Despite the fact that schizophrenia hides the truth from me just for sport, if my personal experience has taught me anything, it is this: we are all connected. Profoundly connected. We don’t have to live life alone. Ever. Desperation will tell us otherwise, but someone is always there. Volunteers, an EMT, or a trusted friend—someone will listen, someone will come. You are a gift that deserves to be cherished. Your light keeps others safe in the dark. Shine brightly, survivor. Shine brightly.
Think about it. Would you let your kids go trick-or-treating as The Sexy Cancer Patient? The Sexy Ebola Victim? Somehow I don’t think you would. I’d like to think that nobody would. Then again, I’m an artist who defends everyone’s right to self-expression. I’m also one of those annoying mental health advocates who believes in the dignity of every human being regardless of their diagnosis. You know, one of those people.
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.
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.
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.
As a person living with schizophrenia, I am thoroughly convinced that going public with my diagnosis was the right idea. I stand behind my ideals because it is not fair for our culture to make us the target of ridicule and shame. Being authentic is the only thing that matters. We were born this way, mutant and proud. As the day we were born. Each and every one of us.
Having taken steps to improve my wellbeing through therapy and medication, the purchase of a medical bracelet and wallet card felt like the next appropriate move. I doubt that few will notice the eighth-inch high font at my wrist, but to a person trained to look for it, those thirteen letters engraved to the right of the Rod of Asclepius just might save my life.
I encourage everyone to talk about mental health. Tell your family, your friends, your therapist, your doctor. Tell them exactly how it feels. If they’re really there for you, they’ll listen. If not, it’s good practice for you. They’ll never know you the way you know you if you don’t talk about it. Living with stigma is a lonely gig. Mental health is better. So talk about it.
Changing the name will not undo years of prejudicial thinking. People living with schizophrenia will still feel the sting of the invisible apartheid. Authorities will still profile us as violent criminals, even when statistics prove otherwise. Society will continue to abandon their own over misunderstandings that have everything to do with the symptoms, and nothing to do with the word attached to the diagnosis.