My last serious relationship was with a man who had paranoid schizophrenia.
I saw this node title years ago and have been wanting to respond, but couldn't bring myself to do it until now.
I agree with No Springs' statement that the mentally ill live by a different set of rules. In my case, it wasn't just his paranoia that caused problems. My ex always took his medication, and he seemed perfectly normal at first. He was one of the few people in my life, at the time, who could make me laugh. He had days when he couldn't function. Usually he was fine. The main problem, so far as I understood it, was that his illness came at the age of 18. That is an age of major life transition. High school is over, it's time to either go to college or get a job, move out, become independent.
Unlike everyone else, my ex didn't get to make those choices. Instead, he was confronted by police during a hallucinatory episode and taken to the mental health hospital where he then lived for some time. He spent several years on different medications until finding the right combination. He gained a huge amount of weight due to the lethargy the drugs induced; by the time I met him he'd lost all the weight, but he talked about it often. I didn't understand at the time how much it had affected him. He didn't get to party it up or pursue a career. He spent his late teens and early twenties being ill. I don't think he ever got over the time he lost. I should have clued into that, since he spoke of it often, but I was so naive that I didn't think it would make a difference.
It did make a difference. It changed the way that he saw things. He lived by the unspoken rule that others are responsible for him. He lived alone and he seemed relatively self-sufficient, at first glance. I didn't realize how dependent he was upon other people until I made the mistake of moving in with him. He was so used to being catered to by family and friends that he didn't learn any life skills. If he didn't know how to do something, his reaction was to ask me, to call his father, or to call one of his friends. He made no attempt to solve problems himself. I don't know if that attitude was a habit sprung from his circumstances or if it was a personality thing. It didn't help that I was the only person who tried teaching him how to do things for himself.His family and friends would just do it all for him.
Looking back, I can see that he was forced to skip a major developmental period of life. He never had to look after himself, not fully. I had to do it all: hang things on the wall, fix the computers when they broke, write the grocery list. If I wanted him to do anything I had to teach him first which made me feel more like a mother than a girlfriend. He wouldn't even clean up after himself. I would come home after a 14 hour day of school and work and the place was a mess and there was no food to eat and instead of offering to help cook dinner he would watch TV until I had finished cooking by myself, at which point he suddenly decided he was hungry and could he have some too?
Explaining to him how I felt made no impact unless I became too sad to even speak to him, which lead to empty promises of changing. At one point we went to couples counselling, where the counsellor explained to him that he was treating me with disrespect. Even that didn't do any good. I was told later that he is used to being selfish because he doesn't understand what life is like for other people. He assumes that everyone else has it all together simply because they're not ill. I distinctly remember him telling me how he looks up to me. He told me I"m so strong. But I don't want to be looked up to by a partner. I want someone beside me who can be strong when I'm not. I told him that and he didn't understand. He had moments of clarity when he understood me, then those moments would fade.
Getting back to the question of the node title, how to love someone who is mentally ill? Understand the risks. He or she might not be capable of being an equal partner. Instead of feeling like a team, you may feel more like a caretaker. You can't get angry at them for it, because it's not their fault, and not being able to feel angry may make you angry. At the same time, this is a person with good qualities that will make you reluctant to leave the relationship. My ex had a wonderful sense of humour, an artistic soul, a good heart. My romantic love turned into the love that one might have for a child. My mistake was denying to myself that he had an illness. To this day, I still don't know if I'm making excuses for him or if he should be held accountable for certain things he did.
I heard that he moved out to Victoria, B.C, something he always talked about wanting to do. I hope he is happy. At the same time, I hope that I never see him again.