Coming out as mentally ill is hard, or it can be. It’s one thing to discuss symptoms and solutions with a doctor; it’s something altogether different to disclose a diagnosis to a friend, family member, or coworker. Making the decision to be open about one’s mental illness can help strengthen already solid bonds of friendship and familiarity. Conversely, it can create distance between people, depending on their levels of comfort, education, and acceptance.
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.