I'm pleased to have interviewed Sandra Yuen MacKay who recently published a memoir about her life with schizoaffective.
CB: Tell us a little about your story: your life with schizophrenia, when you were diagnosed, the struggle you went through all these years.
SYM: At fourteen, I was very shy and timid. I began to hear voices and believed students from school and my parents were plotting against me. Instead of asking for help, I withdrew more into myself. I was diagnosed at age fifteen with paranoid schizophrenia. I struggled for many years with delusions and extreme mood swings. I had a lot of side effects from my medication. My family suffered dealing with my ups and downs. My current diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder.
CB: What prompted you to title the book My Schizophrenic Life? I'm an author who is fascinated with the titles of book. There's a bipolar account titled Where Are The Cocoa Puffs? My own memoir is titled Left of the Dial. So could you speak about how you arrived at your title?
SYM: I chose the title because it has a double meaning. It's not only labels my illness, but also means contradictory or antagonistic qualities or attitudes. My life is schizophrenic, because I'm schizophrenic!
CB: Define what success with schizophrenia is to you.
SYM: Success with schizophrenia is being able to get up in the morning with a smile on my face. It means having purpose, helping others, finding happiness, having a rich full life, and friends and family that are supportive.
CB: What are your goals for the future?
SYM: I used to set extremely high goals but now I'm a little more realistic. I accept my limitations but I also see I have the opportunity to make a difference for other people with mental illness and their families. I'd also like to continue my work as a writer and artist.
CB: You are brave to risk the stigma to publish a firsthand account of living with schizophrenia. What compelled you to do this?
SYM: In the past, I've written a lot of mental health articles for The Bulletin, a mental health magazine published by the West Coast Mental Health Network, and given about 50 talks to students, families and people in the mental health field. I decided I had enough to say to fill a novel-length book. So that's what I did. I wanted to inspire and give others hope that recovery is possible. As for stigma, if I can shed light on the myths and misconceptions around schizophrenia, then I'm successful. I think it's pretty rare to find a memoir from a Canadian writer who has schizoaffective disorder.
CB: What advice would you give to someone who wants to publish a memoir about living with a mental illness?
SYM: Write down what you can and keep it flowing, leave it, and then come back and edit. Sometimes writing about one's illness can be painful because it brings up a lot of memories. I had to take breaks to relieve the anxiety I felt. But also, writing can be therapeutic. I looked back on my life and saw the good outweighed the bad.
CB: What advice could you give to others about disclosure?
SYM: No one should have to disclose if they don't want to. If one reveals one has an illness, it may possibly bar one from employment because of stigma. If one is thinking about writing a memoir, it can be hard to share personal information which can make one vulnerable to stigma and speculation. I think it's good to use pseudonyms for people in one's book or change details to maintain privacy. If one doesn't want family members or the public to know certain things, leave those details out of the book. Writing this type of book isn't for everyone.
CB: You're married. Does your husband have a mental illness? Could you talk about the kinds of issues women with schizophrenia face in their relationships? What suggestions can you give to men too about living and loving when you have a diagnosis?
SYM: I've been married for sixteen years to a forgiving, patient spouse who does not have a mental illness. If I say I'm married that's one of the first things people ask! Men and women shouldn't think they can't be in a relationship because they have an illness. Illness is just one part of who we are. We still have characteristics and personalities that are unique. Having a companion or a spouse can give one joy and a sense of belonging.
CB: You are an inspiration to us all and I dare say you are inspiration to people who don't have mental illnesses.
SYM: A friend wrote "I stand in awe of Sandra. I think she is an ambassador for many people who do not have a voice in society. I think God is using her to teach us to examine ourselves and to show us that anything can be accomplished."
CB: Give us some parting words of insight and hope.
SYM: Having insight into my illness, recognizing triggers that set me off, and developing a health regime are things that helped me a great deal. For thirty years I've struggled with this illness, but I made the best of it. I managed to complete a university degree, get married and publish a book. I've had a lot of people say to me how helpful my book and talks are. If there is hope in my life, that goes for others who also have a chronic mental illness.
CB: The details about the book:
My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness is available on Amazon (for about $12 to $15), chapters.indigo.ca, and barnesandnoble.com. It's also available in Kindle on Amazon.com. It's published by Bridgeross Communications and is distributed by Ingram. To read my blog, reviews, watch a video interview and find links to my art, please visit my website at: http://symackay.blogspot.com.
CB: Thank you for dropping by.
SYM: Thanks for interviewing me, Chris!
Published On: February 07, 2011