I came out publicly (including family and friends) with my diagnosis three or four years ago. Since that time, I have fought very hard to try and show people with schizophrenia living lives that are similar to those without the illness. I have fought to make people like me seen as friends, partners, sisters, brothers, daughter, sons, aunts, uncles, parents, etc. And I still think we need more people with schizophrenia writing these stories. The stories of a successful life despite a severe mental illness.
I had something happen to me the other day that broadened my view and made me feel guilty, sad, and like I wasn’t telling the whole story. I met a mother online whose son’s life is nothing like mine. Many times I have written about the mentally ill who are homeless or in prison but rarely do I write about those with schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder who can’t live alone, who are medication resistant, or who never get to the point of managing their symptoms.
It isn’t that I was unaware of people who need more care like inpatient treatment or a group home. I am constantly aware of that because I have a cousin who currently requires that level of treatment. But I was fighting. Fighting for stories of success, fighting for stories of hope, and fighting for stories that I rarely heard, read, or saw in books, movies, or television.
There were many times when I was frustrated by parents and adult children for writing the stories about the illness and leaving those of us with the actual illness without a voice, or way of telling a different narrative. I realize now, that there is room, if we allow it, for all of the narratives about mental illness. There is room for us to talk and hear from those in prison, there is room for us to hear from those on the street, there is room for us to hear from the children of someone with a brain disease, and there is room for mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers to tell their stories.
All of these stories matter and can help improve our understanding of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and other illnesses that impact an individual and the ones who love them. I only hope that with so many people writing about the tragedy of mental illness that stories like mine and stories like other people I know won’t get lost, or not be as valuable (because they don’t fall into our comfort zone or understanding).
I hope along with the stories of sadness, pain, struggle, and grief that stories of hope and possibility continue to find space in popular culture. For years, the heartbreaking stories have captured our imaginations and driven the cultural response; I only hope that we continue to make room for the voices of those who have lived experience because like a kaleidoscope with one blacked out spot, the view is not complete, or as colorful, or as interesting without seeing the whole picture.