In previous blogs in the Choices Series, I've suggested that there are three milestones in the Journey of Recovery from schizophrenia: Functionality, Wellness, and Fulfillment. I've also suggested that the starting point for this journey is Acceptance of the fact that we have a serious brain disorder. We've also addressed the fact that evaluating an individual's level of functionality has to be determined on a person-by-person basis and in relation to the person's capacity for functionality. From our prospective as people suffering from schizophrenia, grading can only be done fairly on the curve. One size does not fit all.
Most of the work-a-day world, however, does not grade on the curve. Our economic system most certainly, and our political system perhaps to a lesser degree, cut very little slack for anyone, especially among their leaders. In both for-profit and non-profit organizations, the emphasis is on getting "results," and very often over the short term. Those in business in particular may get paid the big bucks, but they live in constant fear, fear that someone will sabotage them or that they will fall short of expectations (e.g., earnings drop by $0.50, instead of increasing by $1.00 per share).
And now we're getting down to the source of much of our difficulties in and with society, especially with respect to getting and keeping a job, but also in social interactions as well. We find ourselves in a quandary; we and society define functionality very differently and we are in the minority. Only 1% of our populace has schizophrenia, and if you throw in all mental illnesses, we still only 20% of the total population. In other words, we simply are NOT the 800 lb. Gorilla in the room, which can leave us at the mercy of others.
How can our idea of functionality and that of society's be reconciled? Reconciliation will only come if one or both of two events occur. The first is that a cure is found and we all suddenly cease to have schizophrenia, like recovering from the mumps; it goes away never to return. This may be possible over the long term, but I don't expect it to occur in my lifetime.
The other alternative is that society will radically alter its definition of functionality, bringing it more into conformance with our own. Who knows when _____ will freeze over?
Actually, there is a third alternative. We and society could arrive at a compromise. Remember, though, that all of us in this country with a mental illness of any kind still represent only 20% of the total population. We're not in a strong bargaining position.
The mental health advocacy movement has been trying for years to get our elected officials to do something to help us fix our badly broken systems of delivering mental healthcare services. And in all fairness, a fair amount of blatant discrimination and some very important changes in the laws of the land have been addressed as a consequence of our lobbying efforts. NAMI, The Treatment Advocacy Center and the many consumer organizations have accomplished a lot in this manner at the federal, state and local levels. They have lobbied by personal contact, testifying at legislative committee meetings and through letter campaigns in response to specific issues.