I am a paranoid schizophrenic. I refuse to be ashamed of it.
Most people who suffer from mental illnesses do so in private, for many reasons. The largest reason is of course the stigma we face. Few people, unless they have a connection to mental health issues, have any understanding what we face. And the truth is it is impossible for others to understand completely, as it is akin to describing sight to someone who was born blind.
Unless you are a mental patient, you have no idea how nervous one is when the have to utter the words “I suffer from…” Even though in most cases it is an illness that can be managed like diabetes, we live in a world that has many in it who hear the words “Mental Illness” and think something along the lines of “well, they couldn’t keep it together.” Even worse, there are people who automatically think “deranged man holding a bus hostage” or “serial killer.”
Some of that problem is the media, who use mental illness as a convenient justification for why a villain is evil, rather than accepting that people come in all shades of morality, mental illness or not. It also doesn’t help that there are seriously deranged people with mental illnesses who do commit horrific unspeakable acts that are easy ratings for the news.
But part of the problem is that we just don’t hear from those with mental illnesses who are “normal” which the vast majority of those who have suffered a mental illness are. As I said, it’s hard for us to speak up for many different reasons.
This idea came from when I got placed in a situation where a person in a position of authority did something that was in their mind completely logical and quite correct but because they didn’t really understand that I was a schizophrenic and how the impact of that illness completely changed the dynamics of the situation. I was advised by my mentor that I should come up with a means to address the situation, should it happen again.
The biggest problem is that quite simply the individual in question did not understand the situation from my perspective. They simply did not understand the impact of my illness on my life. I admit I’m good at hiding it. Many of us who suffer from mental illness appear to be like “normal” people (because we are) and in my experience no one I have ever met has ever said “oh that was obvious,” when I have uttered the words “I am a paranoid schizophrenic.”
But just because we aren’t different from any other person save for the dreadedly implicative words “Mental Illness,” doesn’t mean that there is no need for better understanding and for our perspectives to be heard. I want to live in a world where any mentally ill person can tell their boss, the person they are on a date with, their teacher, their mentor, their mechanic or whomever they choose that they have an illness and that person react exactly if that person told them they had diabetes.
More than that, I would like that person to have at least on some level a gut intuition for how the illness affects a person. When someone tells another person they broke their arm, even if you have been lucky enough to never had a broken bone, you have some idea what is going on. Cancer is another example, even if we don’t quite understand the medical reasons for it, most people understand that it is real, serious, but in many cases quite treatable. We all know though that if someone has cancer though, they have a hard road to go on.
Unfortunately for mental illness, it is easier for most people to get their heads around the idea of a broken bone, or that there are things growing unhealthily inside a person rather than “their brain doesn’t work exactly right.” It is a hard concept for those without any experience to get a handle on. Why wouldn’t it be? Most people (at least in my experience) have never had the idea of what it would be like for their brain not to work properly occur to them.
There are plenty of resources available to understand the medical nature of mental illness. The purpose of Life of a Schizophrenic is to put a human perspective on a serious mental illness. I want people to understand when I say things like “I had a bad day” or “I had a relapse” or “I’m tired” what I mean by that. I want people to see Neil, the person who deals with something no one should ever be asked to deal with and not Neil the schizophrenic. I want to live in a better world. I want to help make this a better world.
It starts with a conversation. I hope you join in!