Billy Mann. Nathalie Sturgeon Photo.

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Billy Man sat in the middle row of the movie theatre on a date he was both excited and nervous for. Suddenly, his gaze turned to the crowd. The theatre was getting packed. The panic set in.

“[I told] him I had to go to the bathroom,” said Mann. “I sat in the bathroom for 30 minutes, hyperventilating. He ended up coming into the bathroom and found me losing my mind.”

That was Mann’s first panic attack. He never spoke to that man again.

It’s been described as a demon. A blanket wraps around its host – keeping it warm in misery and discomfort. It’s mental illness.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says about 20 per cent of Canadians live with mental illness.

But how does this affect people’s romantic relationships?

At 21-years-old he was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and situational depression. He said living with this disorder is a rollercoaster up of up and downs in his daily life.

“GAD causes me to overthink and worry about everything in my life,” he said. “It causes me to create obstacles out of seemingly simple tasks.”

For Mann that can be anything from talking to cashiers in public, even having normal conversations with his friends.

It even affects his dating life. Mann said it’s one of his biggest challenges.

“Even thinking about a relationship flares up my anxiety,” he said. “I go through scenarios in my head about how I’m going to cope with being forever alone.”

Mann said there is a constant feeling of always going to the worst-case scenario.

“When I actually do get the courage to date, I’m constantly overanalyzing,” he said. Mann said it comes to a point where he will give up dating altogether because anxiety is too much to handle.

“Now that I’m 24, I am realizing that my habit of finding something wrong with a guy to avoid anything further is a reflection of my own insecurities,” said Mann.

For Mann the rejection is a fear to big to overcome at times. “[I] periodically go through phases where I give up altogether.”

He said he needs to figure out a way to manage his negative thoughts. Mann said he has to keep trying to put himself out there but in a healthy way.

Mann’s relationships have not lasted very long, something he said was a huge part of lingering anxieties that would well-up and boil over.

“It’s gotten to a point where I don’t even tell my friends if I start seeing someone, just in case it doesn’t last,” he said. “I worry they will judge me, and just chalk it up to ‘Billy screwed thing up again… shocking.’ ”

Despite a constant fear in many aspects of Mann’s life, he said he still has a lot to learn about himself.

“I genuinely believe mental illness will make me a more resilient person in the long run,” said Mann. “I know that they won’t ever go away fully, but I’m in a much better place now than I ever was.”

But Mann is not alone in the struggle to find peace of mind from the mental illness dating game.

Kaden MacLaren suffers from a borderline personality disorder. She said dating with this disorder makes the world that much more chaotic.

She said there is a big misconception that borderline personality disorder is similar to bipolar disorder. It’s not.

Borderline personality disorder surrounds the inability to control emotions stemming from early childhood abandonment or abuse.

“It makes it hard to get out of bed, a lot,” she said. “But that’s common, what’s hard to deal with is that every emotional is magnified by 10 all the time.”

The emotions swirl around in MacLaren’s head. It’s like an open wound that won’t heal. Constantly exposed with no sign of relief.

“My significant other call me high maintenance, in the nicest way possible,” said MacLaren. “I’m also extremely impulsive, so that complicates things.”

She said that communication could help her relationship greatly. In fact, it’s the key. MacLaren said being able to communicate allows her significant other to know her triggers and when she is having a bad day.

But is MacLaren’s fear too overwhelming? She has her moments.

“I’m afraid all the time that he will leave me,” she said. “I’m afraid I’ll [ruin] everything with my lack of impulse control. I’m afraid to communicate with him because if I say the wrong thing and he’ll leave me.”

She said history has repeated itself. A sort of self-fulfilling prophecy coined in the study of psychology.

“Every relationships I’ve had previously has ended because I think I’m bad,” said MacLaren. “That I don’t deserve them, that I cause every problem and should push them away before I get hurt.”

MacLaren is currently taking one medication and is seeking new therapy for her illness. But she said there is a long way to go.

So how then do people who suffer form mental illness find love? Is it too complicated?

For Mann he said when you date someone with mental illness you should give them the support they need.

“If you don’t understand what they are going through just be there to listen, don’t judge them for something you can’t begin to comprehend,” said Mann.

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