First off, a shout out to all my friends from schizophrenia.com! Thanks for reading!
Schizophrenia is a four-letter word for most people. It’s dirty. It’s shameful. It’s something that you hide in the closet in an old shoebox on the top shelf and hope to God no one ever finds it. When you have a psychotic illness, it can be very hard to keep it under wraps. I thought I might share a few stories about when I revealed myself to be psychotic and the reactions I got. For those of you trying to get up the courage to tell people what’s going on with you, I hope these tales will be comforting, although some might turn you the other way.
If you’ve been following my posts so far, you know the story of my revealing my illness to my future husband. One for the positive column.
My best friend Zach: It’s hard to tell the guy you’ve been friends with since kindergarten that there’s something very embarrassing (or so I thought at the time) and serious wrong with you. I was forced to broach the issue with him after my first hospitalization and subsequent temporary withdrawal from my undergraduate program. I think I started the conversation casually but, like a tall wave that breaks over a high wall of rocks, I unleashed my torrential secret in a violent rush. I was so nervous about telling him, thinking he would judge me or refuse to be my friend anymore, that I just threw it out on the conversation table like you might do so with a dead skunk. It was ugly and lingering and there was an indefinite period of awkwardness that seemed like it would never end. But then he said, ever so nonchalantly, “Okay.” Some details about the symptoms I was experiencing and the struggles I had already endured followed, but for the most part that’s all that was ever said. Zach seems uncomfortable when we talk about it, doesn’t have much to say, and generally avoids the subject. And that’s okay with me, because it gives me a sense of normalcy. There’s no elephant lurking in the room with him. Just two people in graduate school lamenting the woes of research projects, bad labmates, and inconsistent advisors. Planning hikes and going kayaking. Drinking coffee and eating baklava. He’s the kind of rock every schizophrenic needs. Someone who completely ignores the fact that you’re sick and almost seems to forget it.
My big, Meridith: Mers didn’t find out from me about my mental illness I don’t think. When I lived in the sorority house for a semester, I became overwhelmed with mounting pressures of school, persistent hallucinations, and exhaustion. Completely off my medication and seemingly beyond hope, I downed a bunch of Geodon (an antipsychotic). About eighty pills, to be exact. Needless to say when my boyfriend at the time found me and called the ambulance to come get me, my illness was center stage in the house. People who the day before loved me and thought the best of me no longer wanted to have anything to do with me. They banned me from the house and pretended like I didn’t exist or worse, that I was vermin. But not Mers. She sent out an e-mail attempting to do some damage control and just stuck by me like any sister should, biological or otherwise. And to this day we are close, perhaps closer than ever. She is the kind of person who just genuinely cares. She doesn’t ask me specifically about my illness or symptoms, but she’s always kept up with my adventures through life. When I struggle, she supports me. When I’m doing well, she celebrates with me. She means the world to me and I am so proud that I will be giving a reading at her wedding (eek, talking in front of all sorts of people I don’t know…) to the guy she’s been with since I met her, almost seven years ago.
My mom: Mom didn’t find out from me about the schizophrenia, obviously, because I still didn’t recognize or understand what was wrong with me when I was diagnosed. She didn’t believe it then and she doesn’t believe it now. She is unflaggingly against the use of such a label for me. When the doctors told her initially, she was outraged. And scared, I assume. She didn’t know much about the condition and she didn’t know how to help me, something she has always been able to do in the past. When my condition was downgraded to schizoaffective disorder earlier this year, she considered it a huge victory. She is fiercely protective of me, like a mother tiger, and is the first person to advocate for my continued academic pursuits. She is, however, always afraid of people knowing that I’m sick. In fact, I haven’t told her about this blog. Sorry mom, if you ever read this. I know she’s not ashamed to have me as a daughter. She’s afraid of the implications of my diagnosis for my professional development, career opportunities, and respect from peers. She’s terrified that I will be denied some opportunity because of my condition.
It’s a valid concern. But I am stubborn. I want people to know what this is like and how I and others with psychotic illnesses get by on a day-to-day basis. I want to provide hope to those who struggle with their tormented existence that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. So I tell people I have schizophrenia. I talk openly about it to those people who I feel I can trust. And I share my story with all of you. You may see me on the street someday, not knowing I’m the person writing this blog, and never recognize me. I don’t want to be a celebrity or something. I just want the world to see the effect those little words have on someone and how it doesn’t have to get in the way. If you’re afraid to share your illness, I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’ve kept it from many people. You have to judge how the person might respond and be ready for the fallout if it isn’t good. However, if you never try to break out of your shell then you never will. It might surprise you to hear that another person you know already is suffering too. A comrade in arms. Someone you can talk to. Anonymity is great but it can make for a very lonely soul. So reach out and share your soul with someone. It could change your whole life.
Thanks for listening.