I have frequently written about caregivers and their role in helping, assisting, loving, organizing treatment, taking care of finances, etc. for those of us with a disability (whether it is schizophrenia, autism, or any number of other disabilities). Caregivers are essential, and I know they need their space, their groups, and their support, and they have every right to tell their stories.
Here is the thing though, and I say this with caution (as not to offend any caregivers): we have our voice, and many of us would prefer that the public learn about our conditions from our perspective and not always the perspective of the caregiver.
Recently on Facebook, a freelance writer who I am in contact with on social media, accepted a job writing about schizophrenia, from an online site (she doesn’t have schizophrenia). I know at least a dozen writers with schizophrenia who are trying desperately to make a living doing something they can do (because there are many jobs they can’t do) and this freelancer is not only taking a job from “us” but is going to be “our voice” as well.
I am a little tired of the story of parents of a child with schizophrenia turning up in the New York Times, or other prominent newspapers or magazines, (anywhere actually) because inevitably it is a story about how “awful” it is to have a child with schizophrenia. We have all read the story of the sad “before” – great athlete, great student, popular, outgoing, to the “after” – withdrawn, unable to read or attend classes, etc. I for one, am tired of that story – extremely tired. There is another story to be told. There are thousands of other stories to be told.
I think there is a place for caregivers, and their stories, but I think the ones who should be given precedence to tell the story of schizophrenia, or autism, or anxiety, or physical disability, are those who live it. Our stories, our voice.
I don’t want to see another Hollywood script about the creepy killer having schizophrenia. I don’t want to see another newscaster or journalist speculate about the possibility of a mass shooter being mentally ill, and I don’t want to read another story by a parent of someone with a disability about how that disability is lived out.
I want those of us with schizophrenia to define schizophrenia – not Hollywood, not the media, not parents or siblings. There are huge misconceptions about schizophrenia held by the majority of the public; I want to be on the front lines dispelling those misconceptions and myths.
I am thankful for every single person who cares and is an ally to anyone who has a mental or physical disability. It is time, though to allow us to speak for ourselves. And won’t that speaking, that writing, that telling be one of the most powerful tools in getting rid of stigma, ignorance, and all the other negative perceptions? Besides, allowing us to do and get a paycheck for the jobs we are capable of doing, it also lets us define our lives and what they look like – something people have been doing for us (incorrectly) throughout history.