My friend sent me an e-mail that said, “Couldn’t you have an illness that has less letters and is easier to spell?” I laughed at my friend’s frustration in trying to type the name of my illness every time she wants to ask me a question or comment on something she has read.
I think the spelling of schizophrenia is perfect because it is a weighty word. When people hear the word schizophrenia they often think of multiple personality disorder, or a mass shooting, or John Nash from a Beautiful Mind, or someone gesturing or speaking to someone only they can hear and see, they might think of straitjackets or asylums, maybe they will think of a horror show they saw, or an episode of a popular television series that had a character with schizophrenia.
No doubt that everyone that hears the word thinks of something they have seen or heard though, and usually, unless they have personally known someone with schizophrenia, what comes to mind is a myth or a stereotype.
I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my twenties and wasn’t accurately diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia until I was in my forties. No matter what the name of my mental illness is my husband and I decided to keep that part of our lives private from friends and even from his family. We kept my illness as a private matter for many reasons, but I have to admit we protected my diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia much more fiercely than we did when we thought I had bipolar disorder, and part of the reason is, is that there is more public knowledge about bipolar disorder than there is about schizophrenia.
After almost twenty years of marriage and secrecy, my husband and I went public with my diagnosis earlier this year, and for the most part, the response of people has been accepting, welcoming, and often times, curious. I don’t mind people’s curiosity. I welcome the opportunity to educate. I also welcome this opportunity to blog about something I am now passionate about – letting the world know that the person sitting next to you on the bus, the person behind you at the grocery store, the person one cubical or office over from you may be battling schizophrenia. In other words, you can’t tell from looking at someone that they have the disease.
I hope you will be open to accepting a person if they ever trust you enough to share their diagnosis with you. I hope you will be supportive and kind. You never know, they may be able to teach you something about life, something about yourself, and it is possible they may end up changing everything you ever thought you knew about mental illness.
Let’s move in the direction of bringing people safely out of hiding – no stigma and no shame.
Supportive friends photo available from Shutterstock