I feel guilty for having a mental illness. I understand that it’s likely a genetic disorder, but rational thought is hard to come by. The internalized guilt I feel is the very definition of self-stigma. That’s how I choose to see it. If I’m going to advocate against stigmatizing mentally ill people, then I guess I’d better start with me.
I see that it is my obligation to speak. To shed light. To dispel fear. That is my clarion call to you: join me in pursuit of a better world for those of us who are different. We have been woefully remiss, we are responsible, they are ours. All of them. All of us.
In grade school, I was treated like an outsider. As an art student it was hip to be vague, so no one seemed to notice my inability to interface. I was simply considered aloof. In truth, I was dying inside for the wish of connection. It wasn’t meant to be. The voices in my head dictated my actions, often compelling me to behave irrationally.
Wellness is not a singular phenomenon; there’s a whole world out there that needs healing. If I take care of myself first and learn as much as I can about my illness, then I’m able to share my information with others. I can present my experience with hospitalization and medication to caring and curious people.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of managing my side effects is the maintenance of communication. I have to keep up my perspective or I’ll lose the ground I’ve gained since my last hospitalization. I don’t want that to happen. It’s all about being personally proactive.
Living with schizophrenia, I sometimes find it challenging to share my observations with others. Probably because I’m never really sure about what’s happening and what I think is going on. To that end, I work hard to discern the difference between reality and fantasy. It’s not always that cut-and-dried. Sometimes it’s a blur, a watercolor wash that makes things hard to distinguish.
Standing outside the mental health facility as I waited to see Jackie was the most profound moment of my life. My mind became filled with happy memories of us playing four-square at the bus stop, walking to middle school together, and speeding off to high school in her rundown car. But, suddenly those images were interrupted by the intense guilt I felt for failing to help her and the fear of seeing her in such a harsh place.
In the immediate sense, there’s nothing I can do to avoid the funhouse ride of cascading symptoms once it begins. I strap in and practice my circular breathing. I close my eyes to get in touch with my body, to turn inwards and hopefully calm myself. If I can’t, my obsessive-compulsive disorder surfaces and my personal ritual of counting and cataloging begins, making my bus ride more of an endurance run than a simple crosstown commute.