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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Illness has nothing to do with love

Valentine's Day is here again this year. Every year, I receive chocolates from female patients of mine. Some women like to give chocolates to each other as an expression of their affection.

    At that time, I often say lightheartedly, "Thanks. Aren't there any men to whom you are giving (the chocolates) as well?"

    Once, when I said this, the face of the woman I was speaking to suddenly clouded over and she said in a serous manner, "I have had a psychological illness for a long time. I am not someone who is able to have a boyfriend."

    Influenced by her demeanor at the time, I simply apologized. Thinking more about the matter later, however, I regretted my response. Instead, I thought, I should have said something like, "Why not? Being ill doesn't mean you can't have a boyfriend."

    It was reported this year that an obstetrician-gynecologist at a university hospital had caused an uproar by saying last July while examining a patient in her 20s who had a serious intellectual disability, "In the future, you are not going to be able to have a boyfriend or get married."

    Of course, this is a hurtful and discriminatory thing to say. Looking back on my own experience, however, I have to ask myself whether I too had not felt the same way when I was younger.

    I recall in particular one female patient whom I oversaw when I was in my 20s. When she was finally discharged after a long period of hospitalization, she rented an apartment near the hospital since she did not have any family. Because I had been supporting her in many facets of her life until then, I was sincerely happy to see her starting a new life on her own.

    When she later came to see me at my clinic, she said to me, "I am going to get married." She then told me that her fiance was a male patient who had also just recently been discharged from the hospital. They had hit it off while they were both hospitalized, and had agreed that they would marry after they had both been discharged.

    At the time, I was concerned. I said to her, "You are still experiencing symptoms. Are you sure this is a good idea? Wouldn't it be better to wait a bit longer (before getting married)?"

    The two of them put their strengths together, however, and began building a new life. I later sincerely regretted my comments, realizing that I should have said something like, "Of course it's alright to fall in love even if you're ill. And it's wonderful if that grows into marriage."

    Last year, I heard that numerous people went to see an exhibition in Tokyo of shunga -- erotic art -- featuring images from the Edo period that openly portrayed love and sex.

    Isn't it the case that every one of us just wants to love someone else, or else to become closer to our partner? In my view, this is something that has nothing to do with the matters of health, sickness, or disability.

    This makes me think about who I am going to give chocolates to this year -- and that thought in turn gives me a warm feeling inside my heart. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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