Schizoaffective disorder and romantic relationships: a star-crossed engagement
Star Crossed Lovers – Schizoaffective disorder and romantic relationships
This is a true story about schizoaffective disorder and intimacy. When dating someone with schizoaffective disorder, you may not know their symptoms and the challenges the condition may present. But the more you know about schizoaffective disorder relationships, the more you can have compassion and empathy for your partner.
My husband and I had been together one-month shy of a year. We had been talking about marriage for about three months prior, and now we excitedly yet nervously looked at rings together online. I had simple, elegant, vintage tastes, whereas his was gaudier. He had told me he wanted to purchase a 3-carat alexandrite ring the following week.
Factually speaking, my husband is old money. I am not. Our whole story was the process of me becoming Cinderella – I was a girl from a moderately middle-class family with a solid work ethic and a debilitating illness: schizoaffective disorder. He was a trust funder with a high-paying engineering job, fiercely intelligent yet gentle and kind. I had met his family once and gotten ill and had to leave.
He assured me it was fine. In the interim of us getting to the rings-and-things bit, I hadn’t spoken more than two sentences to them. But I did have a sense of foreboding doom about them putting on airs when they came to drop off presents. They didn’t say a word to me, despite us being together longer than any of his other girlfriends.
At this point, I had been vomiting every night for exactly two years. The following summer, I would receive a fibromyalgia diagnosis, and even more shit would hit the fan. My point is, I was chronically ill without a diagnosis at that point in time, and every time I was sick, my husband would put me on the phone with his mom, who was a pharmacist. What I didn’t know was that she was gathering data.
On top of my chronic vomiting and pain, I have schizoaffective disorder, which is on the schizophrenia spectrum. Schizoaffective disorder is so stigmatized even in mental health communities; it’s not even on the bottom rung of the ladder.
I recall being in Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs), where people would recount traumas inflicted by schizophrenics and how evil such people were. Shame is the best word I could describe what I felt, and so I mostly kept my diagnosis secret.
My future mother-in-law had a list of my psych meds to check for drug interactions while looking for pain and anti-nausea medications. I never wanted to disclose such information, as I had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder when I was 12 and knew how to call my local Walgreens. But my husband insisted, and I obeyed.
I always felt that that trying to combine schizoaffective disorder and romantic relationships was an impossible task. For my husband, dating someone with schizoaffective disorder meant he needed to learn about some of the symptoms of the disorder that might present themselves in our relationship. He especially needed to understand that symptoms weren’t about him, they were about me and my condition.
Some of my symptoms included: disordered thinking, being withdrawn, lack of interest in intimacy and sex, difficulty concentrating, feeling overwhelmed, unpredictable moods, and insecurity and doubt.
Is loving someone with schizoaffective disorder enough?
The week came for my husband to purchase the engagement ring. My whole body was so aflutter; I felt myself float up to the moon. Then I got a phone call.
“My mom received a letter from an elder’s wife saying I can’t marry you,” He said softly.
“What? Why?” I was sure he was going to kick this down.
“Because she thinks schizoaffective disorder relationships won’t work. You are depressed so she is convinced you are unsuitable to be a wife. I won’t purchase the ring.”
I didn’t fight him. That was the literal receiver click in my mind.
This was the ultimate betrayal of our relationship. We had spent so much time working through potential and actual schizoaffective disorder and intimacy issues. But loving someone with schizoaffective disorder clearly wasn’t enough for him. It turned out that my husband’s mom had consulted professionals about my medical problems. They had all warned her against the match between my husband and me: apparently schizoaffective disorder and marriage aren’t possible!
What really hurt was that the order came from a church official, and I was a preacher’s daughter. And what hurts, even more, was that my husband was obeying. Was this Christianity in action? It was definitely an issue of stigma!
My biggest fear about combining schizoaffective disorder and intimacy was losing someone I loved because of something I couldn’t control, like my mental illness or my physical health. There was a black veil between my husband, myself, and a lake of fire between my mother-in-law and myself.
Six months later, my husband proposed with some objection from his family, such as his sister insisting I was a gold digger, and I said yes. But the tear in my heart was still there, as it is today.
The six months between that December when he was going to purchase the ring and June were some of the worst of my life. I would pray to God to forgive my husband, my mother-in-law, and myself, for unforgiveness and needing forgiveness, every five minutes, then break down crying. Then my schizoaffective disorder kicked in, and I saw visions of fire and my in-laws casting flames at me. Then, the pain came. Deep, burning, nerve pain.
We all suffer for romantic relationships, for intimacy, for love. But what does it say about a society that we should suffer because of our disabilities? It is an ugly world, a blind world, unable to see that a beautiful, fit, blonde able-bodied young woman can turn into a mound of fleshy pain in a matter of years.
As we age, we all experience pain and disability. Disability comes for us all, but most of us would rather not acknowledge it, or think we’ve earned our stripes – why should the young and in love deserve the rigors of the old?
Meara O'Space is a twenty-something who wants to change the world by writing in a way that helps people. Her writing has been featured on The Mighty and Offbeat Bride, covering topics ranging from physical disability to mental health and positive psychology.