SZ: The Name Change Option

  • When people hear that you have schizophrenia, they have no clue about the disease. A recent study revealed members of the general public believe people diagnosed with SZ need medication, but won't improve. As a writer seeking to publish a memoir, I expect literary agents won't believe there's a target market for my book of people living with schizophrenia who want to get better and have a good life. I worry that most people think we're not worth saving and don't have the ability to do well.

    The writing instructor told me to focus in the one-page query letter [the pitch letter I send to agents to interest them in my book] on my disc jockey career and what the title of my memoir, Left of the Dial, refers to. In the 1980s, I was an on-air personality at WSIA, 88.9 FM-a radio station that broadcast left of the commercial end of the FM dial in New York City. I was in love with the alternative music I heard at CBGB and the Cat Club-the underground Manhattan scene. In the query, I subtly connect the dots: I lived my life left of the mainstream, and I healed by rebelling the role of "mental patient." In late October, I approach 15 literary agents. Wish me good luck.

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    The idea of a name change has been talked about at the Connection and elsewhere. People are afraid to seek help because they don't want others to think they're crazy. The media reinforces the stigma because the success stories among us are rarely told, even though more people recover than not. I want the publication of Left of the Dial-the thing I was sent here to do-to change that.

    A good friend has suggested it's our right to have "full and robust" lives apart from our MIs, and he's right. Recently in a Joyful Music [my personal blog] entry, I obsessed about my weakness for jewelry and how I'm collecting items to wear during the holidays. That is why my take on the topic of a name change for this illness is trendy: keep the word schizophrenia, but shorten it to SZ in journalism, ordinary conversations, and our psyche-the same way multiple sclerosis is commonly called MS.

    Then, people would wonder, "What is SZ?" It would intrigue them. By acting nonchalant about the term we use to describe our condition, it throws people off guard and they're puzzled because we don't fit the picture of a "schizophrenic." If they see we're not threatening, hopefully they'll come to accept us and treat us with dignity.

    I like the term SZ, because it's cool; although schizophrenia is no laughing matter, a dose of self-mockery is healthy. From here on in, I'll use this shorthand in my Connection blog entries. Also, I want the focus of my interview campaign to be on the people, not the hell or the symptoms, so I've shortened it to "100 Individuals." I hope to interview soon the new editor-in-chief of New York City Voices, the mental health advocacy journal.

    Is a name change going to accomplish anything? I doubt it initially although in the long term enough people might change their tune. The definition of "schizophrenic-as-crazy" has been so entrenched in the lexicon of society's consciousness that calling it anything else might not fool anyone. What can we do? Live full and robust lives. Take our meds so that we can recover and are in a position to smash the stereotypes of people diagnosed with SZ. Tell our stories, as appropriate, to the people who would benefit from hearing them.

  • Years ago-and it wasn't until recently-whenever I confronted the fact that I had "schizophrenia," that word riddled me and stopped me in its tracks. It was hard to accept the reality that I had this illness because it seemed so unreal that my life revolved around this. Sitting at my desk typing on the computer, or writing in my spiral-bound notebook, I couldn't wrap my head around that unwieldy word. "You have schizophrenia, you have schizophrenia" I'd tell myself at those moments, and I would remember the truth about the breakdown, the hospital and all that jazz: something that was so much a part of me I couldn't escape it.

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    The difference between escaping the pain and distracting myself from the symptoms, has been embracing life and finding beauty in the ugly things. It's often said that SZ is a blessing as well as a curse. Given this trial, I'm more empathetic to other people. Dr. Altman, my great psychiatrist, told me at one of our first visits: "You see me? I have a thing. The guy in the other office, he has a thing. You just have something a little harder." In that instant, his words comforted me.

    I urge you to walk with pride on this earth, to hold your head up high and know that you are equal to everyone else. Consider using the term SZ to talk about what goes on. Do so as warranted. The other option is to be honest by using the word schizophrenia. When you meet a friend for lunch, you could ask, "How's it going with the schizophrenia?" It will perk up the ears of the other diners in the restaurant.

    It could be taken overboard to talk in shorthand all the time, but using it well will do the trick in improving our self-esteem and possibly getting others to take us seriously. The bottom line: the more comfortable we are with our diagnosis, and the more secure we are in our skin, this ease and confidence will come across to other people.

    Here's to living a full and robust life!

Published On: October 09, 2008