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Recently I did an interview with a writer who was working on a piece about schizophrenia. The writer asked me, “Do you have any role models?”

I said, “Yes, I do. Elyn Saks is my role model.”

“Why is Elyn Saks your role model?” She asked.

“She has schizophrenia, but she is intelligent, successful, and living a fulfilling life. She isn’t amazing because she has schizophrenia she is amazing despite having schizophrenia.” I said.

Elyn Saks is successful by anyone’s standards. She has ties to two major universities (USC and UCSD) she is a lawyer and an accomplished writer. Anyone that looked at her resume would have to agree that she has impressive credentials. When comparing Elyn Saks with anyone in her field, she shines. These reasons and others are why she makes a remarkable role model for people with schizophrenia. We don’t lower the standards for her because she has schizophrenia – the standards are extremely high, and she meets and beats those standards.

She is a role model I can look up to, and admire. Her story is one of inspiration and hope. She also takes her treatment seriously which is essential for anyone to make it to my list of role models.

Today I read an article by a woman who markets herself as an advocate for people living with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, I think she could be a powerhouse in terms of advocacy, but she is too sarcastic (making stereotypical jokes about not killing people). She is also too harsh (always quick to swear). And the biggest problem is that she doesn’t take her treatment seriously (which in my opinion, disqualifies someone from being a true advocate).

I don’t want to be like the woman I just mentioned and miss the mark in terms of advocacy.  I would like to be a source of inspiration and hope like Elyn Saks. I want to be an advocate who is living successfully in every area of life including relationships and work. I want people to look at my life and feel like if I can do it, they can do it, too.

I hope in my lifetime to make an impact on stigma. I hope to make a difference for the people who will receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia in five years, ten years, and so on. I want the fear of being found out or discovered to end. I want the hostile work environments where jokes about mental illness are common to stop. I want all of us to be more educated, compassionate and have a better understanding of the reality of people with severe mental illnesses.

It is unlikely that I will ever accomplish as much as Elyn Saks, but I hold her out in front of me and keep walking toward her because some day the distance between us may seem more like meters instead of miles.