I’m sitting in the back row of my book club when my discrimination radar spikes in the red. One of our members – I’ll call him “Buddy” – is sharing his opinion on the evening’s topic of accountability, finishing his allotted three minutes with this comedy routine:
“So a little voice in my head goes, ‘Hey, Buddy – you gotta pay the rent first!’” soliciting snickers from the guild. “It’s not like I’m not takin’ my meds or anything!” The group giggles, and Buddy takes it up a notch, clarifying, “No, seriously – I’m not on meds, okay, people? I mean, I’m not crazy or anything!” More laughter from the members, more volume from Bud. He swings for the fence and knocks it outta the park when he bellows, “It’s not like I have schizophrenia!”
As the joviality subsides, Buddy lowers his tone to a sober demeanor, and, channeling the iconoclastic baritone from a B-movie trailer, makes this proclamation: “Look, people. We all know it. Every person with schizophrenia has no moral compass. It’s a fact. I’ll say it again: No. Moral. Compass.”
The room falls silent, entranced by his every word.
“They are the worst people in America. They should be locked up. Every effing one of them.” Because Buddy has a commanding presence, all the participants nod in agreement. Even the ones who know me, who know about my diagnosis, who’ve read my blog and support me in advocating for acceptance and respect. There they sat, sheep at the circus, hypnotized by nonsense and charisma. I felt like Hester Prynne with a scarlet SZ on my chest.
I knew I had little chance of breaking his spell with reason and fact. I could only listen to him declare to know the Truth while his ignorance of it was overshadowed by his magnetism. A sad thing about our society is that regardless of which side you’re on or how transparent your personal motives may be, however ignorant, belligerent, or just plain uninformed you are, if you’ve chosen your audience well and your charm is palpable enough, you can preach any tripe to them that you like and they’ll lap it up. It is the nature of intolerance, the definition of discrimination. Injustice upheld with the bigger, prettier stick.
Perhaps you’ve experienced your own “Buddy” or “Buddette” publicly spewing such vitriol. It probably hurt, and you probably felt immobilized and vulnerable. Who wouldn’t? The insensitive and careless use of a very real diagnosis or its set of symptoms to invoke laughter and draw attention at the expense of the invisible illnesses that people like you and I live with every day is ingrained into our culture – and patently offensive.
Though near archaic, to say that an approaching storm is schizophrenic can be appropriate when describing contradictory elements or inconsistencies in said weather condition. If your local meteorologist is reporting on a region of lower atmospheric pressure, she’s correct to call it a depression. But it’s unlikely that the news anchor will respond to the cyclone report by stating that the wind and rain have “No. Moral. Compass.”
We’ll all stock up on groceries and hunker down for a few days until the thing blows over. We won’t be heading to the polls to vote the Schizophrenic Depression out of our townships. We won’t be mocking the person sitting across from us because they have trouble connecting with others. Because their mind tells them that isolation is the best course of action when they’re feeling alone and frightened by the voices they hear or the sadness that’s possessed them. We offer solace. We secure the rigging.
Some people choose to remain ignorant because it suits them. It supports their objection to change, acceptance, and the creation of a world outside their own myopic vision. A life which welcomes and supports others who are different from them may not be something that they can immediately comprehend or implement. Time takes time. When it comes to clowns I try to practice tolerance and love, because behind their painted faces they might be hiding the truth that they are simply afraid of what they don’t understand.
We have to pick our battles. We have to lead by example. We need to be as clear and educated as we can about our individual diagnoses and go from there. We cannot acquiesce. Shame is not a safety net.
If we refuse to tolerate bigotry, do we become as intolerant as those we condemn? Live your life as authentically as you can, offer your insights and experience, and I believe that you’ll find yourself bringing change to mind, one conversation at time.