Along with many other people, I am a person who is always trying to make myself better. I don’t want to stagnate in my relationships, my learning, my life. I would consider myself a life-long learner, a phrase I first heard my uncle use approximately three decades ago.
Since I graduated from college, I have almost always been in one kind of class or training program. I graduated from college with a BA in Liberal Arts in 1989 and since that time I have taken diversity training, non-profit organization training, numerous writing classes, a year-long leadership training program, a culinary arts program, etc.
Occasionally throughout the years, there has been a teacher, a statement, an exercise that has changed the course of my life. I can name these people, quotes, and experiences on two hands. Last night I had one of those experiences in a class I am taking online from Lidia Yuknavitch.
When I received my first diagnosis of bipolar disorder in my twenties, I spent a lot of time romanticizing the illness. I thought maybe having bipolar disorder made me more creative or more intelligent, or unique in other ways. I spent many days reading about famous people with the disorder.
At nearly forty, when I received a diagnosis of schizophrenia, I didn’t romanticize the illness at all. Schizophrenia, unlike bipolar disorder, is rarely romanticized in writing, or in the media. I adapted an attitude that many people have about mental illness in general which is that people who are creative would be creative with or without the illness and it is possible that if they weren’t sick, they would be far more productive. I adapted this attitude because it was far better than the messages society gave about schizophrenia.
I internalized some of those societal messages, too. In other words, I could find a silver lining in being someone with bipolar disorder, but I only saw hardship and struggle in the diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Last night, for the first time since my diagnosis over a decade ago, this attitude shifted a little bit. Some of my internalized stigmas shook loose, and I looked at schizophrenia a bit differently than I ever have in the past.
Just to let you know, Lidia Yuknavitch is a bestselling author. She is magnetic in her beliefs and has an amazing spirit of creativity, and wildness. She is generous and kind, and she wrote the book, “The Misfit’s Manifesto.” (I recommend that anyone with a mental illness read this book to find acceptance and a way forward despite what society tells you.)
So, what did Lidia say to me last night that shifted my perspective? I can’t quote her exactly, but she said that I have characters, voices, and things to write because of schizophrenia that no one else can write and that there is deep creativity in that.
I don’t like that I once romanticized bipolar disorder. And I don’t want to romanticize any mental illness, but when you live with a diagnosis that so many people consider the “worst” thing that can happen to you and someone you respect says that that illness gave you a gift in a way you care deeply about, you take it.
You take it, you look at it, you circle it, you inspect it, and you write as you have never written before because gosh darn no one has ever said anything positive about schizophrenia, and you heard it. You heard it from her.