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On Sex, Love and Mental Illness

Elliot Lazerwitz

It is told in the Old Testament that Abraham and Sarah married young and vital. But years passed, and no children came along. When God's angel  promised Sarah that she would bear a son at age 90, "she laughed" - no doubt from despair and disbelief. Eventually a son was born, Isaac - in Hebrew, "Yitzchak," meaning "he will laugh."

Whether or not you are a believer, if you suffer from some brand of serious mental illness, and you are what is known as a "consumer" or "survivor" (or "c/s"), you may face a journey as long and discouraging as Sarah's. Your natural, normal hopes for happiness, lots of friends, or fulfillment in a career may have been dashed, and you're on the right path if you are slowly, hesitantly picking up the shards of those hopes.

And just as Sarah laughed at God in cynicism and despair, you may be wondering if you can ever have the love of a partner again. You may be looking at people who have sexual relations, of whatever type, as from behind a glass wall. From all around you, ads and movies cry out, "love is for the young, and healthy, and pretty, and rich. It ain't for you". And you may have seen whatever fragile love affairs that did arise from the ashes of hospitalizations fall, wrecked, on the rocks of instability, of the drugs and the sexual malfunctions they may bring, on fear of commitment (or of being committed) and of being hurt.

You may have given up long ago.
But I'm here to say, Don't. Don't give up. We may be crazy, but we sure can
love.

Why do we have so much trouble trusting and loving?

To some of us, the question isn't "why can't we fall in love, marry, maybe have a family?"' but rather, "after all we've gone through, why even bother?"

Let me hazard an answer. You deserve it, and so do the rest of us.

First of all, a lot of us became ill in the first place because we were badly damaged somewhere along the line - and I say this despite my belief in the validity of neurobiological explanations for MI. For many of us, this damage took the shape of sexual or physical abuse. Now, how on earth can a teenager or a grown man or woman trust someone of the opposite - or same - sex, when the person she or he trusted the most in the whole world turned around and betrayed that trust through a raping or beating? Kids are very trusting and fragile creatures, and maybe the tragedy comes when they learn to stop trusting. And adults are really kids inside.

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