I fear the stigmas attached with mental health disorders. They are so strong that I feel them against myself. This blog is anonymous because of these stigmas.
I’m afraid that if it were publicly known that I had schizoaffective disorder and a few other mental health issues that I wouldn’t be able to get a job, have friends, be close with my family or could leave my house in my own neighborhood. These things are difficult for me as it is without the stigmas of mental health disorders.
These stigmas have forced me into a web of lies, a place I’m not comfortable. Some trusted people know that I have this disease and am being medically retired from the US Army for it. All the rest think that I am perfectly healthy and have accepted an early retirement option. And then there are the half-truths in the middle. Those truths are hard to keep track of and can get exhausting.
I wish that I didn’t have to hide. I wish that I could somehow be one of the voices that help to dispel some of these stigmas. Because I can get a job, I can have friends, I can be close to family and I can leave my house. It isn’t the weakness of my disease that defines me but the strength I have to push back against it.
I don’t want to understate how severe this disease can get though. In the world of schizophrenia, my case is mild and my challenges are much less than most of the sufferers. Every day I remind myself of this and am thankful for it. I stand a little down from the brink and have a unique view over it into what schizophrenia is that the unafflicted do not. What I can see is a very different view then what your average American, guided primarily by Hollywood, sees on this issue.
How wonderful would it be if this disease was understood better and we weren’t labeled as having multiple personalities or as violent or sadistic? Even the supposedly accurate “A Beautiful Mind” took great liberties in its treatment of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician. It greatly exaggerated his visual hallucinations and made it look like they were akin to having conversations with a few people who lived in his head and behaved like normal people.
And I’m part of the problem though. I love psychologically challenging movies. As much as I dislike the treatment of John Nash, I’ve watched his movie several times. I went and saw “Split” and “Shutter Island” and I claim that the movie “Pi” could have been about me. And once you start looking for it you can see psychosis used as a plot device or in character development in movies and television everywhere. I enjoy these types of films and eagerly devour them when they come up. I’m starting to have some reservations though because of the propagation of stereotypes.
This is a large and important topic though. Supposedly 1 in 100 people have some sort of schizophrenia. Imagine your hometown or your high school. My town had 1000 people in it, that’s 10 people with schizophrenia. There are 7 billion people in the world now. That’s 70 million people with schizophrenia. Yet this disease is treated like all its sufferers are homeless (only 6%) or violent (not higher than the general population).
There is a terrible and often-overlooked fact about schizophrenia though: People with schizophrenia are 50 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
[my data comes from http://www.schizophrenia.com/szfacts.htm#]
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t want to write information papers about schizophrenia. This is a blog post about how stigmas of mental health have affected me.
The stigma of mental health delayed me getting treatment in the first place and made it very difficult for me to initially take my treatment very seriously. I perceived my mental health issues as temporary and a sign of weakness. I didn’t tell my military supervisors about my treatment for many years. In fact, I didn’t tell them until after I was sent to an intensive inpatient program. The stigmas I felt in myself made me initially resistant to any medications because I assumed they would change my personality, chemically castrate me and cause a myriad of other terrible side-effects.
I still turn these stigmas back onto myself. I’m quick to assume that everyone will hate me. I’m actually terrified to publish this post because of it somehow making stigmas worse. I’m wondering if you’ll hate me because I’m not schizophrenic enough to even open a dialogue on this topic or because I’m somehow making light of a very severe disease.
Every day I fight to overcome my own self-stigmas. I need to be reminded that my disease doesn’t make me weak. It has made me strong.