Living with schizophrenia changes you in five important ways:
1. You often become “invisible.”
Some of us have outward appearances of schizophrenia: talking to voices aloud, uncombed hair, mannerisms a little “off.” Others can fit right in to society and hold jobs and have romantic relationships. Either way, we live invisible lives. There’s little support and compassion in the mainstream world for any of us living with this condition. Ralph Ellison wrote in his book The Invisible Man: I’m invisible because no one sees me. With schizophrenia, it can be that no one wants to see you.
2. You often have to work twice as hard to get half as far as other people.
It’s often exponentially harder when you choose to get a full-time job. I chose my library career for love not money. And if you’re successful, other peers will often be jealous of you and want nothing to do with you. So where do you
3. You can expect that schizophrenia isn’t front-porch dialogue.
Heidi Julavits in her memoir The Folded Clock talks about how a friend told her the woman suspects her husband is having an affair. It’s ordinary, typical gal talk. Yet what if I told a friend, “I’m having a hard time today because of the schizophrenia.” Would I be written about in the friend’s memoir? Or would time stop: the clock not folded but silent as the other person doesn’t know what to say and is squirming for an answer.
“How can I help you?” would be the best response IMHO.
Such a response should be commonplace, not out of the ordinary. I wrote about giving thanks. We should be grateful for the support of anyone who shows us empathy. To reinforce their compassion, we must acknowledge the person who gives it to us. It can be just as hard for them when we put the ball in their court as it is for us to reveal ourselves. We need to have empathy for them too.
4. You’re torn between being honest and keeping your diagnosis a secret.
I published my memoir, Left of the Dial: a memoir of schizophrenia, recovery, and hope this year. Yet in my everyday life I choose not to talk about the illness because I don’t want to be known as “the woman with schizophrenia.”
Who am I? I’m a librarian who creates resumes for patrons that have gotten interviews and job offers because of my help. I’m a fierce female fitness buff.
Yet sometimes I would like to tell an outsider: “I’m having a hard time because of the schizophrenia.” I would like others to understand what it’s like and how the illness changes you. Not for the other person suddenly to think I have two heads or no feelings. I want the day to be here when talking about schizophrenia is no big deal.
5. You often have to take medication that has side effects.
A minority of individuals do not need maintenance medication. Yet this above all is the most unwelcome change: added weight, remembering to take pills every day, the risk for diabetes and heart disease.
There’s no sugarcoating this. I’m lucky that with a change in dose time I no longer have any side effects.
Two positive takeaways:
Healing your pain is possible when you’re having a hard time.
It can be as simple as doing volunteer work or becoming a mental health activist. Adopting three healthy habits helped me and might help you.
Having a sense of humor is imperative.
I wrote in here before about the benefit of attending a comedy club or watching a Looney Tunes cartoon marathon.
Schizophrenia recovery strategies that might help:
Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.