Every so often, I'm going to post a blog entry called "IMHO," computer shorthand for In My Humble Opinion, and talk about a hot topic in the community. Recent events compel me to debate the idea of normalcy.
An apt quote makes perfectly clear that mass hysteria can have dangerous consequences for those who deviate from the "norm." In The Crucible, Arthur Miller's play about the Salem Witch Trials, a character speaks out: "We are all as we were before, only naked."
Those of us with psychiatric diagnoses are indeed vulnerable to the ignorance and fear that breed stigma. To tell our stories—and be accepted—is something we all cherish dearly. We need to jump at every opening to set others straight.
As you may know, two weeks ago Oprah Winfrey featured on her show a woman who underwent an operation to become a man, and is now married to a woman. He gave birth to their first child. While there was a huge public outcry that Oprah did the wrong thing by speaking with this husband and wife, a significant number of people applauded her for promoting tolerance. Hey, either way, it didn't hurt her ratings. The bottom line is: she gave a voice to two human beings who made their own choice.
Who gets to decide what's normal and what isn't?
It's sad that some people feel secure only in relation to how well they're doing compared to others who are different from them. How could these people judge someone else for not being "normal." Those are the same people who would be quick to cry discrimination if it happened to them. Somehow they feel justified in judging others.
Now, good, kind, open-minded people of all stripes exist everywhere. Amen to that. I salute anyone who chooses tolerance over narrow-mindedness. Yes, it is a choice, one you make and stand by. As someone with schizophrenia, I strive to tell my story as a way to "open minds, and open doors."
Just last week, I was reminded that stigma still exists and I was in a delicate place, so didn't challenge the person. At a meeting I attended to brainstorm program ideas, one woman recounted the great success she had with customers from a nearby Clubhouse volunteering their time to assist her with projects. The woman seated in the row in back of me told her friend, "I don't think we should have crazy people doing that."
Though this example is discouraging, we can win the war by refusing to accept the stigma. We have the choice: to let others affect what we think about ourselves, or to seek out peers—with or without schizophrenia—who treat us as equals.
When I first began speaking out, I knew I would often have to stand alone in fighting for what I believed in. I take up the cause of equal rights for people with mental illnesses because it is the right thing to do. I decided not to spend the rest of my life in hiding, because the price of silence was too high to pay.