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Schizophrenia makes finding love difficult, but not impossible

By William Turner, CNNMexico.com
updated 11:43 PM EDT, Tue May 29, 2012
Carlos and Adriana enjoy being with someone who understands their schizophrenia.
Carlos and Adriana enjoy being with someone who understands their schizophrenia.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Schizophrenia is a degenerative chronic disease that alters human senses
  • Carlos lost his wife because she didn't understand his mental disorder, he says
  • Enrique says he can't be with someone who also has schizophrenia

(CNNMexico.com) -- Carlos and Adriana have been dating for six years, and though they don't see each other regularly, they value their relationship.

A decade ago, when they didn't even know each other, Carlos and Adriana were diagnosed with schizophrenia; from that moment their love lives became a more complex issue than most people have to deal with.

Adriana describes herself as an introverted woman. She is 42 years old and was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 33.

"I didn't take care of myself. I didn't want to shower and I was not wearing clothes for my age," she remembers. "I was very depressed. My dad was concerned and decided to take me to a doctor."

Carlos, 46, says he passed out while he was working back in 2000. He didn't realize that from that moment he was going to start experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, a mental disorder suffered by approximately 1.5 million Mexicans.

"I began to have delusion of persecution. I was very stressed," he says. "This led me to be a person that was very hard to deal with. I used to think that people knew what I was going to say, that people could read my mind. I was living in a permanent state of stress, I was paranoiac and it was horrible."

The couple met in a therapy group. Adriana says she is happy now that she has someone to talk with.

"I don't have a lot of people to talk with about my personal issues because they don't believe me or they don't want to help me with my deliriums," she says.

Carlos was married when he was diagnosed. He says his wife didn't know "how to understand" that he was suffering from a mental disorder and that is why she decided to leave him. She doesn't allow Carlos to stay in touch with his kids.

"My oldest daughter is now 19. The other two were really young the last time I saw them," he says. "They don't recognize me. A year ago my ex-wife allowed me to meet with my daughter -- she told me she was going to college to be a psychologist. I kissed her and hugged her, but she told me she needed time to understand this situation. Since then, she hasn't answered my letters or phone calls."

María Luisa Rascón, a psychologist and researcher at the National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de la Fuente in Mexico explains that schizophrenia is a degenerative chronic disease that alters human senses; this leads the patient to suffer delusion of persecution, to hear voices or even think that water tastes like acid. It prevents the patient from having a clear perception of what is real and what is not, she says.

For Carlos, the main reason to get better is to recover his children. However, he knows that to achieve this, he will need to become financially stable again, in order to help support his children.

"I lost everything because of the schizophrenia," he says.

Rascón says that in some cases family members are not aware of what a patient is going through after the diagnosis of a mental disorder, and that leads them to leave them.

"The family stigmatizes their sick relative because they are also suffering a social stigma; they feel pushed back and do the same to their loved one. Having a relationship while you are handling with that negative interaction of the rejection, it could be very difficult."

According to the National Institute of Psychiatry of Mexico, 28% of the Mexican population has suffered from some type of mental disorder, such as emotional disorders or anxiety. The National Survey on Discrimination in Mexico made by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination in 2010 showed that 20% of people with disabilities are discriminated against.

For another patient, Rocío, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1996, discrimination was a complex difficulty during her rehabilitation. She and her husband worked in the same company, but when Rocío started to show symptoms such as deliriums and hallucinations, the husband's co-workers started to joke about it, making him feel bad. He felt pressure to quit his job.

After the couple left their jobs, their relationship ended because of their financial struggles. In 1994 she moved with her 4-year-old son to her mother's house.

"In 1990, I started to hear voices everywhere. I tried to run away, I closed doors and windows in my house to avoid hearing them, but it was useless. I heard laughs and people gossiping about me while walking in the street. I heard them even on the TV and on the radio," Rocío remembers.

The stress due to a lack of job security exaggerated her disease, she adds.

Five years after she separated from her husband, her son confessed that his father was already living with another family. Rocío did not feel angry.

"I felt good for him, he found happiness, something he didn't have with me."

During a job interview -- a couple of years after she started her treatment -- she met her current partner.

"We see each other a few times, not very often because he has a family," she says. "We keep our relation secret; my son doesn't know about it and thinks he is only a friend of mine."

As part of her rehabilitation therapy, Rocío attends a radio show called Open Radio every week. It is hosted by people who previously had a mental disease and is produced by the psychologist Sara Makowski. It airs from The Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City.

Makowski describes the radio show as a space for dialogue, which offers a safe environment in which people suffering from a mental disorder can express themselves. In three years, Makowski says, relationships with a partner have been a recurrent topic of discussion among the participants.

"The issues with love ... (are) deeply human. To listen to what they think about love is a great way to get closer to them and to understand that we are not living in distant worlds, that there are bridges that can help us go from one world to another."

"We are lonely people," Rocío affirms. She is ready to find a man who hasn't suffered from any mental disorder and is willing to commit.

This is not the case for another patient, Enrique, 42; he admits to being comfortable without a girlfriend. Since he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, eight years ago, he has become more social because of the workshops he has gone to as part of his rehabilitation process.

"Because of the disease, I became unfriendly and shy," he says. "In my life I have made few friends, the majority in my childhood. When I was sick I felt like a monster. I didn't understand what my physical constitution was."

Enrique hasn't been able to understand what happened to the 15 years of his life before he was diagnosed with a mental disorder at the age of 34. Schizophrenia made him think he could communicate telepathically with his ancestors and he was feeling that everything was an aggression against him. He says he already has overcome that phase.

Now Enrique compares himself with the movie "El Bulto" ("Excess Baggage"), in which a man wakes up after 20 years in coma, without understanding that his country, his family and his world have changed.

"I've never been in a romantic relationship. It is difficult to be in a relationship with someone with a mental disease; you have a lot of issues," Enrique says. "I can't be with a person like me. I would like to be with someone that didn't have a mental disorder."

Read this story in Spanish at CNNMéxico.com

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