Dating someone with mental illness
February 27, 2015 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I recently started seeing someone that disclosed that he has a serious mental illness that needs a lot of medication to keep somewhat under control. I got freaked out and after giving it a few weeks of thought, broke it off. Did I over react?

After I found this fact out, I lost a lot of attraction for this person. I am not proud of it but it happened. I didn't react immedietly but was unable to get the spark back. Keep in mind that my living situation is such that I don't meet a lot of singles. So it's not just as easy as "you will meet someone else soon". This may have been my only chance at dating for the next couple of years.

He really liked me and treated me well and we did have a connection. Anyway, what bothered me about it is that he couldn't keep a job and I could just see my life, money and future being drained away by this situation. He would also speak frequently about stopping medication as he thinks it slows him down. I am not sure if I am projecting the worst case scenarios but the future seemed grim.

There are moments where I am second guessing my decision and I know that he would have me back if I changed my mind. Any thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Did I over react?

No.
posted by Melismata at 10:32 AM on February 27, 2015 [44 favorites]


No, you did not overreact. We all have a certain amount of risk tolerance we use to assess whether or not we're going to get the future we're looking for with our partners. You decided that the risk of a bad outcome in this case was too high to make the relationship worth it to you. That's not good or bad, it just is; you can't control how you feel about someone.

I mean, you don't need a REASON to break up with anyone. You don't need an excuse. You don't owe anyone a relationship, not even yourself. You can break up with someone because they hate your favorite food, or they always have coffee breath, or they insist on putting the toilet paper roll on backwards.

As reasons go, "I'm afraid that your illness and inability to work will leave me worn down and poverty-stricken" is a pretty sound one. You do not have a moral imperative to sacrifice your life and happiness for someone else's.
posted by Andrhia at 10:33 AM on February 27, 2015 [27 favorites]


Regardless of anything else, not being able to hold down a job and talking about discontinuing necessary medication would both be dealbreakers for me.

You are doing the right thing.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:34 AM on February 27, 2015 [33 favorites]


In a perfect world it would be uncool for you to write someone off purely because of mental illness, but in a perfect world people wouldn't need jobs to survive and could rely on robust healthcare for addressing whatever issues they might have.

Some people have situations that are going to require some nontraditional commitment from a partner, and it's okay if you know you can't do that. If it's not going to work for you, and you know it right now, it would be unfair to continue.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:35 AM on February 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


People break off relationships -- especially when they've only just started seeing someone -- for a billion reasons. You reacted, and that's all there is to it. You don't want to date that person. No need to blame yourself or overthink it. It wasn't the right relationship for you. And no matter how hard it may be to meet singles in your particular circumstances, it will be easier now that you're single, too.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:36 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nope. Not even if this weren't the case:

Anyway, what bothered me about it is that he couldn't keep a job and I could just see my life, money and future being drained away by this situation. He would also speak frequently about stopping medication as he thinks it slows him down. I am not sure if I am projecting the worst case scenarios but the future seemed grim.

Women especially can feel pressured to be nurturing and understanding and even caretaking with partners with disabilities, but if this isn't your thing, this isn't your thing and there's no reason to feel guilty about that. (For the record, I myself recently turned down multiple date requests from a very persistent quadriplegic, which doesn't make me feel like an awesome person, but I know enough about my self and history and relationship needs to know that's not the situation for me.) It would also be OK to turn down a partner who is infertile, or who will never agree to move away from his hometown while his parents are still alive, or who is committed to a completely vegan, homesteading existence, etc.
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:39 AM on February 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


Anyway, what bothered me about it is that he couldn't keep a job and I could just see my life, money and future being drained away by this situation.

Although I've never been in this situation, I think this is an astute observation. I've read enough AskMes where people have wasted years, LITERALLY YEARS, supporting someone with the exact same issues you've described above. It always ends badly, with tons of resentment and nothing to show for a huge amount of wasted time and energy.

you sound as if you're over analyzing this reaction because you're not sure you'll find someone else to date in the near future. This is ALWAYS a bad reason for being with someone. Don't cave, you made the right choice.
posted by JenThePro at 10:40 AM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


I recently started seeing someone that disclosed that he has a serious mental illness that needs a lot of medication to keep somewhat under control.

This is one of those "proceed with caution" kinds of red flags. But, when you throw in this:

He would also speak frequently about stopping medication as he thinks it slows him down.

It turns into a cut your losses, break it off, and never look back kind of thing. (And that's without getting into the whole not being able to keep a job thing.) Frankly, if you had come to askmefi with this info and asked our advice prior to breaking it off, I can almost guarantee that you would have gotten a chorus of "DTMFA."

So yeah, I'm sorry this didn't work out, but no relationship is always better than a bad relationship, and please don't beat yourself up for deciding that this person's mental illness was a deal breaker for you.*

*I say this as someone who has struggled with my own mental health issues and who has a close family member with Bipolar I, so this is an area that I have a decent amount of personal experience in.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:40 AM on February 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


I don't think so.

I do think you could do him a favour, though, and lay it out for him as you have here. He doesn't seem to be willing or able to accept his situation (which I kind of get). Maybe this kind of feedback would help him come to terms with his illness, and nudge him towards managing it such that he could better set himself up for life with a partner.

This may have been my only chance at dating for the next couple of years.

Nah, don't think like this. You could go online, consider an LDR, or move, if you want to prioritize relationships.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:40 AM on February 27, 2015


There are moments where I am second guessing my decision and I know that he would have me back if I changed my mind. Any thoughts?

This makes it sounds to me like your real question is "Should I get back together with this person I broke up with?" And the answer to this question, too, is no. Your reasons for breaking up with him were sound - as others have pointed out, the concerns about him going off his meds or not holding down a job are absolutely good reasons to not be partnered with someone - and it sounds like your second thoughts have more to do with your worries about not meeting anybody else rather than having just lost someone you really wanted to be with. If that's the case, put more energy into figuring out ways to meet more available people - don't just default to going back to this person that you already know you're uncomfortable about.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:45 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do think you could do him a favour, though, and lay it out for him as you have here. He doesn't seem to be willing or able to accept his situation (which I kind of get). Maybe this kind of feedback would help him come to terms with his illness, and nudge him towards managing it such that he could better set himself up for life with a partner.

Oh man, do I not recommend this at all. You then become "the woman who confirmed/claimed that I am undatable because I am bipolar/schizophrenic/etc." and you potentially set yourself up for a world of misery, at the same time you're possibly playing into his worst fears or insecurities or other triggers.

Giving reasons is almost always a terrible idea anyway. I've told someone we weren't compatible for a relationship because of his difficulties with empathetic communication (something he himself practically boasted about early on!) and was barraged with guilt trip attempts about how telling him that wasn't necessary and was in fact unkind and I shouldn't have specified the reason, he didn't appreciate being reminded of his painful limitations in relationships, etc.

You're not his therapist, life coach, or family member, or best friend; it's not your place or responsibility to "nudge him towards" managing a severe mental illness in such a way that he might enjoy better relationship outcomes in the future.
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:48 AM on February 27, 2015 [27 favorites]


When I read the initial part of your question, I immediately wanted to know "Ok, so it takes a lot of medication to keep under control. But DOES he keep it under control? It doesn't really matter what his med regimen is as long as he's stable, happy, productive, and in control of his life."

Then I got to the more inside part. Yeah, he is none of those four things. I feel for him, and for you, but it is completely OK to choose not to become intimately involved with someone who is in real danger of going off the rails.
posted by KathrynT at 10:49 AM on February 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


Some people have the capacity in their lives for someone that is a potential timebomb. Some people don't. You aren't a bad person for not having that capacity.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:52 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


You don't need a reason to break up with someone. If you don't want to be with them, you don't, and you don't have to have A Good Reason.

Blue Suede Stockings is right that women are pressured to be selfless, noble, and nurturing, and Give Him A Chance because That Is What Good Women Do. That is bullshit. You don't owe someone "a chance." It's okay to not want to date someone because they can't hold down a job - I've seen that situation reek SO much havoc in marriages and especially with children. I don't know if you want marriage and kids, or not, but bringing a child into a situation where Dad can't hold down a job and Mom is working her fingers to the bone at a job AND caring for the house and kids, and money is always tight, is not good for the child's emotional health. It's not good for Mom's emotional or physical health either.

And I doubt this man is your "only chance." I don't know your particular living situation, but chances are there are more options than you can think of right now. It's easy to feel desperate when you are lonely, but, trust me, there are ALWAYS options. Even if the options might be "move" or "have a long-distance relationship" and you don't want to exercise them - but the options are there.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:52 AM on February 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


You know well enough whether you can or can't tackle this unique challenge and it sounds like you can't and that is fine. Don't let your lack of dating options make you choose something that you otherwise wouldn't be able to work with.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:54 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


As someone whose life was ruined by marrying someone with mental illness, I say you did exactly the right thing--especially since he's talking about getting off the medications and can't keep a job. You want a life partner who is your equal and will help you build a secure future. This isn't it. Don't waste your time. Better by far to be secure alone than in stressful chaos with someone you date.
posted by cute little Billy Henderson, age 4 at 11:00 AM on February 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


I don't know, I like to think that if someone told me, "you're pretty neat, but I can't be with you because you are not accepting or managing your illness" (vs. "you are defective") I might at least chew on that for a while. But, it's true, it wouldn't be the other person's responsibility to drop that bit of insight. It's also true that managing mental illness isn't a seamless or perfectly reliable endeavour, and no one can guarantee how things will go over time. So, I take that back, and say again, it's ok for you to not want to be with this person, if you can't.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:03 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I suffer from mental illness (depression) and require a lot of meds to keep it in check.

I do not think you overreacted. The fact that he considers going on his meds because they are "holding him back" would send me packing.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:15 AM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


He would also speak frequently about stopping medication as he thinks it slows him down.

I have serious mental illness and a great relationship. It is very clear, both to my husband and to me, that this is only possible because I am very diligent about taking my medicine and paying attention to my mental health.

The fact that he has serious mental health issues is not a definite no on the relationship, but the fact that he is resistant to treating them is. Don't put yourself in the situation of caring for someone who is not taking the necessary steps to care for themselves.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:21 AM on February 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


I love someone with a serious mental health diagnosis. Our relationship is both deeply wonderful and very, very difficult. I cherish him and our relationship and would not walk away from it if given a free pass to do so. "Difficult mental illness" does not mean a person cannot be a wonderful partner to you.

BUT. My partner is deeply committed to his treatment plan, to his medical team, to his medications and support groups, even with all the time and expense and difficulty and side effects that they cause him and to some extent me. If he were not, I would not be able to stay. And I cannot in good conscience suggest to anyone else that they enter into a relationship with someone who, at the very outset, is already treatment resistant.

Were you my good friend, I would sit you down and talk with you very seriously about what my life is like 15 years down the road you're on (and if you want, MeMail me, and we can talk about that), for better and for worse. I would tell you that you can build a good, fulfilling life that includes mental illness. But I would tell you that the specific situation you are describing does not sound to me like the beginning of such a relationship. I would caution you that any changes this person undertook for the express purpose of getting you to date them again would be unlikely to be long-lasting. I would suggest with love and with sympathy that based on what you've said here, this does not sound like a good situation for you.
posted by Stacey at 11:29 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


You're not obligated to date anyone. Maybe you're thinking it's unfair to discriminate against him because the mental illness is beyond his control? It'd also be beyond his control if he were really short or really tall, or wore glasses or was bald, and those are all valid reasons for just not feeling attracted to someone.
posted by desjardins at 11:38 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


My wife of close to fifteen years is bipolar and has to take various psyche drugs. One of the reasons we've lasted so long is that she takes medicated, which keeps her generally stable, so we don't have a lot major problems about her illness.

You made the right call by breaking up with him.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I lost a lot of attraction for this person."

In any context, for almost any reason, this is a good reason to break up. Because you're not doing you or them any favors hanging around pretending to be attracted to them.
posted by French Fry at 12:39 PM on February 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


I have had long term mental illness.

You are never obligated to be in a relationship with someone. If you're not feeling it, you're not feeling it, and it's always OK to walk away. In addition to that, being in a relationship with someone because you don't have many other options is not a good thing to do.
posted by Solomon at 1:08 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mentally ill person here! You did not overreact.

Any chronic and (partially?) debilitating illness takes a lot out of a partner, whether it's mental or physical. You decided that it wasn't a thing you could do, and that's okay.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been on both sides of this, in the sense that I've had a serious relationship with someone who has a serious, chronic illness, - and I have a semi-serious, chronic illness now myself.

It is absolutely the right thing to evaluate any chronic illness - mental or otherwise - into your relationship maths. It is a huge, serious factor that will heavily shape and influence the relationship over years and years. It will definitely affect you.

Sometimes, that calculus is okay, and it's part of the relationship, but I think you would be foolhardy not to take into account. It's can be a huge deal, denying that won't do you, the other person, and your relationship any favours at all.
posted by smoke at 1:43 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Living with this may very well be more than you can handle. If this is so, it would be unfair to the person to lead them on. And if you end up miserable, nobody's going to be OK with that. You have the right to choose your life.
posted by halhurst at 2:05 PM on February 27, 2015


I don't have a mental illness but I am ill and plenty of men have told me they can't handle dating someone like me. No harm, no foul. It's a perfectly understandable dealbreaker.
posted by sockermom at 2:28 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's like any other baggage. You deal with your Significant Other's baggage. Person you are dating's baggage - whatever, you don't have to go down that road unless you want to.

Pretend like it's any other form of baggage: psycho ex, monster-in-law, addiction, etc. There's nothing morally apprehensive about considering those red flags. If anything, you'd be a weirdo if every one of your partners brought that kind of baggage in right off the bat.
You're good, don't stress about it.
posted by Neekee at 3:40 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


My father is kind of like that. And a very close friend too. Knowing them as well as I do, and no matter how much I love them both, there is still no way I would date someone with the same problems. My parents divorced for a reason. It's a different thing if you are already deeply attached to the person and committed to a life with them and THEN the mental illness strikes. (And I'm talking about serious, lifelong, can't-hold-a-job illness). Then of course you try to fight for the relationship. But if you are newly dating them, no one is hurt too badly by breaking it off.
posted by lollusc at 5:33 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, even if he were perfectly compliant with his medication, things could still be impossible. My father is like this guy and goes off his meds a lot. My friend on the other hand is 100% compliant with her meds, and totally rigid about sleep and diet as they have been identified as triggers for her. But her meds still randomly stop working every six months or so, and then it usually takes months of in-patient treatment to find an alternative. You can't know that this sort of thing wouldn't be this guy's experience too.
posted by lollusc at 5:37 PM on February 27, 2015


I haven't really dealt with the mental illness so much, but I did get engaged to a financial deadbeat who didn't like to work. I knew damn well he was my first, last, and only chance to ever get married. And that has been absolutely true, it's been over a decade and I've never, ever had the opportunity to date someone I wanted to date (or even didn't actively NOT want to date) since. I am a permanently single person with no opportunities out there for me and I know exactly what it's like to have slim to no pickings and no hope.

I am never, ever sorry I didn't end up with him for life. Even if I never date or marry ever again, it ain't worth having to be the breadwinner on my not-great salary, stressing out about money all the time and feeling resentful towards him. And with mental illness on top of that? With a guy who wants off his meds for his major problem? Fuhgettaboutit. You did the right thing and dodged a bullet.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:54 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of the biggest mistakes in my life was giving a diagnosed Paranoid Schizophrenic the benefit of the doubt. I wasn't dating him. He was just a friend. I was the ONLY person to give this guy the benefit of the doubt and support him when everyone else just made fun of him and ran the other direction and because of that I was the only person to have to deal with things from him including betrayal that no one else had to.

I've known three Schizophrenics in my life. 2 of them were family members and one of them was that friend. One of these people tried to hack me into pieces with a machette (very large knife) one day and I had to hide in a closet of a locked room for hours until help arrived. The other one kept murmuring that he was going to sexually assault me and spoke to me as though he didn't recognize me (although this one never actually did anything to me, it was still scary). And the third lied to me repeatedly, told others lies about me (which may have been delusions) and stole money from me. ALL of these guys were on prescribed medications. So I'm pretty much done with the severely mentally ill. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but after all I went through- I honestly don't care. Never again. If you're asking me however- I would say No. You are not a terrible person for feeling this way. I wish I had felt this way when I was in a similar situation years back. Instead I hung in there and only bad things came of it.
posted by rancher at 8:11 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do think it's worth examining your reaction. While of course you are not obligated to date anyone, the way you've phrased it here, someone simply having a mental illness is a turn-off. That, to me, speaks of unexamined biases.

Mental illness is not the same as untreated mental illness, and there are both good and bad reasons for not wanting to stay on one's prescribed medications (a lot of doctors, for example, tend to over-prescribe sedating medications). Someone who is actively engaged in managing their symptoms successfully may not follow the societally approved script of following all their doctor's orders. The important thing, to me, would be that active engagement and successful symptom management.

Mental illness is one sort of "baggage" a partner might have. Like all baggage, what matters is not really that it's there but how well your partner is managing it.
posted by jaguar at 9:13 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


"he couldn't keep a job and ...
He would also speak frequently about stopping [his] medication"
You made the right decision.
posted by blueberry at 11:38 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


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