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Everything is going well. We are all laughing, joking, sharing appetizers, and telling stories. And then something turns and my mind leaps and twists, and I can no longer join in the celebration. Such is the reality of living with a severe mental illness. There is no clock telling you, “You will be fine for the hours between ten and two, you will become paranoid at three and you will have a panic attack at five.” It simply doesn’t work that way. Yes, at times there are clues and triggers, but not always. And even when there are triggers, like too much stress or over stimulation, you can’t always avoid it, unless you want to stop living all together, and just give up. For me, that is not an option.

Because some people have limited interactions with me (they only see me a few times a month, or even less, some people only see me a few times a year), but interact with me daily on social media, it can be easy to forget that I have a mental illness.

I am both thankful and frustrated that people forget that I have schizophrenia. I am thankful because I am treated like everyone else, but at the same time, I am frustrated because when symptoms do show up, people can have little tolerance for me, and my “special needs.”  People often expect more from me than I am capable of doing, handling, or giving. I can’t for instance, always meet someone for coffee even if I say I will. I may wake up that morning to intense anxiety or symptoms of paranoia making it impossible for me to even attempt a social engagement. Someone may buy me a meal, but because of paranoia, I can’t eat it. I may need to go somewhere and lie down for an hour unexpectedly.

So often when you are mentally ill you feel isolated and alone (because of thought disturbances) but the truth is mental illness isn’t a solo disease. It impacts friends, family and at times, the community.

There needs to be tolerance and acceptance that go both ways. The mentally ill person needs to accept that their illness has an impact on others, and friends and family need to accept that symptoms can’t be scheduled for the most convenient time.

It’s a battle this illness, but unlike cancer you know you’ll never hear, “You are schizophrenia free!” This is a battle that is waged over the course of a lifetime, and it is important to understand and support every member of your battalion so no one is left behind and there are no casualties.