I’m a bit late on this (as I have been ill…) but this week until tomorrow is Schizophrenia Awareness Week. Rethink, the charity I’ve given talks in such places as the Houses of Parliament for, have produced this document to help raise awareness of the disorder. If you cannot be bothered to read the whole thing, here’s the bit about me:
I had just become a junior fellow at a university when I first became unwell. I started having lurid auditory and visual hallucinations, and became extremely paranoid. I saw, felt and heard things that were extremely distressing, and ended up being admitted to a secure hospital, where I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
When I was well enough to leave, I didn’t have any qualms about telling people my diagnosis, and that I’d been in hospital for the past three months. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing for me to be ashamed of – having paranoid schizophrenia doesn’t make me a bad person.
But the reaction of my former colleagues was terrible. I was fired immediately, turfed out of my college accommodation, and barred from my university email and online profile. I wasn’t given any explanation at all, and my colleagues stopped talking to me entirely. They absolutely refused to engage with me because of my illness.
That awful experience hasn’t stopped me being open about my diagnosis, and I have encountered some hostile responses from other people along the way. Recently, my landlord came around to inspect the flat, and asked me if I was working. When I told him I have paranoid schizophrenia, he said: ‘Oh, so you’re a druggie then’. I was really offended – I’ve never taken an illicit substance in my life – and was taken aback by his ignorance. I’m now worried he’s going to try and throw me and my partner out when our contract is next up for renewal, because he thinks my illness means I’m a drug addict.
For most of my friends, the fact that I have schizophrenia is not a big deal at all, and generally they’re just concerned for my wellbeing. I know a lot of my friends through online social networks, and their support is very important to me.
One time recently, I posted a comment on social media about finding it difficult to go shopping, as I was seeing zombies everywhere on the street. Those kinds of hallucinations are a big part of my condition, and something I have to deal with on a daily basis. Someone I didn’t know replied to the comment saying: ‘99% of people are scared of mental illness, so you shouldn’t talk about it – shut up!’
Naturally I was very upset, so I went on Facebook and posted a message on my wall, asking: ‘Are you scared of my schizophrenia? Should I stop talking about it?’ The response was gratifying. So many people got in touch to say that they weren’t scared of my illness in any way, and that I shouldn’t stop talking about it because they care about my health.
But there are other friends who are clearly uncomfortable with me talking about schizophrenia. I’ve noticed they become very distant when I’m going through a bad patch, and stop answering emails and phone calls until they think I’m doing better. It’s quite hurtful, but they obviously just don’t want to deal with the extremities of my illness.”
So you can see that I’ve had a range of responses to me being out about being a loony. i suppose the one that hurts the most is when, because people can see anything wrong with you, they don’t take you seriously and think you are a layabout just trying to avoid working. But I work, I most certainly work very hard.
Even on a good day, and sadly today is not a good day, I face nasty hallucinations, paranoid delusions, I can’t trust my senses to know what’s real and what is not, there is always a risk of a suicide attempt or self harm, I have to take mind-buggering drugs that come with an array of mirthless side effects, I’m often crushingly depressed, and so on and so on. My illness may be invisible, but it’s very, very real. When people belittle its seriousness it hurts and insults me and everyone who has to battle this illness..