When I went to bed last night, I had no intention of waking up at 4 AM to watch the Royal Wedding. It just so happened, though, that I woke up at 4:30 this morning, so after I made coffee, and poured a glass of water, I sat on the couch and turned on the television. When I turned on the tv, Meghan and Harry were preparing to exchange vows. I spent the next forty to sixty minutes weeping. The tears were flowing so steadily out of my eyes that my hair and face were all wet. I can’t believe that this modern day fairy tale impacted me in such an emotional way.
When I was a little girl, I can’t remember ever wanting to be something when I grew up. In fact, I can’t remember ever answering that question that so many adults ask little kids as they grow. There were very few Disney Princesses in the early 70’s (Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are the only two I can think of), and my first trip to Disneyland as a twelve-year-old was a disaster (for the record, I hated it). Because of these things, I don’t think I wished I was a princess growing up. So, that isn’t why the Royal Wedding made me so emotional.
Late this afternoon, I told my husband how I had wept through the ceremony, and I asked him why he thought I had that response. My husband thought it was because the news has been so bad, for so long, and there is so much negativity that the wedding was a chance to experience a love story, something beautiful, and all the hatred and racism we have been experiencing didn’t exist, at least for a moment.
I think my husband is right. The nightly news and bombardment of news on social media are impacting my mental health. Rarely do I see a story that is hopeful, uplifting, a connection between people and our shared humanity. I know that I can’t turn my back on current events entirely, because to do so is to be part of the problem. I am going to commit some of my days to reading stories or essays written by writers that deal with something besides Russia, war, guns, lies, investigations, impeachment, corruption, racism, bigotry, misogyny, etc. I can’t keep up this soul-crushing pace of bad news and negativity and keep a firm grasp on good mental health.
I hope that if you spend a good chunk of time on social media or watching the news that you will join me in adding some soul-enriching writing or entertainment to your day or week. I know taking a walk to the park helps clear my head a lot, but there is no substitute for reading an uplifting story of human compassion, love, selflessness, or heroism. I am going to be returning to my bookshelves with a renewed interest, and after that, I might take a trip to our city’s beautiful library. Hey, that’s a good idea for an outing. I’ll meet you in the biography aisle.
Trigger Warning: Suicide
There is so much that is helpful and beneficial on the internet, and there is so much that is harmful and negative. Three of the things I love most about the internet is the ability to network with writers, and mental health advocates/agencies/nonprofits, the access to many university-level classes in writing, and the access to information to satisfy my curiosity or for research.
But like I mentioned before, the internet is not all healthy, rewarding, educational. Two of the things that I find harmful on the internet is the comment section under articles I write (I have written about suicide and had people comment that I should kill myself), and the support groups that are unmoderated on social media like Facebook.
There are several groups for people with schizophrenia, and so frequently I see young women posting pictures of themselves in the groups, and it appears they are simply looking for attention. I don’t see how that is at all relevant to schizophrenia or helping or supporting others. There are also posts that frequently say that the person is thinking of harming their self. I think it is awful to post those kinds of alarming situations anonymously in a group of people who are already dealing with mental health issues. Of course, those posts get hundreds of responses asking how to contact the person, how to report the post to Facebook, asking the person to call a crisis line, etc.
I realize that some people are all alone and have nowhere else to post their pain and their struggles, but it isn’t safe to do that sort of thing on social media or anywhere else on the internet. If you are in crisis, there are people just waiting to tell you to go ahead and harm yourself. There are also trolls that use those rooms/groups to play jokes on people (of course I don’t think it is funny, but they do).
I love the internet, and I am addicted to social media but other than using it to network with people (helping me stay less isolated), I don’t use it to better my mental health. I know that resources are few and money is tight for so many people, but if you are using the internet to get support, or get advice, make sure that you are dealing with a group or people who are safe and legitimate.
Please don’t post about a crisis and expect professional help. If you are having a crisis, please go to the nearest hospital or call your local crisis line. The internet is great and provides so many benefits to our lives but it can also be dark and dangerous, and I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Stay safe friends.
I watched a video today by a life coach who has spent twenty years working with what she called, “creatives.” Her message was about getting unblocked and doing the work you are meant to do. One of the things she said was that some people have all the tools and all the resources, but they don’t do the work. I thought to myself, “that’s me!”
I have a writing coach; I participate in many Facebook groups for writers, I go to writing conferences, I buy resource books about writing, I have a writing buddy, and on and on but I have a difficult time sitting down in my chair every day to write.
I feel like I am one of the best-prepared writers that I know of who isn’t producing essays, or articles, blog posts, or working on a book. Boy, do I have the tools, though. At this point, I could easily be a writing coach for someone else, and I make an excellent writing buddy that is good at sharing resources, but there is resistance on my part to putting words on the page.
When do you blame the lack of motivation which is a symptom of schizophrenia, and when do you accept that you have something else going on? That is the thing with schizophrenia; it is hard to determine if you are experiencing a symptom or a variety of symptoms or if there is something else holding you back, causing anxiety, keeping you at home, etc.
I don’t think anyone thinks it is easy to have a mental illness, but the things that are difficult about it aren’t always obvious. I think everyone would recognize that psychosis, or hallucinations, or hearing voices, etc. are difficult to manage. But the other symptoms, like anxiety, depression, social isolation, lack of motivation, weight gain (from medications), health problems (also from medications) make creating a “normal” life challenging too.
I know that a lack of motivation is a common symptom of schizophrenia, but when I look back over my days where I haven’t accomplished much, I think to myself, “You are lazy.” When I compare myself to other writers, I tell myself, “You should be doing that too! Look at them; they are so much more accomplished than you.”
I think that self-talk is possibly the biggest hurdle of all because in that self-talk is the comparison of me to others. Most of the people I know on social media and in real life do not have schizophrenia (a few of them do), and yet, I find that I compare myself to them all the time. Comparing ourselves to others is never a healthy pass time, but it can be extremely detrimental when you have a giant obstacle to overcome that many people do not.
I like to pass myself off as someone without a mental illness. I like to blend into a crowd or participate in everyday activities with others, but the truth is, I can’t always do that. I am not capable of planning out a day and anticipating what my symptoms will be. I have good days and bad days. I have days where I am overrun by symptoms and days where I am almost symptom-free. How then, with this reality can I compare me to someone else…apples to oranges.
I don’t know what it is like to work from home with small children or to work from home with chronic physical illness; I only know what it is like to be me; a person with schizophrenia who likes to imagine nothing is holding her back. Well, there is a hurdle I have to jump every day, most people have one, but if it isn’t the same height as mine, or the same width as mine and my legs are shorter, and I can’t run as fast, is it the same hurdle we are jumping? Nope. I need to learn to jump my hurdles and stop looking in the other lane at the runners who are faster or can jump higher than me.
When hurricane Harvey hit and flooded many cities in Texas, Americans reached out to help one another. Then when hurricane Irma hit Florida and Puerto Rico a few short days later, Americans organized fundraisers, volunteered to help with demolition and repairs, and helped out in the various ways that they could. Musicians, artists and former presidents led events to raise money for people who lost their homes, were without power, and those that needed water and food.
Americans are generous and compassionate people.
What doesn’t make sense considering Americans generosity and willingness to help, is the ongoing homeless crisis in Southern California. Thousands of people are without shelter and have food insecurity. They are without access to medical treatment or clean water, or bathrooms. These people living on the sidewalks, back alleys, parks, and deserted lots of our towns and cities are Americans, too. Many of them are veterans. Many of them are mentally ill. What makes their plight less important to big-hearted Americans?
I guess many people believe the homeless are somehow to blame for their circumstances. No one can blame someone for a tornado, a hurricane, a wildfire or an earthquake. But the loss of a job, alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness? I think we see fault in that and our purse strings tighten, our heart slams shut, we don’t identify with those who have fallen on hard times or are struggling with a mental illness or addiction. Who likes the confrontation of the wild-eyed man screaming profanities in the middle of the sidewalk in broad daylight? Who wants to look in the eyes of the dirty, matted hair woman as she asks you for the money to buy coffee, or pay for a bus fare, or help her get a meal?
I know it is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for me, too, and I can see myself in their fear or their screaming on the street. I know severe mental illness. I know psychosis. I know voices. I know being on the outside going in one direction while everyone else seems to be oblivious to you and traveling the opposite way.
Ironically, one of the largest homeless encampments – people living under blue tarps and in tents for blocks and blocks and blocks is approximately ten miles from Hollywood. Hollywood, where billions of dollars are made every year and millions are spent on award shows, dresses, jewelry, all the pageantry. So many of the celebrities in our country live within miles of this suffering, and yet, there are no special concerts, no special screenings, no events where the funds go to funding and finding a solution for all of the people that make a bed out of concrete, a bench or dirt.
I’m thankful that I live in a nation where people open their wallets during tragedies and help people that they don’t know. It is so uplifting that there are so many stories of everyday heroes when so many people are in need. I only wish we were all equally important and worth saving, comforting and lending a hand.
Last night I was binge watching old episodes of Blue Bloods. My husband and I have always enjoyed the cop show mostly because of its focus on family. I don’t think either one of us will see it the same way again after the writers created a man with schizophrenia who had killed a young girl’s family but became stable (and remorseful) in prison after taking medication.
I can’t tell you how many times a very similar character or killer is part of the story on Criminal Minds, and other detective/cop shows. Will Hollywood never tire of the killer with schizophrenia?
In every beginning writing class students are urged to avoid stereotypes because they make writers look lazy and ignorant. Apparently, writers for Hollywood haven’t received the Composition 101 memo, or they think writing in a killer with schizophrenia is just too appealing to the general public to leave it out. I doubt the latter; It’s simply bad writing done by people who refuse to spend ten minutes researching the statistics regarding people with schizophrenia and instead turn to an old and tired story.
I can’t help but think that if the same writers created a stereotypical character from another minority, there would be some outrage on the part of the public (at least I hope so). But with mental illness, and particularly schizophrenia, the outrage seems to be limited to a few blogs and occasionally one of the larger mental health non-profits will have their members write letters.
How would I like people with schizophrenia to be portrayed? Realistically of course and that requires talking to people who have the disease and asking about their symptoms. Do they hear voices? Do they hear voices continuously or only sometimes? Do they suffer from delusions? If they experience paranoia, how does it manifest in their everyday life? What other symptoms do they have, and how do they manage those symptoms?
I have encountered dozens of people with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, and they can all answer the questions that I just listed. In the disability community there is a saying, “Nothing about us, without us,” and that is how I feel about schizophrenia. If people want to write about it, that is great, but hopefully, they will care enough to do some research to make sure their characters aren’t just the same old stereotypes that are written about frequently now and over the past few decades.
It would be admirable if a few writers would like to do some good, and find out what living with a severe mental illness is like and how difficult it can be without trying to live with the views that they have reinforced over and over again by making us out to be dangerous killers.
We can all agree the pen is a mighty instrument that can be used for the good of others or to harm others. I hope that someday soon in Hollywood, the writers of popular shows will decide to help eradicate stereotypes about schizophrenia rather than perpetuate them. I can only think of one story where the hero has schizophrenia, and it was a blockbuster. The movie is, “Beautiful Mind.”
The success of “Beautiful Mind” should be an indicator that the public is hungry for a different narrative where mental illness is concerned. And the old cliche that says, “there is nothing new under the sun” simply isn’t true especially regarding characters with schizophrenia.
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.
I rarely write about politics or religion. In fact, I keep my political views and my religious views fairly private. I doubt many of you know that I am a Christian, but I am. I’m not the kind of Christian that preaches to anyone. I’m not the kind of Christian that calls people sinners. I’m not the kind of Christian that talks about my faith at all unless it is with my husband or with my aunt or my mom.
I am going to write about religion today, though. Normally, I wouldn’t do anything to hurt the reputation of the church or Christians in general, but I sincerely hope this serves as a smack down to Christians everywhere that push the most vulnerable of our society away from the doors of a church.
You see, I have schizophrenia, and today, a relatively popular blogger wrote about “double-mindedness” saying that you can’t have Scripture in your mind and believe in evolution at the same time and that to do so would be like having schizophrenia. I wrote to this blogger and told him he had a misunderstanding of schizophrenia and that it wasn’t like that at all. He replied to me by telling me to show him someone with schizophrenia and he would show me someone who is demon possessed and that a person like that has no Scripture in them.
I wrote back that I have schizophrenia, and I am a Christian.
What happened today is not the first time that someone acting as a “teacher” of God’s word has said something against me or other people with a mental illness.
Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in a man named, Jesus. I believe that he was radical. I believe he was a champion of the poor, the marginalized – the sick, the elderly, the widows, etc. I believe he was kind, compassionate, strong, and loving. I believe I am exactly the kind of person he would have included and not excluded.
Telling me that I am demon possessed because I have schizophrenia is like telling me that God hates me. Look, I pray. I have prayed not to have schizophrenia, but I gave up those prayers. Illness is a part of life and not a punishment from God. I don’t believe just because I have a mental illness, and you don’t, that God is more present or alive in you than in me. If anything, if you are turning vulnerable people away from seeking refuge in the church, I believe you are the one who is empty of the spirit of God.
I have met so many Christians that say they love Jesus yet victimize the very people he came to save. If you don’t care for the poor, the sick, the needy, the marginalized then you don’t know Jesus – that is a fact, plain and simple. He didn’t bring us the Old Testament with an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth and all of that. He brought us the new covenant, and it is about radical love.
You see, I know a thing or two about Jesus. He is my king and my hero. He wouldn’t allow me to be demon possessed and for you to say otherwise proves to me we don’t worship the same God. I know I am not perfect, but I know that I am loved.
And just for a little reality check, if I have demons how come medication kicks their ass?
There is only one thing on my Christmas list this year. I would like you to find two men and deliver this letter in a sealed envelope in their stockings. If they don’t have stockings, can you please hang one for them?
Here is all I know about the men, and why I want to give them this letter:
On a night back in 1997 I stopped my car on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, climbed over the railing and was hanging high above the icy water of the Puget Sound. A man stopped his car, came to the edge and said, “Give me your hand.” That man pulled me to safety.
On the same night, I took all of my prescribed medication and then drove my car. I passed out on I-5 between Tacoma and Seattle. A man stopped his car, tried to wake me, had difficulty getting me to respond, so he called 911 (I don’t know how as cell phone were pretty rare then). He waited with me, and tried to keep me conscious until an ambulance arrived. I remember him asking, “Is she going to be alright?”
Santa, here is the letter:
To the two men who saved my life,
You are directly responsible for giving me the opportunity to find the love of my life and experience 17 years of marital happiness. My husband and I are grateful.
You are directly responsible for giving me almost two more decades with my family (hopefully, there will be more). My family and I are grateful.
You are directly responsible for serving the elderly, the homeless, and college students in the jobs I have had since you saved my life. I am sure there are people whose lives I have impacted in a positive way that would be grateful.
You are directly responsible for the blog that I have been keeping over the last nine months that encourages, educates, and uplifts people living with, or caring for someone with, a severe mental illness.
You are directly responsible for allowing me to become and be a good friend to many people.
You are directly responsible for the woman I let get in front of me in the grocery line last night. You are directly responsible for the surprise, gratitude, and appreciation people have shown when I randomly bought their coffee or groceries, and for the neighbors who I have babysat for, made cakes for, and brought soup to when they were sick.
I am an average person, but in an average life, many people are touched, changed, loved, helped, and made to feel special or cared for.
I’m not going to save the planet or solve world hunger, but the past 18 years have been the best of my life, and I have tried to live with an attitude of gratitude and generosity. You made a remarkable difference in so many people’s lives – kept some from grieving, helped some find love, helped some find jobs, comforted others.
You never left your name so I could thank you in person, but I know Santa has his ways, so I’ll leave it in his hands.
I just wanted to tell you how much your choice on that night back in 1997 mattered. It mattered to a lot of people. It continues to matter. I am so thankful for the two of you.
I hope this letter finds you healthy and happy. Your kindness, compassion and concern have literally given me life. I don’t have anything but stories to share with you – I hope they will lift your heart.
abled, acitivist, advocacy, Advocate, artists, athletes, balance, bipolar, business, compassion, depression, disabled, equality, essays, future, heroes, hope, inspiration, kindness, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, psychiatry, psychology, schizophrenia, talent, video, viral, writers, writing
Yesterday when I was browsing through Facebook, there was a video/article posted by The Mighty. The Mighty posted the video (that has gone viral) to ask its members how they feel about the video and how they want The Mighty to handle this type of information in the future (meaning do they want us (as members) to see kindness to disabled people as heroism, or should we expect kindness).
I didn’t answer The Mighty on Facebook, but I couldn’t stop thinking about their question and how I feel about it. Yes, the young man in the video did a very kind thing, but it makes me sad that he is being called a hero for being kind. Have we really become so self-centered and cut off from one another that a decent act between two human beings is considered heroism?
Also, he is being considered a hero for comforting a disabled man. This is one more example, in many, where people without a disability get to take credit for being kind to the “other” “lesser” “needy” And in this way I don’t like it at all.
People without disabilities are seen and heard in every public space and in every room. We see them as the lead characters on television. We see them in every job, and at every dance, and at every restaurant, and at every event. They are in magazines, and newspapers, they are in government and in the boardroom. They are not under-represented or invisible. They are not fighting to get access or be heard. They are front and center in our culture. They are always the heroes.
I want to see disabled heroes. I want to see someone with a mental illness win some of the prestigious writing awards and residencies. I want to see people in wheelchairs as CEO’s and covered on the front of major magazines. I want to see disabled entrepreneurs and artists. And I don’t want them to be great, because they are disabled (like isn’t it amazing that someone with a disability can do this? No.) I want them to be great because they are great. There are many disabled writers, artists, athletes, business people that are worth being spotlighted, because of their accomplishments not because of their disability.
I read an article recently by a disabled young woman and she wrote that “The disabled are not here to inspire you.” I think when considering heroes and success this is important too. Someone with a mental illness isn’t inspirational just because they get out of bed and dress in the morning, or take a shower. The disabled aren’t inspirational just because they have a job.
Disabled people are as competent and talented as anyone else.
When we get to a point when kindness is described as an event between two human beings and not a healthy individual and a “special needs” man, and when we get to the point where the success of the disabled is the norm and not the exception, that is when we have reached a balance and one group isn’t seen by the other as less-than or inspirational just for being.
We have a long way to go.