Early detection might have made a difference in the quality of my life, but that’s not what happened. I went years without a diagnosis or treatment. People defined me as eccentric; it made my behavior acceptable. The conventional image of writers and artists was far more romantic than the damaging stereotypes attached to schizophrenia.
These days, five years after the Grand Central Station PSA shoot, Calen, Glenn and I continue to speak out. We have spoken to thousands with only the minimum of nerves; practice makes perfect. The word ‘stigma’ is widely used and I’ve seen the word pop up many times in articles and newsletters and other organizations. This is a battle that isn’t about to stop. I’m proud to say that we are, literally, bringing change to minds.
I make the mistake of trusting people to be unbiased in their thinking about schizophrenia. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I still approach social interaction as if the playing field were level. I trust that people will show me the same courtesy they would a person without a mental illness.
Some friends are strictly online. That has been good, but troubling at times in converting that to time together in the real world. The online friends are important to me – I do not mean to diminish that. But…..I have not made any real friends. I have no one call me…or text me. I do not go out for lunch or dinner. I have no one to discuss regular topics.
Depression used to keep me down and I hated myself for being a quitter. I believed I was incapable of seeing things through. My MO was to give up on everything I tried to accomplish. Now’s there’s a new opportunity for me to push through another blockade of fear, defy the wicked lies of depression, stand up to the immobilizing impact of anxiety and, at the same time, tell you all about it.
I’ve run my dignity through the wash so many times that it’s lost its color. I’m left with two tools, surrender and acceptance. They work, but it’s hard to claim success when I feel defeat. So I inquire, study, and strategize further to increase my mental health skill set. Prudence is proactive.
Today I wanted to write to those who support the ones who are fighting. Whether it is depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or any of the many mental health disorders there is much to be learned. So if you are a solid rock by the side of someone who is fighting then I pass on these words of advice to you. I speak from the perspective of a person who has fought the battle and the person who now helps someone else fight it.
I recently told a new friend and neighbor that I manage a diagnoses of Bipolar I with psychosis and rapid cycling. I explained that I haven’t been symptomatic in a long time and that vigilant compliance to my health care regime is key to thriving – as is support. I asked if she had questions and we talked a lot. It was a very open, honest conversation, Jesica was extraordinarily receptive and filled with empathy.
I’ve accepted a truth which challenges my sensibilities. It is empirical, and I’d be a fool to deny it. While it’s obvious that I am not my diagnosis – that’s metaphysically absurd – I live with schizophrenia, the result of a mutation in my DNA. I didn’t get schizophrenia. It’s not acquired. It exists before birth.
My days will be spent searching for new resources, for that one person with lived experience whom truly understands what this feels like. I will access support forums, read books, and have even written this blog in the hope that someone will reach out to me and share their own experiences. I am clinging onto my sanity here by the skin of my teeth.