Reprinted from "Parenting" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2 (2), p. 38
I hear that making friends is a difficult task and that finding a good friend or a best friend is like trying to land a Mars lander to Mars. It requires an exact mix of ingredients to make a friendship happen. Even while all the ingredients seem to be under our control, serendipity often determines the end result. This has often been my experience. This probably has been the case because my experience. This probably has been the case because making friends is pretty much a mystery to me. Even though I have made some friends in my life, I cannot seem to master or understand the skill. Could it be a lack of intelligence? Or is it because I am too quiet? Am I too serious? Is it because I am too distant. Am I chopped liver? This last statement could be true. People just might find me not interesting enough to take notice of me or to want to even be my acquaintance. This is only speculative acrobatics, a form of mental mastication when the mind is left idling. If I knew the answer or had the secret, I think that I would be a happier and more satisfied person. I suspect that the answer lies in deficient social skills and a poor self-concept and lack lustre self-esteem. I do not know.
I have read books on how to improve relationships, and although the books have helped make a few of my relationships more rewarding, I still have relationship woes. Might the answer be in reducing my expectations of the number and quality and intimacy of my relationships? This would be the answer if I were rock. I feel that the minimum requirements of relationships in my ife for mu psychological health are not met. Translation: I feel lonely and isolated.
Perhaps I am only looking for a life partner. But how can I achieve this goal when I have trouble making friends? Being friends facilitates forming a bond with a life partner? This I know viraciously from friends who have been in romantic relationships. To these friends, I would never disclose that i have schizophrenia.
Although my first inclination is to tell them about my mental illness and to gain their understanding and sympathy, this would never happen. Schizophrenia is unlike somatic illnesses in that people do not emphathize with the person affected. People with schizophrenia are seen as insane, dangerous, deadly and incomprehensible. The stigma attached to mental illness is too great a risk to friendship, and this is why I will now never tell.
However, I consider myself to be normal when I am on medication (and I thank the higher powers that be or just plain luck that I was born at a time when there are methods of successfully managing schizophrenia, with fewer side effects). And I do function normally when I am medicated, except for my inability to make friends. I have friends all right, but they are friends I see a few times a year. I do not have friends that i can go with to a bar regularly, or to see movies with regularly, or to go shopping with regularly, or to talk with regularly. There is a pattern developing here: however, as I mentioned before, why it exists is a mystery to me.
If I ever found a potential life partner, I would eventually have to divulge my mental illness. I would, however, be in a quandary as to when to reveal that I have schizophrenia. A relevation that came too soon could cause the dissolution of the relationship because of feat and stigma. Would I ever be capable of losing it and endangering other people, especially people I love? The newspapers run stories about [people with schizophrenia] who kill or do harm in other ways. This is a lopsided and misguided view, definitely considering that the rate of violence and crime within the community of [people with schizophrenia] is the same as the rate if violence and crime within the communnity at large. A relevation that came too late could also end the relationship because the partner might feel as if I had been lying throughout the relationship. At what point would the relevation of mental illness not cause the partner in a relationship to leave? In other words, is there a level of intimacy or amount of time passed that would make the person trust me and be comfortable with the schizophrenia that I have? At what point would the person feel like family, not just a boyfriend? And if I did reach this point in a relationship, would I want children? Well, of courese I would want children, but would I want to bring children into the world if they have a chance of developing schizophrenia? Would I be able to raise my children without causing them harm and without forever scarring them?
My immediate family is the greatest asset I have and the most important aspect of my life. They know who I am and accept me every bit. They have supported me throughout the illness, and they are supporting me as I get back on my feet to lead a normal life. Normal is a very subjective word, so I will clarify by saying that I want to lead a life free of the symptoms of my illness, with a partner, a family and a career. I fear being alone and lonely. I fear that friends will never be enough and that I will never have enough of them. I fear being unable to support myself and having to rely on the social safety net. I fear being homeless, unidentified, and unloved. I fear losing my immediate family to the cycle of life. But all these fears belie how grateful I am for all that I have. I just wish that I had a little more, enough to land the Mars lander.
About the Author
Catherine is the pseudonym of a former client of the Women's Clinic for Schizophrenia who has completed her university degree.
This article is part of the Schizophrenia Bulletin's ongoing First Person Account series. Reprinting with permission from the Schizophrenia Bulletin, Vol 27, No.4, 2001