Tonight I was visiting two young women from the support group I started who are in the same hospital environment I was in 2 1/2 years ago. One of them asked me to tell my story, since she did not know much about my history, so I talked to them for a while about how things used to be, how much better things are now, and how these changes occured,
I was thinking that it might be good to write something about what I've learned from this illness. I have learned quite a bit from it, and I would like to put some of that into words.
So here is some of what I have learned from Schizophrenia, but not all of it, because that would be a very long list.
I have learned not to be too sure of anything. My mind can, and does, play tricks on me and sometimes things that I think are happening are not really happening. I have learned to remind myself of that whenever necessary.
I have learned to accept that I will never be the person I once thought I would be, but that I'll be a different person instead and that this other person is just as acceptable and just as worth being as the person I will never be would have been.
I have learned to listen to people and not make make judgements without paying attention to what a person is saying. Sometimes a person is behaving in a way that could be called "crazy" is trying to communicate the best way they can, and sometimes they need a person to listen to them.
I have learned that I can overcome quite a bit, and that it is best, in life, to not give up on yourself no matter how hard things get. Sometimes you are capable of more than you think you are, and sometimes circumstances change for the better even when you think they can't or won't.
I have learned to trust science and have faith in medicine, to an extent. It is still important for me to remember that I know myself better than any doctor knows me, and that ultimately must decide what is best for me. Yet, I have to have faith in medicine, because, after all, medicine has saved my life, literally.
I have learned to not be ashamed. I did not commit criminal acts by becoming mentally ill; I got sick. I did not make myself sick; I got sick. I did not choose nor do I enjoy being sick, and nobody is to blame for my illness. I am no different from anyone who is not sick other than for the fact that I live with an illness they don't live with. I am not an inferior human being because I'm sick; I am just a person living with an illness. We all have our cross to bear; Schizophrenia is mine. I am not ashamed of it, because I did not create or choose it. I deal with it as well as I can, and it is part of my life that I can talk about, when I need to, without shame.
I learned not to have too much faith in how open-minded people can be, because there is an incredible stigma against mental illness in this world, and in particular, against the mental illness that I happen to have. I have learned that not everyone will remain your friend once you start acting erratic, and that if they choose not to remain your friend when you're sick they are probably not the best friends to have around in the first place. I have learned that my behavior can easily be misunderstood and misinterpreted, and that people can, have, and will continue to decide not to have much to do with me if they find out I have an illness called Schizophrenia. I live in the real world, and stigma is unfortuantely a large part of this world even today. We have come along way toward making mental illness better understood, but we still have a long way to go.
I have learned that just because someone works in the psychiatric profession does not mean they necessarily know the first thing about psychiatry, and this I learned especially in the hospital.
I have learned that there are incredible case managers, therapists, and other people in helping professions who will do a bang-up job of helping you even when they are getting paid far less than what their work is worth.
I have learned just how underfunded and under-appreciated social service agencies and programs are.
I have learned that it is my job to educate people about this illness. Just like African Americans, gay people, women and people with any other disability have been discriminated against, so too are people with psychiatric illnesses, and in particular Schizophrenia.
I have learned that even in support groups for people with mental illnesses, I may have to explain what Schizophrenia is and that it is just an illness like any other, because people with other mental illnesses don't always understand that.
I have learned about resilience - in myself and in others, and I have witnessed amazing recoveries, including my own.
I have learned how important and vital it is that one never give up hope.