Last week, I met with my psychiatrist. Soft-spoken and white-haired, he encourages and converses gently with me in a way no psychiatrist has done before. As I chattered about my load of homework and increasing independence, his smile widened with relief. After months of therapy, I finally seemed to be ready to go out into the “real world.”
When I finished explaining my situation, he scribbled down a few notes before looking straight into my eyes searching for the truth. He asked several questions about symptoms. Used to this routine, I answered quickly with hopes of moving on to address other issues. As I honestly but swiftly replied to his wonderings, the tension left in his body eased out as he believed my progress. Then my doctor suddenly asked, “Are you dating anyone?”
Stunned, I am simply stared at him before shaking my head slowly. In response, he simply smiled and moved on to another question. I, however, remained stuck wondering what he meant. As a 21-year-old woman, do I need a boyfriend? Am I behind everyone else my age? Could I even handle being in a relationship right now?
The other day, a similar conversation took place. Jokingly, I told my mother that I planned to visit England, meet a British man, fall instantly in love, and start a relationship. Head tilted to the side, my mom looked deep into my eyes before answering. “You are actually in a much better place for that than you were this May.”
Seriously? That was only a few months ago. Am I honestly ready to start a long-distance relationship? Do I want to begin one?
These comments made me both anxious and excited, confused and relieved, validated and pressured. For years, my parents warned me not to date. Suddenly, the possibility of it makes me want to dance with joy or throw-up in fear. Something withheld from me for so long now might happen. But will it? Do I want it to? Would anyone ever consider dating me?
So, I am feeling very conflicted about this whole situation. Being comfortable in a relationship is a huge step toward a normal life. My PTSD creates fearful scenarios out of each stranger passing by my car. Anorexia hisses that I never look beautiful enough for any guy to admire. Depression isolates me in my room for hours. Anxiety brings on physical symptoms that keep me from others such as hyperventilating, nauseousness, and splitting headaches. Aspergers forces me to take long periods of time reading the social cues of others.
With all of these problems, could I still date someone? If so, does that mean that dating equals health?
Well, I do not think that all dating is healthy. Many women I met in treatment suffered because of poor relationships. Others, however, felt great support and encouragement from their husband, boyfriend, or fiance. Thus I think that the health of dating depends on the relationship.
That being said, people struggling deeply usually need to have time away from a deep relationship. It is hard to care for someone else when you have a great deal of healing to do inside of yourself. For me, a boyfriend would have added unneeded stress and anxiety. While trying to gain weight and discover myself, I am glad to have my family and friends but not a romantic companion. This is just my experience so some might disagree. However, it is wise to evaluate your relationships while moving toward recovery.
For those of you who are romantic others to a suffering person, please treat them with patience and compassion. Watching others suffer might be miserable. However, they need to take this journey to health despite the challenges along the way. Please encourage them but do not pressure them too much. Do research so that you might better understand and help them.
Going back to my first question, is dating a symbol of health? Perhaps romantic relationships are recovery-focused for some people while triggering for others. It depends on the person. Although I am not sure that I am ready, preparing for and thinking about dating brings about fear and anticipation in me. Hopefully, I can take this journey slowly with lots of help from others.