i have schizophrenia and desire understanding, not pityI have noticed that social media has changed over the past year or two. When I logged on to Facebook, it used to be filled with people’s pictures of a colorful plate of food, a ski trip, tropical drinks at a beach bar, a new car, or an announcement of one success or another. There were the pictures of parties and good times. It was so upbeat that the term, “showing life’s highlights” became common for the way people used the medium.

When I log into Facebook now, I see posts about chronic illness, depression, addiction, the loss of a parent or spouse. I see a community of people who are reaching out to one another with less and less of a “look at all the wonderful things in my life” to “welcome to the hard stuff that I am experiencing.”

I love this shift in social media. I don’t love it because it makes me feel like my life is better than others, I love it because it makes me feel like my life is normal. I have schizophrenia, and it is a battle, but almost everyone else I am in contact with has battles, too. I am not unique. Life isn’t picking on me. I didn’t get the worst deal out there. To be human is to suffer. I am glad that social media has moved away from the façade that all is great and good. It has moved to a more realistic view of life; a life that includes the hard times along with the good ones. Social media has become a mixture of success, struggles, loss, grief, pain, fear and joy.

A writer recently mentioned that the majority of my writing is engaging because it deals with a difficult issue that I must live with but I never ask the reader to pity me. I am thankful that I don’t come across as someone who is trying to elicit a reader’s pity. With the exception of a particularly hard day, I don’t pity myself and don’t want that response from others either.

What do I want the response to be toward my writing? I want people to understand schizophrenia and mental illness. I look to be understood and therefore welcomed into a community, not pitied and allowed in to make other’s feel like they are doing a good deed by including “the sick woman.”

It is empowering to go from deep shame regarding your diagnosis and a feeling of isolation to a feeling of being human and experiencing hard times like everyone else. This change might seem simple to some, but it is an epiphany and great progress for me.  It is one big affirmation that I am more like the rest of humanity than I am different from them. I am like you. You are like me. I can recognize your suffering and struggles and hopefully you can recognize or understand mine. We can bring each other comfort.

I know clicking a “like” button, or a “sad face button” isn’t the same as holding someone’s hand, or sitting in silence while they share their story. It isn’t the same as crying together, or getting to a place where you can both laugh at the absurdity and difficulties living life on this planet can present. I know social media isn’t the same as hearing a friendly voice or looking into each other’s eyes, but it has moved closer to being healing, honest and raw. All of this is a change I welcome into my sometimes light, sometimes dark, life.

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