I know what it’s like to be terrified of a label.
I was diagnosed schizophrenic ten years ago and at the outset the label of crazy was like a death sentence. To me, as yet uneducated in the intricacies of mental illness, the diagnosis was horrifying. It meant that I was crazy, it meant that everything I believed about what was happening was an illusion. It was as if you were told that you’re whole life had been a dream, that nothing you thought was real actually existed. As you can imagine the movie ‘The Matrix’ was a pretty strong parallel. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard to take.
For years afterward I was lost, apathetic to nearly everything that happened because I was crazy and nothing mattered anymore. I didn’t care about anything because it became glaringly clear that the things most people cared about were mere inconveniences in comparison with a diagnosis of a severe chronic condition. It meant that the world, as it appeared to me, was only an illusion.
I was still very paranoid too and that combined with the delusions, combined with the stigma I perpetuated on myself, made it very hard for me to talk to anyone besides my parents.
It would take years for me to get better at that and more years for me to become comfortable with telling anyone about my illness.
The stigma ate at me like an infested wound, festering and painful, always a reminder that I was crazy.
That all changed when I decided to write about my illness and share my words with my friends. The outpouring of support was exhilarating and life changing. These people, despite the stigma, had my back. They showed me that there’s strength and courage in being open and vulnerable.
Before I shared though, I had to accept that I was ill, I had to be ok with my illness myself. I’d like to say there’s some magic switch you can flip that makes things better but I only got to the point of acceptance after realizing that there was something inherently wrong with the things I was thinking. I knew something was off, I knew that what my brain was telling me had no concrete basis in reality, it took the diagnosis for me to come to terms with that though.
I’d like to think that anyone with delusions and hallucinations knows deep down that the things they are experiencing aren’t real but I don’t know.
If you know something’s not right, it’s ok to ask for help.
The point of all this is to say that acceptance is the only real way to be ok with your diagnosis.
How? The biggest thing for me was going to support groups. Seeing the tangible reality that there were other people like me, who were dealing with the same things and who were living life just as successfully as anybody else. There are millions of other people out there with mental illness and they are all doing amazing things. You can too.
There are some things in life that can only be dealt with, there are some things that just can’t be changed and mental illness is one of them. That’s not to say that you can’t get better and more skilled at dealing with the illness though.
With time and work, things get easier, you get used to things and the scary stuff becomes routine. Eventually, you get to a point where you can function pretty normally despite your illness.
The first and most important step though, is acceptance. Just say to yourself, “I accept that I’m sick.” If there’s fight in you, you’ll want to get better, you will take your meds and go to the doctor and you’ll practice life and figure out the best way to deal with everything and with time, things will be ok.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that.
Schizophrenia is not a death sentence, it’s only a hurdle and you can get over it.