Explaining to someone why I was out of work and on disability was often more difficult than describing the terror of psychosis, probably because everyone understands what it’s like to have a job, and maybe lose one, but almost no one understands schizophrenia.
To the uninformed public, the word “schizophrenia” seems to provoke more fear than understanding. It carries with it years of stigma, from images of horror movie stereotypes, to coverage of mass shootings. As far as the media’s concerned, when it comes to such negative imagery, I’m the Big Bad, and yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m afraid of monsters, I’m not one of them.
One thing is for certain—I don’t like feeling socially awkward. That can’t last forever, though, no matter how it may seem in the moment. I want to confront my situation because I don’t like being lonely. General anxiety has me second guessing myself, and social anxiety keeps me outside looking in. As uncomfortable as it might be, I’m ready for a change.
Of course, the first thing that comes into play is the stigma. The number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m so OCD!” the pop culture meme for explaining away control issues. At this point I’m aware of how social stigma functions, so I won’t be letting it get me down. Still, it’s out there in spades, pushing the self-stigma triggers ever more so, prompting mindful response over knee-jerk reaction. Dealing with another diagnosis is challenging enough without letting stigma derail my quality of life.
The staff on our wing had their work cut out for them, with twenty-four patients to attend to. Community therapy concentrated on setting and achieving goals. Occupational therapy focused on creatively integrating right- and left-brained processes. Twenty-four individual viewpoints on life; twenty-four souls needing to communicate, each in their own unique way. A microcosm of the very world we longed to be a part of, treating one another with respect when someone went off the rails, supporting one another when life’s lessons got too hard to shoulder alone.
I don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t pay attention when they ask me how I’m doing. If it turns out that they’re not listening, I chalk it up to experience and move on. It can be frustrating to be misunderstood, but it’s not the end of the world. I can always try again.
Science posits that the origins of my mental illness are in my DNA, inextricably woven into the fabric of my life. My personality exists separate yet equal to my diagnosis. I have a sense of control over my thoughts and actions, but I also have to recognize that this is an illusion, albeit one that I’m invested in for the sake of my mental health.
There are times when, even medicated, depression cuts through and I can’t muster the gumption to accomplish anything. I’ve read that this is common, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. For me, being depressed means waiting out the course of the symptoms. Talk therapy helps, but I’d still like some kind of merit badge for getting stuff done.
Today I live in gratitude for all of the help I’ve received, and especially for the gift of acceptance which I awarded myself. The perseverance of my therapist and trusted friends helped get me from my deluded thoughts to a place where truth helps me heal. My symptoms are more obvious to me now when they arise, and I’m vigilant about my mental health.