You know, I have trouble separating me from my illness a lot of times. Often I find myself wondering where does Neil the Person stop and where does the schizophrenia begin, when I start to act even the slightest bit “off.” I mean, I have an illness that affects how I think so you can begin to see the problem. When I reflect back on my past, on things that I have done while ill, how much of it was me? How much of it was that I was untreated and needed help?
There aren’t easy answers for this. My mental illness is a part of me, and yes does shape and define me somewhat. I do cope with it daily, if not hourly. However, I could choose to be Neil the schizophrenic and let that define me. I choose to be Neil the person who happens to be schizophrenic and let who I am be that definition. I may not be able to ever completely separate my illness from who I am, but I can make sure that it is only a small part.
There is a similar but (at least to me weirder) viewpoint for those who are “normies” and mental illness. This (at least in my experience) holds true especially if they have limited experience with those who are mentally ill.
Often the illness is depersonalizing in a weird way. The most obvious and unfair stereotype is that of the unstable mental patient. And I must be clear, there are those with mental illnesses who do hurt themselves or others. There are many, including myself, who do not.
But there’s also a subtle (and in my view equally dangerous) viewpoint, that the mentally ill are, I don’t know how to put it other than “noble children.” I think you’ve seen the stereotype. Many dramadies involving the inside of a mental institution tend to exploit this one. The “good” part of this stereotype is the refrain “the real crazy people aren’t in here they’re running the rat race.” To be fair, there is good in this stereotype because it reminds us that “crazy” is not the same as “mentally ill.”
However, the reason I put the “good” in quotes was that it also reinforces the idea that the mentally ill are only, well, children who need looking after. I want to make clear that there are those seriously mentally ill that do need help in that fashion. I’ll admit that at one time, I did need such help from my friends and family, even though I was lucky enough to not be hospitalized. I’ll leave the “mentally ill” need to be portrayed as just normal people on TV and in the movies speech for later.
Just as it is bad for those who don’t know any better to assume that the mentally ill are intrinsically bad (serial killer, unstable man takes over bus, etc) it is equally as bad to assume that the mentally ill are intrinsically good. A mental illness may enable a cause for erratic or sometimes even destructive and dangerous behaviour but there is still a person underneath that illness.
That person is no different than a “normie.” She or he could be good, could be bad, could be indifferent. To even make it more confusing (and to be just like life) that person could be good and do a horrible thing or be bad and do an extremely nice thing. Mostly it is a mix that is hard to define. No one, including a mental patient, fits into a specific box. We are a spectrum of personalities and values and we don’t always do the right thing for the right reasons.
I tend to believe I am a good person, though I hope I am humble enough to admit when I am wrong. Most people tend to think similar things (and whether we live up to them is an entirely different matter). We are, after all, rarely the devil in our own story.
My mental illness doesn’t make me a good or bad person. I do so, through my choices and my actions. Just like any other person, mentally ill or not.