My Mental Illness Is Always There

By July 17, 2018Blog

Sometimes I find myself wondering how I appear to others. I’m aware of the traits that stigma is born of, the stereotypical portrayal of a schizophrenic in film and on television, but, unlike those depictions, you won’t find me drooling on myself or curled up in the corner giggling incessantly. Still, for as much as I might think that I present as normal, I’m aware that there are times when the illness seeps through. It can’t be helped. I am who I am.

At my book study, for example, when it came my turn to share, I could hear myself making little sense, and it registered with others in the group as well. People asked me how I was feeling, asked if things were all right. I told them I was off kilter, that I felt blurry and out of place. They assured me I was among friends and needn’t worry. They all know that I live with schizophrenia. One of them, a former mental health nurse who has watched the course of my wellness through its many ups and downs, took me aside and asked if I was still taking my meds. He wanted to make sure that I was doing okay, so he asked if I needed anything. I answered blankly that I didn’t know. He replied, “I think you need a hug,” and he was right. I did. He’s one of those friends who pays attention to the needs of others. Sharing my sense of whimsy, when I was in the hospital last year he brought cupcakes so big we needed a knife and fork to eat them. He’s been a great support over the years and can tell when I’m vibrating outside my own frequency.

By contrast, when I was at the self-checkout recently, an attendant positioned herself beside me and stared at me the entire time that I rang up my groceries, ignoring other customers and watching intently as I transferred items from my basket to the scanner. Sensing her uneasiness, I turned to her and smiled. She didn’t smile back. Instead, she went to her station and got on the phone, presumably to call for backup. I used my frequent shopper ID, paid by card, and bagged my items in plain view. I finished my shopping and left in as relaxed a state as I could, given the circumstances. I tried to understand her apprehension. Maybe I had been seen talking to myself. She couldn’t have known my diagnosis, but the actions of a mentally ill person in a public place can be interpreted a number of ways, and she chose to be mistrustful.

I don’t want to have to police my actions any more than anyone else would. People go about their days. If I’m not speaking directly to someone—and certainly not in “word salad” speak—then I figure it’s pretty hard to tell that I have schizophrenia. It goes largely unnoticed in the circles I’m in, mainly artists, musicians, and sensitive people, where eccentricities and quirks are tolerated, if not expected. Being engaged in a one-sided conversation may not get overlooked, but it won’t be dissected, either. Still, if I’m to be open and honest, then I have to keep my friends informed as to how I’m doing. I may feel like I’m functioning at a normal level, but my mental illness is always there.

Introspection and self-analysis are invaluable tools, but there are times when I consider these observations to be critical responses brought on by self-stigma. I’m aware that my diagnosis is not subject to change, only the ways in which I deal with it are. To think otherwise would be naïve. When I say I’m living with schizophrenia, my emphasis is on “living.” I take my medicine and go to therapy to help maintain a quality of life that I’m growing more accustomed to with each passing year. My history serves as a reminder that without medication and a treatment plan I would be closer to Hollywood’s caricature of a schizophrenic. Clerks might have reason to be suspicious. Bear hugs might go unreceived. The disjointed thoughts and incoherent speech of my unmedicated past would come back to haunt me. Paranoia and delusion would replace serenity and acceptance. I might go walkabout and possibly hurt myself again. Suicide could enter my mind once more as a viable solution to the pain of being human.

I’m respectful of my illness now. Time in the hospital has taught me to be prudent. I acknowledge the delicate nature of my mind. I feel confident that my life today has meaning and value.


  • Bea says:

    I am so proud of you brother. Thank you for all your articles. They give me hope and I am sure others as well.

  • smileandrelax says:

    This is the greatest thing I could have read today. Self care is the anchor of my life. Without it, I have nothing to give and no way to receive.

  • Tej says:

    Be kind to yourself, give yourself a break. Don’t put so much pressure to complete something, take your time with it. If it takes months instead of weeks so be it.

  • Olga says:

    Dear Henry. My mother lived with schizophrenia for 25 years (she had a rare late onset when she was 50). I’ve learned a lot since then. And one thing I decided for myself was not to be ashamed of it. There is nothing shameful in having a brain that’s out of balance or diseased, whatever you want to call it. When someone’s heart is bad or their stomach is hurting, they get sympathy. When it’s their brain, they get shunned. It shouldn’t be this way. Please know that there ARE people out there who will not mistrust you. Or shun you. I’d like to believe there are more and more of us, even though not enough yet. But we’ll get there. And yes, your life absolutely has meaning and value. Good for you for living your life. Stay strong. Lots of love.

  • Pearl :) says:

    I am a psych nurse because I understand. Why? Because I’m bipolar, my mother is bipolar, my brother is an addict and bipolar (who went severely psychotic for 2 years and lived with me and my family)…and my son is a 22 year schizophrenic (SEVERE) who spent his 19th year on the earth in a state mental hospital….not to mention most of my family is undiagnosed!! I CHOOSE to live AND help others and try to do the best I can for myself and others every minute of everyday…hang in there as we WILL STOP THE STIGMA!! You are not alone #mental health xoxo

  • April C says:

    I’m so moved by your story. I think I will be somewhat incoherent in trying to put my thoughts into words. I acknowledge you for the courage it takes to live a full life, taking the risks of your illness being observed and being judged by strangers. Sometimes, even a bad outfit makes me want to hide at home. I send virtual hugs and cupcakes your way!

  • Carli says:

    What an excellent piece. Your writing is wonderful and the ideas are inspiring. Keep up the great work taking care of yourself and sharing your story. I am grateful.

  • Tara says:

    Great honesty and sincerity in your words. Good for you! It sounds like you have a good understanding of your illness and what helps you to be able to live your life. Such strength in this post!

  • Lisa says:

    Henry, I so get you! You are extremely talented. Bless your soul! I don’t have Schizophrenia but I live with a serious mental illness and I understand. I have been struggling with my brain – my mental illness more so than ever before. Like you, for the most part it goes unnoticed. But there are the times that it seeps through for others to see, and for me the self-stigma is difficult. It requires a lot of me to sit with that awareness and accept it. I bought a Bring Change to Mind T-shirt from Sax’s 5th Avenue – it says “The Future is Stigma Free.” I plan to wear it to an important gathering next week. I will wear it with you in mind. You are inspiring! Keep doing whatever you are doing! BIG hugs, Lisa

Leave a Reply