I am back in San Diego sitting on the sand. Spring sand is still cool enough to touch the skin. When the summer sun comes out, people will jump up and down trying to keep the sand from burning their bare feet. The orange clouds part the horizon. It will be evening soon.
Three days ago I was in Los Angeles. Last week and part of the weekend I attended the largest conference for writers in the United States (AWP – Association of Writers and Writing Programs). It is held in a different city every year.
Last year the conference was in Minneapolis, and it snowed flakes as large as silver dollars. My husband and I ran outside to catch some on our face and our tongues.
At the conference last year, I sat in on a panel where a woman with bipolar disorder stood up and said, “At least I don’t have schizophrenia.” I left the panel in tears.
I do have schizophrenia.
Again, in Minneapolis, I got up the courage to tell one person, a bookseller, who had a table near the back of the convention center that I mainly write about schizophrenia. He seemed interested, but he may have just wanted to be kind.
This year, in Los Angeles, I talked about schizophrenia frequently. There was a man selling a book titled, “Schizo.” I asked him what the book is about, and he said, “A philosopher is claiming that capitalism is like schizophrenia.”
“That doesn’t make sense to me. I have schizophrenia, and I just don’t get the metaphor.” I said.
I bought the book, though. I like to read what people think it is like to have schizophrenia. Most people don’t know.
In another conversation, I told an editor of a literary journal that I write mostly about having schizophrenia and she took my card and said she would be interested in my work. I can only hope she was serious.
One evening in Los Angeles, I went to a party for a faith-based magazine that I have submitted to previously. I spoke to the editor. I told her that I understood that a writer who has thought they were Jesus and then had to transition back into mainstream Christianity may not have a perspective that readers can understand. She didn’t encourage me to send more work. I think I will pass on their journal in the future.
Also in Los Angeles, I attended the first disability caucus. The purpose of the caucus is to make the conference more diverse, inclusive and accessible. Many people had physical disabilities. I didn’t meet anyone with schizophrenia.
When I came out publicly with my diagnosis just over a year ago, I didn’t know what life would hold for me. I never imagined having the confidence I do now, to look people in the eyes and say, “I have schizophrenia, and I spend a good deal of time writing about that.” I am not ashamed of my diagnosis. I am no longer in hiding. I respect myself, and I have the expectation that others will respect me in return. I don’t apologize for taking up space. I don’t apologize for using my voice. I don’t apologize for my person. I have the right to move through this world just as others do. I have the right to be treated as an equal and valuable member of our society.
Like the sun bright in the sky this late afternoon, people are shining their light on issues of diversity. The cracks and back alleys and dark spaces are being lit up by people who care about the marginalized among us. We are coming from our lives in the shadows out to our lives in the sun.
The conference wasn’t perfect, but it was better than last year, and I hope next year someone comes up to me and says, “I am a writer, and I have schizophrenia, too.” Then I will know we have made real progress.