People often call mental illness an “invisible illness.” For people with schizophrenia, the illness is frequently obvious especially if the person is not in treatment. Someone not in treatment who suffers from schizophrenia may be seen talking to voices no one else can hear, or waving their arms, or acting in a way that seems out of the ordinary. For those of us in treatment though, schizophrenia can be an invisible illness.
I like the fact that my schizophrenia is frequently not obvious to the people I meet. I also like that when I am at home, going about my daily routine, I sometimes forget about schizophrenia and I am just alive (this doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen). It happens most frequently when I am writing even if I am writing about living with schizophrenia, because my mind is so focused on the words I am trying to put together that my symptoms fall into the background. It is the closest thing I know to being “normal.” This is one reason writing is so important to me.
Writing isn’t therapy to me though, and it’s importance doesn’t stop at being good for my thought process. Writing is the tool I use to carve out my space in the world. For a number of reasons, I am nearly invisible when I go out into public. Some of that has to do with people looking into their phones all the time, some of it has to do with our culture’s obsession with the young (which I am not), and some of it has to do with the fact that I am a casual dresser and nothing about me is really memorable or stands out.
I went to a writer’s conference and listened to feminists speak about the importance of women writing their stories. The literary scene is still largely made up of white males. The panelists at the conference encouraged all women to write, and all women to submit their stories, and all women to write about what it is like and what it means to be a woman in 2015. They encouraged us to write about our bodies, about our sexuality, about our relationships, and to write the stuff that scares us, has shamed us, and makes us fear putting pen to paper or words on a screen. In other words, they wanted us to be bold enough to write the tough stuff.
Having women tell their real life stories can heighten awareness about what it is really like to live with the fear of being sexually assaulted, or having violence committed against you, or having people comment openly and in public about your appearance. There is so much power and change that can come from reading real stories about real women.
The same is true about the mentally ill. We need to carve out a space for ourselves. We need to tell our stories in our own voices. What is it like to be discriminated against? What is it like to hear people in the helping profession not take you seriously, or not listen to you because you are “mentally ill.” What is it like to know that people with the same illness as you are being treated in prisons or not treated on the streets. These are our stories. This is our space that needs to be carved into the world. We need to add our voices to the voices of millions of others and have those voices make it into the mainstream and become a part of our popular culture, and our society’s beliefs.
Writing can chase away your symptoms for a while, and that is a huge benefit of making it a part of your everyday life, but even more significant than that, you can carve out our space in our world. You can help create a place that is safe for us to tell our stories, share our experiences, and diminish all the stereotypes.
So often the mentally ill have a creative side, I hope to see more and more of you use it to shine the light on the realities of living with illnesses that so often are defined by those few who are psychotic or obviously suffering. If enough of us get our stories out there, they won’t be the exception, and it will bring us so much closer to compassion and acceptance.
I’m ready to read your stories. I hope you’ll write them.
Writing photo available from Shutterstock