I haven’t written a blog in a while, and the fact that I haven’t makes me feel like I have so much to unpack and say. For example, one of my Facebook friends posted about her husband with a “mental illness” yesterday, and there were dozens of comments about how “horrible,” “awful,” “painful,” etc. mental illness is, and she received loads of sympathy.
I get it. Psychosis is hands down the worst and most terrifying thing I have experienced. I get it that there are things that I have to figure out or forego or do in a different way than other people. I get that listening to someone talk about things that you know are delusions is difficult. I get that distorted thinking, anger, or whatever symptom a person might be displaying is hard. Yes, I’ve been there, done that, and no, I don’t want the t-shirt.
The thing is, I don’t like reading how “awful” mental illness is when schizophrenia is a part of my identity. When I came out five years ago and told family and friends about my diagnosis, I completely owned it. I started writing this blog, I started writing for mainstream publications, and I can’t think of a way that I could have put myself more “out there” and what I tried to say more often than not is, “Look, I have this illness and this is what someone with this illness goes through, looks like, experiences, etc.” And the thing I tried to say over and over again, is “I’m not that much different from anyone else.”
I wrote about my marriage of over twenty years. I wrote about being a friend, a daughter, a social worker, traveling, being a sister, etc. I tried to tell people that outside of schizophrenia, I am an average person with hopes, dreams, and desires. But the thing is, I never got past or around or away from the fact that I have schizophrenia, and it is every bit as much a part of me as my eyes, my feet, and my hands.
Is schizophrenia hard? Is cancer hard? Is diabetes hard? Is any disease hard? YES. They are all hard, but we never make them part of someone’s identity. And that is what I need to learn and tell myself. Schizophrenia is an illness like any illness. It impacts me, Rebecca, every day of my life. I have it. I feel it. I have to make hundreds of choices in my daily life to keep it from ruining me, but it isn’t me just like cancer isn’t my mom or stepdad who both have it.
I need to stop accepting schizophrenia as an identity that I own. It isn’t an identity. It is a disease. There is something abnormal about my brain. The brain of someone with schizophrenia looks different than a healthy brain scanned by an MRI. If I was someone who lied frequently, you could say, I have a character fault, but schizophrenia isn’t that either. There is nothing wrong with my character. It is my brain and the way it functions that is faulty, just like cancer cells don’t respond the same way healthy cells do.
I don’t know who I’m writing this to, you or me, or all of us.
If you think mental illness is awful or horrible or sad, that’s fine. Those words are true of almost every disease. Please don’t use those words to define or say something about me, though. I’m not awful, horrible, or sad, and I’m telling the world that at the same time I am telling myself.