I live with a cornucopia of mental illness. I hate the phrase, but it’s clinical, so I’ll use it.
These mental illnesses are all of varying degrees, but not so paralyzing that I am unable to live my life relatively unencumbered. That said, my mental illnesses (autism spectrum disorder, depression, anxiety, OCD) are still a very real part of my life and that factors into how I do everything, including date.
Here’s a little snippet from my dating life: My autism (previously known as Asperger’s) made it hard to say yes to dates. My depression made it hard to be rejected. My anxiety made sure I knew of all the horrible ways women ended up in Lifetime movies because botched online dating setups.
There were times it was enough to almost just call the whole thing off!
This kind of thing can be uncomfortable to admit, to talk about, and to share.
Which is why I feel so compelled to share it with you.
The Lord can overcome these dark places and use them to your advantage. If you’re like me, and you’re out there living life with some of these unwelcome thoughts, here is how I worked with it, instead of against it.
Know your limits
There’s nothing wrong with who you are, and what you want. I’ve written other articles about how awesome it can be to swallow your fear and say yes to new things. But in this area, I’m advocating for the opposite, because it’s entirely okay if you don’t want to say yes to new things.
I have a really difficult time in large crowds and around loud noises. So when I met someone new in online dating, if they were someone who loved concerts or big community events, or were season ticket holders for a sports team—well, I knew that it was going to be hard to make that work.
It’s not a matter of being picky. It’s a matter of choosing wisely.
Have a plan
In the life of mental illness, there will be a time when you just cannot deal with whatever the circumstance is. Regardless of how aware of your own limits you are, eventually you’ll end up in a place where you’ll feel a loss of control.
In those moments, it helps to have a plan.
Identify the source of your triggers and then identify an immediate solution.
I always need to know where the exit is and have a clear path to get there. I look for booths in the front of restaurants and sit facing the door. It allows my mind to be a little clearer to focus on why I’m there.
If you’re nervous about conversation, try having a few stories you’ve got down and can whip out at a moment’s notice. Which brings me to my next tip:
I’m very pro-rehearsal for social situations that make me uncomfortable. You can’t know what someone else will say, but it helps to feel like you’ve prepared for at least the general topic.
In the midst of a depressive episode, for instance, I will practice a few different ways to say: “This has been fun, but I need to turn in because I have an early morning.”
However many times you need to run your lines before you feel confident that you can stick to them, do it! Never feel silly for preparing.
People spend their entire lives training for things much smaller than finding the love of their lives—surely you can prep for ten minutes for this!
Use the buddy system
Make sure you have a friend or family member who knows where you are. You could even have a system of escape. I’m a fan of being direct and honest, but sometimes you just don’t have the words you need to bow out of a date you’re no longer able to be on for whatever reason.
Have a system for you to text a friend a code word that will trigger a phone call or text prompting your excuse away from the situation.
Check in with your buddy regularly to tell them how dating in general is going! Invite them to pray with you. Listen to their insights.
Know your strengths
Feeling things strongly can actually be a total asset! Sure, there is a great risk for getting hurt, but the flip-side is the capacity to love has great depth!
Thank God that you’ve been given a unique opportunity to experience life in such an intense way. Celebrate every victory enormously—whether it’s finding love, a successful date, or just getting out of bed on a hard day.
You’ve got this!