I know that my experiences with schizophrenia are not the same as any other person with the disease. Some people have fewer symptoms than me, and some people have far more. Some people have recovered completely, and other people experience hallucinations, delusions and voices every single day. I respond well to medications, and other people don’t respond at all.
It is not a one size fits all brain disorder. That is why I struggle with my role in the mental health community.
My goal as an advocate has changed over the years, and continues to change and develop. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my twenties, I read everything I could about the illness and I saw every action, reaction, and detail of my life through the lens of mental illness. I see many people who do this on their blogs every day – they believe every emotion they have, and every action they take, has to do with the fact that they are mentally ill. This isn’t true.
I have a personality and experiences that dictate how I will respond to many things, and much of what I do during the day has more to do with my life experiences and my personality than it does with the fact that I have schizophrenia.
Over time, I have been able to see which thoughts, behaviors, and emotions have to do with my illness. I can tell when I am paranoid and I know that is a symptom of schizophrenia. I know the fact that I rarely leave my house is also a symptom (one that has gotten far worse with age) of my illness and not my personality. When I am at a writer’s conference and I start to panic, and the panic gets increasingly uncomfortable and urgent, I know this is a symptom of my mental illness. I know if I get irritated at my husband that schizophrenia is not to blame for my irritation – it is me, Rebecca, a woman like any other woman reacting to life events and her relationship in a way that is common for everyone.
I used to think I wanted to tell my story over and over again. I used to think I wanted to be a public speaker and mental health writer in order to educate as many people as I could about the truth of schizophrenia. I had big hopes and dreams. I have written my story many times for mental health magazines, and I have written a short book about my experiences. I have also been faithful in keeping up this blog.
After seeing what others are doing, and participating in the mental health community, what do I want now?
I want to grow my readership for my blog and I want that to be one side of the contribution I play in mental health advocacy, but I have decided to focus the rest of my writing on telling other stories, writing essays about other things, and getting published in mainstream literary magazines and not only ones that focus on mental health.
Why do I want to be published in mainstream literary magazines? Because I honestly believe the the other side of my contribution as an advocate for people with schizophrenia is to work my hardest to be as successful as possible. Not successful in mental health circle per se, but successful in the circles that writers without a mental illness are in.
The best I can do for me and for all of those who suffer from schizophrenia is to be a success. And how do I want that success to be judged? Not as someone who has schizophrenia, but in the same way any other writer would be judged – by the quality of their work.
When people refer to me as a writer, and not as a writer who has schizophrenia, I know I will have done my best to overcome stereotypes, stigma, and limits.
So, what is the best gift I can give to all those who suffer from schizophrenia? It is to compete and succeed in a world that demands creativity, intelligence, discipline, and lots and lots of rejection.
I’m changing my view of advocacy. I want to give hope to those who are battling voices and delusions by being someone they can look to and say, “If she can do it, I can do it too.”
And I’ll be rooting for you, and for me, and for all of us. I’ll be here, as always, and I hope you’ll stick around and give me a holler every once in a while. Your support can be the difference between sending out another essay and crying in my coffee over the last rejection.
This writer needs a community to be successful, and you are my community. We are in this together. Let’s get busy.