The Struggle of Relating to People When You Have a Mental Illness

When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia eight years ago, it was almost impossible for me to talk to people let alone relate to them.

If it wasn’t the constant anxiety and paranoia keeping me engaging, it was the burden of having an 800 lb. gorilla that nobody understood hanging over my head.

How could I possibly get on anyone else’s level when there was this immense self-stigmatizing diagnosis of being crazy sitting on my shoulders?

I was a singular unit among the normal people. I had never met anyone with schizophrenia before. I had no experience with anyone who had mental illness and to say it was scary knowing that I was crazy would be an understatement.

I was afraid of the label, I was afraid of the stigma if I ever told anybody and most of all, I was afraid of my own thoughts.

I can remember thinking early on in my recovery how boring the real world was if all the things my mind had been telling me weren’t actually real. There were no conspiracies, there were no missions, and there was nobody actively judging my every move.

As boring as it was, it was also a bit freeing.

My main issue was and always has been though, that people were thinking evil things about me.

Slowly over the eight years that I’ve been recovering I’ve gotten better but that has only been with a great deal of patience and practice.

Just like recovering from an alcohol or drug addiction it takes serious work to re-learn not only how to interact with the world but to feel like you are a valued part of it.

My first piece of advice for re-learning how to relate to people after a major trauma would be that you have to try to put yourself out there.

Start small though, even the tiniest interaction can provide a good base. Buying a candy bar for instance, you have to learn how to do simple transactions like this if it’s the only thing you can manage because it’s impossible to exist in this world without that level of comfort.

Talking to people is a requirement. You don’t have to have a perfect confident conversation with everyone but if you work at it and get better at interacting with people little by little, you’ll eventually get to the point of feeling like you relate to them.

Just practice practice practice.

It might take years to get comfortable talking to people again but once you do you’ll feel much better about them.

The two other things to keep in mind is that you need to relax and that nobody outside of your family and close social circle really care that much about you.

If you remember these things, it’s much easier to get by without worrying that everyone is out to get you.

Relaxing is essential because when the worry isn’t there, it’s much easier letting the conversation flow. Once the conversation starts flowing is when you learn to relate to people as a human being with thoughts, feelings and emotions. If you can learn to relax when talking to people you won’t be bogged down by hilarious insecurities and anxieties. I know it’s hard but you can do it. Just keep practicing.

Try not to worry if you don’t have a perfect conversation every time. With more and more practice you will get better.

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  1. Dear Hedrick,

    Thank you again for your tremendous wisdom in helping me, a mother of a 55-year old man with schizophrenia, understand my son.

    My son has decided to “terminate” his relationship with me, and with your insight I can see something of why he feels it is necessary. Maybe he thinks I’m “out to get him” as you put it, even though I have tried in my own limited ways to help him at every turn and in every way possible. I love him deeply, and I so hope we will someday be able to re-establish our relationship

    I admire your bravery in putting out your thoughts for everyone to benefit from. You are a comfort and an inspiration to me. Please count me as your friend who sees the good in you.

  2. Read two articles of yours now. It’s very comforting to read an experience so close to my own. It’s Good to know I’m not the only person struggling with this. I was 18 when I had my horrible experience. I was locked up for 10 days and very scared and I somehow made the docs believe it was hallucinations due to the seizure disorder I had. Though I was labelled with psychosis unspecified. So maybe they just allowed me to believe I was tricking them. Still it’s a haunting nightmare that gets me to hyperventilate and feel very anxious thinking about the whole ordeal even to this day 11 years after the experience.

    Anyway thankyou for sharing your experience. You’ve made me realize if I ever want to have some peace of mind. Im going to have to overcome my fear of being locked away again and see someone professional and find the trust inside to tell them everything. The real reasons and details of that horribly traumatic time.

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