This Valentine’s Day was my twentieth in a row of being single.
Some of you have noticed my lack of discussion regarding my romance life, and a few have asked whether or not I’ve been able to date while dealing with PANS.
The answer is… It’s complicated.
I’ll soon be twenty-one, but I’ve never had any kind of relationship—unless you count a week in seventh grade.
For years, I was completely okay with my singleness. In fact, I actively didn’t want a boyfriend. There were a few boys in high school who wanted me to be their girlfriend, but I turned them all down. In college (before I went into remission), I casually dated one guy off and on for a while, but then I stopped before it could become a relationship.
I felt bad for rejecting everyone, but I was always sure I’d done the right thing, because I never had feelings for any of them. I always told myself I was too busy for a boyfriend anyway, but ever since I was twelve, part of me knew there was also something “different” about me…
Whenever I would get together with my girlfriends in high school and they pointed out an attractive male walking by, I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t understand their butterflies or flirtation or talk of wanting to kiss. It was like I was missing something in my brain—as if puberty had never happened (though I experienced all the physical changes of puberty).
To make matters worse, I started having sexual intrusive OCD thoughts when I was eleven. They involved men and women and things that are far too explicit to mention, and though I viewed the thoughts as disgusting, I felt responsible for them. So I was sure they meant something about my sexuality, and I felt like the vilest person on the planet.
For a long time, I was confused about my sexuality—or rather, my lack thereof. If I couldn’t tell whether a guy was attractive or not, did that mean I was gay? Yet I knew I didn’t feel anything for women, either. Or was I actually attracted to both because of the intrusive thoughts?
To this day, I don’t experience attraction in the sense that most people think of it. Sure, sometimes I “notice” a guy, but what I feel is little more than a strong desire to get to know him. I want guys to notice me, too, but there’s never a desire for anything physical.
Until recently, however, I didn’t even notice guys. The first time I ever found myself staring at someone because I thought he was good-looking was a week after my second IVIG—when I was enjoying a short period of near-remission. Since then, I think that a switch is slowly starting to come on in my brain, because this has happened a few more times—but it never once happened in all of the years that my PANS was untreated.
Perhaps I’m a very late bloomer in this area. Perhaps I never felt anything for so many years because it wasn’t the right guy. But personally, I think that PANS has both directly and indirectly affected my ability to experience attraction and to have relationships.
With PANS, the dopamine receptors—known to play an important role in romance—are attacked. Given that I’ve started feeling hints of attraction as the inflammation in my brain has decreased, I don’t find it hard to believe that some of my lack of feelings could’ve been because of the bad antibodies in my brain.
At the same time, I’ve never met another PANDA who also feels how I do (or rather, who doesn’t feel). But I can’t be the only person like this, right?
Of course, was I really going to be thinking about boys last year anyway, when the thought of putting away my laundry once overwhelmed me to the point of running out of my apartment screaming? How can you date when you’re dealing with crippling depression and anxiety? Plus, I’m sure I may once have tried to crush any tiny amount of romantic feelings I had towards anyone for fear of them triggering another intrusive sexual thought.
Nevertheless, this Valentine’s Day, for the first time ever, I felt some pangs of loneliness. While I still don’t experience attraction in the same way as most people, I’m slowly starting to want somebody to share life with—something I was once convinced would never happen. I’m finding that, in all areas of my life, recovery reveals many surprising things about the person I really am.
So who knows? Maybe next Valentine’s day, I’ll post a picture of some roses from my boyfriend…