Watching "A Beautiful Mind" didn't prepare me for this
February 27, 2008 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I've been seeing a sweet, charming, attractive young woman for about a month now. We have a huge amount in common, and excellent chemistry. We make each other very happy, and while we're not "in love" yet, it really just seems like just a matter of time. A few nights ago, she told me that she was on medication for schizophrenia. Help me not freak out and screw this up.

The story, as she told it to me, is this: she started having auditory and visual hallucinations when she was 22. At the age of 24, she had an "episode" (she didn't tell me the details); her parents came to get her and took her back home with them, halfway across the country. Six months later, she was diagnosed. She still lives with them today, at age 28. She's now on atypical antipsychotics; they allow her to function at what seems to be a normal level (she has a steady job and what seems to be a normal social life), except for some weight gain and fatigue. She expects to have to take these medications indefinitely. She said she hasn't had any episodes since the initial one, but I didn't explicitly ask if she was totally asymptomatic at this point.

This all came out in conversation a few nights ago; it was a calm and rational discussion, and I did my best to ask "good questions" (I know very little about this disease) and to be supportive. But now that a bit of time has passed, I'm starting to psyche myself out and wondering whether I should be more worried about this than I actually am. So here are my questions:
  • Am I overthinking this? Is this potentially a big deal, or am I just buying into some societal stigma concerning this disease? What are some important things that I should ask her about her specific case?
  • What resources are out there for those with schizophrenia sufferers in their lives? Are there any organizations like AlAnon or PFLAG for dealing with schizophrenia?
  • I would love to hear about any personal experiences MeFites have had concerning romantic relationships with schizophrenics. Anecdotes aren't data, I know, but they can still be helpful.
As I said above the fold, she's sweet, charming, and vivacious, and I would never have guessed that she had this problem had she not told me. She's a wonderful person. She doesn't deserve to be shunned or dumped just because of this. But if our relationship is going to proceed further (and I really do want it to), I want to have my eyes open.

Anonymized to protect the identity of the young lady in question.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I will go ahead and say the not politically correct thing. GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN. You do not owe her anything, and although you may look at staying with her despite her problem as honorable, you are [probably] setting yourself up for a world of pain. You need to be selfish in the realm of life partners. Relationships and marriages are hard enough for people who don't have to deal with this sort of thing, and she will likely be better off with someone with a history of being able to relate to this in the long run.

Chemical imbalances can be nasty things. What's going to happen when she gets pregnant? Later in life, menopause. What if she starts drinking? I will not go into anecdotal stories, but I have seen this movie enough times to know that it doesn't end well.

You're one month in. You haven't taken anything close to an in sickness or in health vow. RUN.
posted by fusinski at 11:21 AM on February 27, 2008 [8 favorites]

This might be thinking a little too far in advance; I don't know where you are in your life... But if this is someone you would consider as a life partner, there are a couple of issues related to children. First, she can't be on antipsychotics when she's pregnant: this means that she (or the two of you together) will have to face the choice of going off meds to have children, adopting, or forgoing children altogether. This is a very difficult choice, and you should be aware of it going into a long-term relationship.

There's also the fact that the disease has a genetic component, and there is a chance that it would affect your children. The genetics of schizophrenia are not well understood, however, and, barring significant advances in the next few years, it will be impossible to get a definitive answer on the probability of passing the disease to the next generation.

I'm sure you'll want to discuss these issues with her as your relationship progresses.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:24 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

If things are going well, then don't worry about it unless other things happen and are a problem. Then get out. Love is about chances, and getting hurt when they don't work out.

It wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun if it wasn't.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:27 AM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do your research and make sure you get a clear picture of what a long-term relationship, marriage or whatever you have in mind will be like with a partner suffering from schizophrenia. Find out if you love her enough to want to be with her despite the complications and sacrifices involved.

You've said that at this point you aren't "in love" yet but you feel it will only be a matter of time. Take your time to get to know her and then decide: do you want to be with her more than you don't want to deal with her schizophrenia?
posted by Xianny at 11:32 AM on February 27, 2008

More or less agree with fusinski, unless you're prepared completely to deal with the worst case scenarios. Her body could change and her medication could stop working. Are you ok with dealing with episodes? Can you stand the reaction from others when she may do something completely dangerous and inappropriate (like breaking into a house and trashing it during an episode)? Will you be able to tolerate her completely illogical point of view ("I can't get a job because the CIA is out to get me!") during bad times?

Another thing to consider, any children you may have could also have the disease, and it could be much worse for him/her than for their mother. If you're the kind of person who thrives on taking care of people who may never get over their serious problems that prevent them from functioning in society (and some pepole are), then you'll be ok. If you're looking for just a pleasant time and a short-term girlfriend, then that's fine too. But know that this is a huge, huge can of worms.

This thread is by someone who's married to someone who tried to commit suicide and provides some insights into what you could be dealing with; in my comment I mention two helpful books, "Crazy" and "I'm Not Sick and I Don't Need Help", which are very good at explaining the specifics of schizophrenia and what exactly that means; my examples in the first paragraph are from those books and really happened. Good luck.
posted by Melismata at 11:41 AM on February 27, 2008

I would ask your girlfriend lots and lots of questions before proceeding further into this relationship.

I'll give as a data point the experiences of one of my best friends, who married a woman who developed paranoid schizophrenia. After she became pregnant, her symptoms became much more acute. She viewed my friend as both the source of all problems and paradoxically the only person to whom she could turn. She ended up brandishing a knife at him, in a very frightening situation (she was also hiding weapons throughout the house). Police were called, and they ended up separating. She drifted from family home to hospital to homelessness for a good period of time. My friend ended up raising their daughter on his own (luckily his own parents were in the area and provided a lot of help).

My friend remarried a great woman, and his daughter just was bat mitzvahed. She's doing very well. Sadly, I don't know how mom is doing.

You have an advantage my friend and his first wife didn't have. Your girlfriend has some long-term experience with her illness, and apparently has been successful in mitigating the more disturbing symptoms. Let her explain how the schizophrenia will and will not affect your relationship. Ask her for a worst-case scenario. Ask her how you could be sure she's cared for, if her illness means that she temporarily can't care for herself. Ask yourself whether you want children and whether her illness could affect their lives.

Good luck. Don't blame yourself if you leave. Don't blame yourself if you stay with her. None of us know the future.
posted by ferdydurke at 11:42 AM on February 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

There are many prosaic problems, with much less stigma, that would cause a similar level of long term difficulty. For example, cancer; a gambling addiction; different world views; being a serving military person; etc. Schizophrenia is just a problem, and life is about solving problems. Many people would not date someone for any one of these reasons; many people would. It's up to you to decide where you stand on schizophrenia but remember it's Just a Problem.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:49 AM on February 27, 2008 [16 favorites]

Be very careful.
posted by Espoo2 at 11:53 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

A lot of folks in this thread have assumed that you are planning to "partner for life" with this woman:

What's going to happen when she gets pregnant? Later in life, menopause. What if she starts drinking? I will not go into anecdotal stories, but I have seen this movie enough times to know that it doesn't end well.

You've only known her for a month, so it seems unlikely that you are going to decide to get married anytime soon.

For the time being, you need to know how her condition might affect a more intimate relationship. You'll have to discuss this with her and ask questions as much as you feel comfortable doing so. But choosing to be more intimate will also allow you to test out the relationship and see if you are truly compatible.

If you're afraid of breaking her heart, don't shack up with her while you're "going steady." After a year or so of courtship you may find out more about her condition and discover if you can live with it. Later on you can discuss things like kids and set out expectations on behaviour, such as reliably taking medications and seeking treatment, etc.

Give it a chance, but be wary of the consequences.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:54 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd wait and see. You said you wouldn't have guessed she has this issue in her life if she hadn't told you. Wait and see if you would have guessed eventually. Personally, I'd be more concerned about dating someone living at home, but it sounds like she has a reason for doing so. You don't have to make a big decision about anything at this point -- either to dump her or marry her, so enjoy your time together and when you do need to make that decision, you'll have a lot more data points to use, illness-related and otherwise. She sounds like a keeper at this point, though. That's not to say things might change, but give them the chance to change first!

I think it was nice of her to share this information so that you're aware of her issue and can have that information up front in your relationship. And it sounds like you are a nice person as well.
posted by theredpen at 11:55 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

It wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun if it wasn't.

Dealing with people with significant emotional or psychological disturbances is about as far from "fun" as anything I can imagine short of severe physical pain.

OP: I want to tell you to run. If she had shown some signs of not having this under control I would tell you to run. But, when it comes right down to it, I guess I'm not willing to write off everybody with psychological problems. If she seems totally in control and willing to do what it takes to stay that way, then you should decide for yourself if the risk is worth it. Maybe it is.

What I will say is that you need to make it very clear that keeping up with whatever treatment she requires, including any medication, is a non-negotiable dealbreaker for you. Make it clear that if she stops her meds or treatment for any reason other than a doctor telling her to do so, you are out of there. Immediately. And then (here's the key) follow through. Do whatever you can to support her if you stick with her but if she shows anything but a complete committment to keeping this under control... LEAVE.

That's going to be harder to do later than it is now if you fall in love with her. But it is the single most important thing you can. Be there for her if she is there for herself. If she wavers, get out before the screaming and breaking shit starts.
posted by Justinian at 12:02 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

A lot of folks in this thread have assumed that you are planning to "partner for life" with this woman.

At the risk of getting defensive, my experience is that the longer someone stays with a person who has a mental health problem, the more obligated they feel to continue despite their reservations. And he is at a crossroads.

I probably sound like a jerk. I certainly have no ill will towards anyone suffering with this condition or any other mental health issues. I just feel inclined to make public the experiences I have been a part of via friends and family who have gone down this road. The same pattern always emerges, and it always ends badly. Not to say there are no exceptions, but I feel like I have seen enough, and what I've seen has been immeasurably awful. That is why I say run. Run before you really get attached.
posted by fusinski at 12:06 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

What's going to happen when she gets pregnant?

Uhh, how about IF she gets pregnant?

What if she starts drinking?

What if ANYONE starts drinking?

You're one month in. You haven't taken anything close to an in sickness or in health vow. RUN.

This is an absymal view of relationships. Please learn more about the disease and talk to her more about what she experiences, has experienced, etc. before dumping her like a piece of damaged goods. Everyone has problems and someone with schizophrenia isn't a leper that can't have a good relationship with anyone.
posted by agregoli at 12:06 PM on February 27, 2008 [11 favorites]

My advice to you is that if you like her for what she is, why change it? She took a huge step to tell you about her problems which means she trusts you...a lot.

The only gripe is that if it gets serious and you guys get married / have kids, the kids themselves have a 50% chance of getting the disease.
posted by Schuby at 12:11 PM on February 27, 2008

For resources and information:
posted by Daily Alice at 12:11 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

This thread is depressing the shit out of me.

Like most mental illnesses, schizophrenia's severity varies widely across those afflicted. Drugs are getting better and better, etc. etc. etc.

For a bunch of liberals, this is a crazy discompassionate thread.

Suffering from fairly severe mental illness on the same spectrum myself, and having been stabilized for 5 years or so, I can say follow your heart.

And this:

Dealing with people with significant emotional or psychological disturbances is about as far from "fun" as anything I can imagine short of severe physical pain.

Who ever said life was, or was even supposed to be, fun all the time?
posted by Roach at 12:12 PM on February 27, 2008 [17 favorites]

Everyone has problems and someone with schizophrenia isn't a leper that can't have a good relationship with anyone.

Apparently you've never been around anyone for a good time who has schizophrenia.
posted by xmutex at 12:14 PM on February 27, 2008

someone with schizophrenia isn't a leper that can't have a good relationship with anyone.

Huge difference. Lepers usually do not (possibly) come at you with a knife.
posted by Melismata at 12:14 PM on February 27, 2008

I have friends that have been in similar situations where the outcome ranged from "not the slightest problem" to "living hell". You don't necessarily need to act now, but someday you might. Forewarned is forearmed.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:19 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have friends with schizophrenia and family members with schizophrenia. My experience has been varied. Some are basically what you would consider "neurotypical" except that they have a medical regimen that they need to stick to and some have been essentially untreatable and very very traumatized by their own illness which has, as you might expect, been traumatic to those around them. The kids thing is the only thing you might need to be thinking about sooner rather than later because schizophrenia can be hereditary and often people like your gf don't know they have it until they are in their late teens and early twenties. This can be very destabikizing for a family, especially one in which you are planning to have kids and then pack them off to adult life.

However that is WAY far away from where you are now. I agree with Daily Alice that NAMI is a good resource for learning more. If she's only been stable on meds for four years she may still be learning what life is like on them. My gut feeling is that if you like her and she likes you and you don't get the feeling that committing now is committing for a lifetime, then you're doing the right things. Relationships can split for many reasons and unlike other types of mental illness -- in my experience only -- schizophrenics are less likely than, say, someone with depression or BPD to have the relationship issues be exacerbating issues with their illness. That said, it's no cakewalk and there are difficult things you might go through with your gf. I have one colleague who is medicated and stable for his schizophrenia but still has weird feelings that people can spy on him through his computer, for example. He knows these are delusions at an intellectual level, but that doesn't help him from feeling that sort of thing emotionally, he just knows not to act on them. This may be something that will come up in your future with your girlfriend, a lot of reality-based discussions on what is and is not happening around you.

THAT said, I think all relationships where you open yourself up to a person and they do you are fraught with some degre of risk emotional and otherwise. I don't think schizophrenia is necessarily a "don't go there!" indicator for the future of a relationship and if you're feeling okay about it generally, I don't think it shoudl put the brakes on something that is making you both happy. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 12:20 PM on February 27, 2008 [7 favorites]

Who ever said life was, or was even supposed to be, fun all the time?

It's not. But there is shit you can't see coming and get out of the way, and shit that you can see coming and get out of the way. This is one of the latter situations. Cutting your hand with a kitchen knife sucks but it happens. Sticking your hand into a buzzsaw sucks and doesn't have to.

But perhaps you missed that my post, contrary to what many are saying, actually maintained that he shouldn't automatically write her off? No? All I said was that he should make sure to get out right away if, for any reason, she stopped treatment or meds without a doctor's order.

I stand by that. In fact I not only stand by it I erect a twelve ton granite monument on it.
posted by Justinian at 12:21 PM on February 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

you've been seeing this woman for a month, it's not like she asked you to marry her. read up on schizophrenia, and keep seeing her, who knows what'll happen, maybe you fall in love and decide the schizophrenie is not a problem. it's not like you have to commit now to be with her forever. freaking out is not the thing to do, it won't do anybody any good.
posted by matteo at 12:39 PM on February 27, 2008

I don't have any experience on either side of this.

However, to counter some of the horror's the story of the most highly functioning paranoid schizophrenic I've ever heard of...who is happily married, employed as a law professor...and still struggles from time to time (with the support of family and friends). She recently wrote a book you may want to check out. Her demeanor sounded very "neurotypical" during her NPR interview (and was able to "pass" for decades after her medication stabilized, among her work colleagues).

posted by availablelight at 12:40 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Justinian: Point taken.
posted by Roach at 12:50 PM on February 27, 2008

Fusinski is, sadly, kind of right.

But, your comment that "She doesn't deserve to be shunned or dumped just because of this" is also right.

Aside from the diagnosis and other personal details, this could be about me... or, honestly, a lot of people I know. I don't have mental health issues quite at the level of schizophrenia, but I'm not the picture of mental health, and there are some things about me that can occasionally make me quite difficult to love or live with. I hate that I can be that way, I hate feeling like a burden, and I hate the "I'm too crazy to be loved" feeling that goes with it. No one should be too crazy to be loved. Love should not be the sole province of the mentally perfect, just as it should not be the sole province of slender blonde rich white people with perfect teeth.

I don't know much about schizophrenia, so I can't be much specific help on that front, but there are a few questions that you should be asking yourself every so often throughout the course of your relationship:

-Is your relationship mutually supportive and beneficial? Are both of you helping each other through your individual struggles, as opposed to you just helping her out all the time?

-Can you handle it when she's at her worst?

-Is she making a good faith effort to keep healthy? That doesn't mean she has to be "good" all the time, because that's a lot to ask, but she should be invested in her mental health, as Justinian mentioned above.

If the answer to any of these is "no," you should re-evaluate whether it's a good idea for you two to continue on together, and if the relationship's not good for you it's not going to be good for her, either. However, it's way too early at this point to get good solid answers for any of those questions, though it sounds like the answer to the third is probably yes.

Finally, it might be worth keeping in mind that there are all sorts of people out there who can break your heart, mess with your head, ruin your life, or eat all your steak, and they don't always come with a diagnosis. In my experience, the most toxic people are often the ones who don't believe they have mental health issues, or just choose not to reveal them... but you learn that they've got problems, far too late to run away. The people who are upfront about their struggles are often the people who are making a concerted effort to be healthy.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:13 PM on February 27, 2008 [8 favorites]

See how it goes. If it starts to get serious ask to go with her to her doctor's appointment and talk to him, with her present and giving permission.

No two people with these sorts of illnesses are alike. If she has been stable for years, that bodes well.

But if you do decide this is not for you, you are not a bad person.
posted by konolia at 1:18 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

What resources are out there for those with schizophrenia sufferers in their lives? Are there any organizations like AlAnon or PFLAG for dealing with schizophrenia?

The National Association of the Mentally Ill has a group for family members and friends of (surprise) the mentally ill. Some years ago (~1997) they put on an awesome educational course in the small town in which I was living. I attended because my mother is bipolar. There were many others there who were supporting spouses/significant others with problems ranging from schizophrenia to OCD. I hope they are still putting on such courses, and I think you'd be well advised to attend even if you don't pursue this person romantically.
posted by desjardins at 1:24 PM on February 27, 2008

the kids themselves have a 50% chance of getting the disease.

This is utterly not true. Not even close. The child of a schizophrenic has a slight increase in susceptibility to mental illness compared with the general population. The key words here are susceptibility and risk, what it means is that given the right triggers someone with higher risk is more likely to get sick, not that half your children are automatically doomed.

Like many diseases with genetic susceptibility involved there is a big environmental component. Schizophrenia is slightly unusual in that developmental factors have been linked to disease progression, i.e. how much sunshine or the level of nutrition that the mother has while the child is in the womb can be correlated to disease risk. Other environmental factors after birth are also important, family violence, unstable upbringing, drug taking, stress, all can be linked to triggering schizophrenia. And sometimes it just happens, no family history, no events to tie it back to, the person's brain is just built that way. So yeah, there are some issues involved in having a family with someone with this disease, but the same goes for heart disease or obesity or cancer or arthritis or any of the many other multifactoral diseases where genetics has a (small) input.

This is a complex disease, both in general and for specific people. You need to learn more about the illness, from a reputable source (NAMI, linked by Daily Alice above, would be a good place to start), and learn more about her and how this fits in with her life. To a large extent other people's experiences with this disease don't help because so far you have no context to put it into. For example, lots of people in this thread are assuming she's paranoid, but there are different forms of this disease besides the paranoid form. So the talk of coming at you with a knife doesn't help, because she quite possibly doesn't even have that kind of illness.

Everyone has problems and someone with schizophrenia isn't a leper that can't have a good relationship with anyone.

Apparently you've never been around anyone for a good time who has schizophrenia.
posted by xmutex at 8:14 AM on February 28 [+] [!]

I have. She has a great long term relationship (25+ years by now), is a wonderful mother to her children, has good insight into her condition (and thus knows her hallucinations aren't part of the outside world) and is as stable and together as anyone else I know. This illness isn't a sure fire ticket to crazy, it can be just another thing that someone has to deal with in life. The OP needs to take the time to find out about this new girl, find out what the illness means to her.
posted by shelleycat at 1:42 PM on February 27, 2008 [10 favorites]

I'll second NAMI referred to by desjardins. The course is called "family to family" and is intended to support and instruct family members. I took it last year because my son, who is now 30, was diagnosed with schizophrenia five years ago.

The major problem that I see for the people that have this type of mental illness is their lack of awareness of having a disease. The fact that your friend knows she is schizophrenic and has to depend on medication, puts her ahead of most sufferers ( btw, they like to be called consumers, or club members, not patients). It took four years for my son to be aware of his condition, after a few doses of tender care from the police. He is doing so much better now that he is taking medication.

While I do not disagree with the statement that there is a genetic component, it is not the entire cause: neither my family nor my husband's family have any history of mental illness of any kind. There are other triggers, in my son's case it was a head injury; in other cases substance abuse can bring on a psychotic episode. I often think of these poor young men in Iraq, the frequency of closed head injuries, and I wonder about future consequences.

The range of functionality is incredible: from the catatonic state to the highly functional professional. My son is one course away from obtaining a liberal arts degree, all done after he was diagnosed. Their personality also ranges from the cool to the pathetic, just as it ranges in us so called normal.

I'm not going to say that there are not any difficulties in dealing with this disease, but for what I have personally seen, the difficulties stem from people being afraid of mental illness, from people not knowing what to espect or how to react. The loneliness the schizophrenic face everyday is a major source of depression, which make things worst.

Enormous progress is been made in researching the biochemical ethiology of the disease and in consequence the discovery of more effective treatments.

If that NAMI class is offered where you live, take it: it will help you make a decision you can live with.
posted by francesca too at 2:25 PM on February 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

shelleycat- love you!
posted by francesca too at 2:27 PM on February 27, 2008

You're not going to know if you can handle it until you've seen a really bad spell, so I'd take a wait-and-see approach. You just gotta feel this one out for yourself.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 2:27 PM on February 27, 2008

schizophrenia can be a horrific illness, however, and you would be totally justified to walk away now. on the other hand, if you still get the tummyflutters when you think about her, well, i think love is worth it. people fall in love and stay in love through terrible, terrible things. could you be one of those people? only you know. we all -want- to be that person, of course, but whether or not you actually can...again, only you know.

i think what you need is more information, and i think you have the right to ask her. ask with love, kindness, and concern. good luck.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:13 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some of the comments in this thread just go to show that stigma is alive and well. As someone with bipolar, I am hurt and frustrated. You don't have any responsibility to stay with someone just because they have a mental illness, but I would hope that you would see that this is just one thing in life, like many other things in life, that are to be coped with. I'm wondering what some of these posters would say if you said your girlfriend of one month just got into a car accident and was now quadriplegic. No, you wouldn't have to stay with her, but saying "RUN!!" is a bit much.

The implication that all schizophrenics are knife-wielding maniacs is horribly wrong. If you do any research at all, you'll find it's simply just not true. From the second (NAMI) link:

Overall, the amount of violence committed by people with schizophrenia is small, and only 1 percent of the U.S. population has schizophrenia… By comparison, about 2 percent of the general population without psychiatric disorder engages in any violent behavior in a one-year period.

It was brave of her to tell you, and very good that she told you so early. She's probably been burned in the past by others who did not want to deal with her diagnosis. That's their choice, but I hope if you are at all interested in this person, who is honest and has been stable for a long time, that you would do a lot of research, don't listen to the ugly stigma, and make up your own mind.
posted by veronitron at 3:40 PM on February 27, 2008 [8 favorites]

The NPR radio program This American Life had a fascinating show on schizophrenia a few years back. As I recall, the story was about a fully functioning woman who heard voices constantly, but knew that the voices were not real, and so basically ignored them as best she could. The program made me think differently about the disease. I couldn't find it in a google search just now, but maybe some other mefier remembers it and will be able to find it.
posted by bananafish at 5:12 PM on February 27, 2008

There was a good thread on this, when someone contemplating a relationship with a sufferer of bipolar disorder a while back, asked for advice.

The point is, anyone you love can hurt you. Even if they are sane, happy, and solidly dependable. If they can't, it's not love.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:59 PM on February 27, 2008

Stigma is certainly alive and well, and that is unfortunate. The difficulties that someone with medication-controlled schizophrenia go through are probably, on the face of it, not all that much worse than someone with insulin-dependent diabetes or cardiomyopathy or myasthenia gravis.

People with schizophrenia can have normal love lives; it's important to know, too, that schizophrenia can remit. In one 20-year followup (the "Wisconsin" study) 35% of schizophrenia patients had remitted at 20 years, and another 20% had no psychosis any more, just residual mood disorders.

I often wonder how much harm is done to the mental state of people with schizophrenia just because people are afraid to love or befriend them. Probably a lot, I'd guess.

All that said, to be quite honest, I too would have trepidations about dating someone with any severe axis I mental illness, especially the psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. fusinski has summed up the argument perfectly clearly and perfectly callously; but there is an element of truth to what he said.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:27 PM on February 27, 2008

Everyone who is saying "walk away" is allowing themselves to be biased by the people they know who didn't ever fully recover after their first psychotic episode. In fact though many people will only ever have one psychotic episode and recover entirely, and many others will have just the one episode, but need ongoing medication. It's traditionally described as:

- one-third of all people diagnosed and hospitalized with schizophrenia will recover completely
- one-third will be improved, needing only occasional hospitalization if any
- one-third will remain unimproved

I'm not up to date with psych literature, but I believe the overall prognosis is now better than this three way split. Statistically we all have friends who have had full-blown psychosis, but because of stigma, we don't usually get told about it. For me it would be an unconscionable, absolutely shitty thing to dump someone you like, just because of a history of mental illness.
posted by roofus at 2:12 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Jessamyn and matteo are wise: be concerned, be careful, but don't run. But it is important to be as sure as you can be what her condition is like and how she's dealing with it. (Don't just take her word for it; check with her family.) Schizophrenia can be very manageable; it can also be a horrific condition that can wreck the lives of anyone close. I have a brother with a schizophrenic friend and a friend with a schizophrenic brother, and in both cases I'm deeply grateful that I'm not one degree closer.

To everyone saying "how dare you say 'run away,' that's very uncharitable!"... if you have no personal experience with the condition and are just going on Nicey-Nice Liberalism: you don't know what you're talking about and should probably stay out of the discussion. Schizophrenia is not like whatever you're analogizing it to. It just isn't.
posted by languagehat at 6:47 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've really been going back and forth on posting further here about this but I wanted to add one thing in sort of a less-positive vein. One of the things to consider in a long-term view -- i.e. I stand by what I said earlier entirely, but if this gets to a more serious place -- is what your gf has in terms of support and assistance of other friends and family. One of the other things that can be difficult in dealing with schizophrenia IF (big if, see ikkyu2's numbers) is that if something does go wrong, you want to not be out there alone helping your partner deal with it.

Schizophrenia can be frightening and difficult for the sufferer in a bad situation but it can also be frightening and difficult for those around them. Being the long term partner of a schizophrenic is a very different thing if they are part of a supportive community. I don't want to harp on this but if things go wrong there's a slim possibility that you might have someone with you who doesn't recognize you and/or who wants to harm you and/or your posessions. In addition to having the emotional fortitude to deal with those sorts of things, there is also the physical fortitude of you and those around you that might in a tough spot need to be called in to play. This is a tiny risk, probably even lower than dating someone who is an angry drunk, but it's a real one and worth knowing it exists and it's different from dating someone with medication-controlled diabetes or a heart condition.

I realized that I was giving my sunnier advice based on the fact that you were a man asking about a woman and I made some presumptions about what that meant about your relative sizes and strengths. Again, I stand by what I said before, that I think you should move forward with eyes open. Just make sure you're taking care of yourself as well as your partner. Email in profile if you'd like to chat more.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 AM on February 28, 2008

Here is my 2 cents worth. I've known 2 schizophrenics. So take what you can from n=2 which is a small sample size I'll admit.

Run. Just run. It's not worth it. The first schiz: I had to watch someone with kids deal with her schizophrenic husband. This guy was completely normal then would turn bat shit crazy when he had a breakdown. This involved threatening to shoot himself and his family. He would lay out in the middle of the street. He'd also lay naked in the livingroom yelling for his kids to pour ice on him because he was burning up. When he was on medication the medication made him seem out of it too. There is no way I'd even *think* about having a serious relationship that may involve having children with someone that had schizophrenia.

Oh and the part that if they do well for a few years then you have nothing to worry about? Wrong. This guy would be fine for 5 years then turn into a total nut case for a while. Then he was back to being normal. Then a couple of years later, back to bat shit crazy. He has now spiraled so far down that he can't even hold down a job and his mom pretty much does everything for him.

The second schiz: I had known him for several years and never knew he had any mental problems. Then one day my dad was called to help hold him down. He was trying to kill himself because "the light" told him to do it.

What puts your girlfriend ahead of the game is that she knows what it is and she's dealing with it. So many people refuse to get treatment because they refuse to think they (or the family member they are responsible for) has a mental illness.
posted by GlowWyrm at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2008

i've dated two schizophrenics. i lost the most recent one, my beautiful boyfriend, to suicide this last summer. it was very unexpected. i thought the disease was under control. feel free to email me if you like, my current email is twosheepasleep at gmail dot com
posted by Soulbee at 11:11 AM on February 28, 2008

meant to say, email me and i will tell you more if you like. but was it worth it? yes.
posted by Soulbee at 11:23 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Here's my advice:

-Take into consideration all the questions other people put to you in the long-term arena--children, menopause, etc.
-Keep going as normal, but don't make any long-term commitments.
-As soon as your relationship reaches a level at which this would be appropriate, which will probably be sooner rather than later considering she lives with them, TALK TO HER PARENTS. They handled the episode, they have been with her since the beginning, and they know what she is capable of. Engage them in conversation about their experiences with the illness. If you handle it maturely, you know, "Your daughter was trusting enough to share her illness with me. As someone who has never had a schizophrenic in his life, I'm a little taken aback as to how to handle things. From your point of view, is there any special information I might need? Is there a counseling center you can recommend or have dealt with in the past?" they shouldn't be too offended once they are comfortable with you.
-If you reach a committed long-term relationship status with this woman, you need some sort of phone tree/emergency plan in place with her family and her mental health providers. You need to find out from all of these people what exactly constitutes an "episode" and what actions should be taken. I don't see schizophrenics as harshly as many people in this thread, but I will admit that small problems can turn nuclear in a matter of minutes with them. You need to know warning signs of all varieties, including signs she might have gone off her medication. In many ways, this should be treated as a serious medical condition. Partners, even ones who just sometimes spend the night, need to know information about medications and phone numbers in case of emergency.
posted by starbaby at 12:23 PM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and it seems that some of the anecdotal stories on here don't include whether or not the schizophrenic in question was medicated or receiving any mental health help. That makes a big difference. You might want to take those stories with a grain of salt.
posted by starbaby at 12:27 PM on February 28, 2008

Here's a website written by a psychologist who actually has schizophrenia...and a wife and kids! Marriage, career, and offspring have survived the fact that he has had several psychotic episodes and hospitalizations, beginning before the medications improved to the degree that they have today. Yeah, I know, the scenario doesn't exactly enhance my confidence in psychologists either, but in the part about his "aspects of coping": he has some very good strategies for dealing with issues in daily life which have the potential to "set off" a schizophrenic and does partially explain how things have worked (or not) for his marriage and children.
posted by bunky at 3:42 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I gave a little more thought to this question, and I have a little more time to answer it now than I did when I posted my above answer.

There is one professor in my neurologic education who stands above the rest as the man who taught me neurology. He authored probably the best neurology textbook I own; spent countless hours teaching me (and other residents) how to be a clinical neurologist; and gave me my first job out of residency. I owe him more than I can count. He had numerous spiels for medical students and residents, many of which I heard throughout the years; every time I examine a patient's eye movements or do an aphasia exam, I hear my old professor's voice in my head, and I have passed those spiels on verbatim to many students and residents I've been privileged to teach.

There was one spiel I didn't like, though, and it was on the diagnosis of schizophrenia. "You can always tell a schizophrenic," he would say. "That's because they're just not very likable. You might find you dislike them immediately, for no reason you can name." Out of hundreds of clinical pearls I received from this professor over the years, this is the only one that never served me. I met many people with schizophrenia and, when they weren't raving, found most of them quite likable. I like most people, though.

Another time I was trying to explain to a friend that the content of the delusions in schizophrenia mirrored the technology of the times. In medieval times, schizophrenic people heard "the Devil;" a little later on, it was common for delusions and hallucinations to have mechanical content (engines, pistons, etc); when the telegraph and railroad appeared, they appeared in delusions; and nowadays we have space aliens and harmful yet invisible radiations. I said to my friend, trying to explain these findings, that schizophrenic people have served as a mirror of social concerns, by reflecting back the unspoken fears of technology.

But in fact the analogy - the mentally ill person as mirror - goes further than that. When I say that I have trepidations about dating someone with an Axis I disorder, you learn something about me, not about people with schizophrenia. The same goes for my professor's spiel. Some cultures and civilizations have valued their schizophrenic members highly, as shamans or medicine men, spirit guides in the realm of the unknown. To the contrary, our culture is terrified of the inexplicable and the unknown, and so it is that we are taught to be terrified of schizophrenia.

What I'm trying to get at is that the question you are asking is really a question you are asking about yourself. The answers here - people giving their opinion on the scenario you propose - aren't going to answer that question.

To do so, you'll have to look into your mirror.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:59 PM on February 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

Give it time. How about 3 years?
I am married to a bi polar, and what I saw before marriage was not the real thing. I am not saying you should do something drastic, just take it easy for her to show all sides, then decide.
If you have the emotional, mental and physical budget to sustain such a relationship, by all means.
You might not have a soul mate, or someone you can talk to about your feelings in the long term, because your partner cannot handle her own emotions, but that is up to you to decide. And the medication which puts her off sex, and the baggage ... The mood swings, the constant self examination ... Perhaps you are are better man than I am ...
posted by bright77blue at 8:52 PM on March 3, 2008

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