groomed and charming. The conversation mustn’t just flow, but sparkle, with the exact amount of wit, humor, knowledge, self-deprecation, and even possibility. Somehow, it’s up to you to make this person, whom you find attractive, like you enough to keep coming around for more. Frankly, that’s way, way too much pressure to put on someone who, only eleven years ago, thought that aliens were talking to him through the television and people were speaking in code and reading his mind.
For me, dating is just too much and, every time I try, I crash and burn. Despite getting progressively better at social interaction and the way I handle myself around people, the charged atmosphere of a date always seems to knock me back a few years in my recovery. I was never great at it, and I never had a girlfriend or any romantic relationships in high school, but it was still much easier to talk to people (girls included) back then. I had numerous friends who were girls, some that I really liked, but I never knew how to approach the world or the notion of dating. I was so nervous asking a girl I liked to prom that I had to send her a note instead of actually talking to her.
All this isn’t even taking into account the fact that I’m a bigger dude, I’m not conventionally handsome and, god forbid, the fact that, at some point, I have to tell this person that I don’t know, who I’m trying to get to like me, that I am clinically insane.
I think I’d like to avoid that situation altogether. It’s much less stressful just to be friends with someone, and that might be the reason I’m averse to relationships. Relationships also involve a good deal of vulnerability; or so I’m told. As someone with an intense distrust of people, and paranoia, being vulnerable is entirely terrifying. I’ve seen too many horror stories to actually truly believe that I’d be a fun person to date. Something inside me tells me that I’m just not good enough, and I’ve experienced years of rejection when I do try to put myself out there, making it hard for me to believe that someone might like me.
Somehow, I still try.
I still ask women in the coffee shop out sometimes, and I’m still on Match.com. I don’t know why, maybe because I have some small hope that the perfect person is out there who understands me completely and is willing to put up with my massive amount of emotional baggage. Part of me believes that, if it’s meant to happen, it will happen. Until that day comes, I’m comfortable here in my house, away from a noisy bar, working on my writing and photography.
My advice for anyone with mental illness who is looking to get out there and date is to not take it so seriously. That’s a huge lesson I’ve learned going through all this. While it’s terrifying to ask someone out and actually participate in a date, it isn’t the end of the world if it goes haywire. There are literally 3.5 billion women on the planet, and one of them is bound to like you for who you are. Of course, you have to like you first.