Telling Others About Your Illness

For a long time, I actively rebelled against disclosing any information about my schizophrenia, even avoiding the subject matter altogether so that I wouldn’t have to tell people I had it.

I remember bringing one of my books to a friend at a bar one night, and an older woman struck up a conversation with me about it. Disclosing was pretty unavoidable due to the book being specifically about my psychotic break. When she asked me if I had schizophrenia and I said yes, she actively recoiled and shook her head as if to get a rotten taste out of her mouth.

In another instance, I was on a first date with a woman and she asked what I did, as is customary, but against my better judgment, I told her that I write about living with schizophrenia, she proceeded to ask if I have ever killed anybody.

The point of all this is to say that schizophrenia is a frightening word and, though it has lessened in recent years, there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding major mental illnesses.

Those instances are only two examples of myriad circumstances I’ve been part of where disclosing my illness has dramatically altered and in some cases ended entire interactions.

Throughout my writing career it’s been a challenge not to disclose, given the subject of my work, and I’m sure that contributed to a long period of burnout I experienced for almost 5 years.

During that time though, I didn’t have to tell anybody and that was a breath of fresh air.

Also during that time, society shifted its view of mental illness thanks to the millions of young people being open about their anxiety and depression on social media and across the internet.

Many famous people have also disclosed their struggles with mental illness.

Because of that, the word “schizophrenia” doesn’t have the weight it used to, and people, myself included, are more willing to speak about their struggles with the illness.

That said, if you’re afraid to tell people about your diagnosis, that is perfectly valid and rational given the media’s portrayal of major mental illness and the resulting stigma.

You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to and it’s perfectly acceptable to keep it to yourself.

Hopefully you have a strong circle of support where you can feel safe discussing your struggles but if you don’t there are groups and resources available.

Disclosing your illness is entirely up to you.

Even I’m still guarded about it but if you feel compelled to express yourself and find community, this blog is a safe space.

I wish you guys the best and please remember, you’re never alone.

You Don’t Have to be Limited By Your Illness

I’ve fallen into the trap many times that there are simply things I’m not capable of doing because I have schizophrenia.

While it may be more difficult to do those things with an illness like that, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be limited by your illness.

In the past 17 years since being diagnosed, I’ve done a lot of stuff that may seem impossible for someone in my situation; things like writing 4 books, being featured in some major news publications for my writing, having my photography displayed at places like Google or E-Trade, and starting and running 4 different businesses.

That’s not to say that you have to go above and beyond if you’re not up to it.

Simply, you shouldn’t let the fact that you have a major mental illness stop you from doing anything you want to do with your life.

I’ll admit that I have been blessed by receiving disability payments and family support and those have allowed me to work on things without fear of destitution.

I will also admit that without those things, accomplishing things would be a good deal harder and I respect that argument whole-heartedly.

What I’m saying is that if you feel compelled to do something there’s not a lot (including your illness) that can stop you.

You can find a way.

I’d also like to recognize that rest is essential in the whole process and that things take time to build up.

Whatever you plan to do probably isn’t going to happen in one day.

As people with mental illness we need to take our time to complete the things we want to do but the adage is true that, if you do a little everyday, pretty soon it will build up into something extraordinary.

We, as people with mental illness are extraordinary simply by existing. It’s been shown that we’re among the smartest and most creative that society has to offer and even with our limitations we have great capacity to do amazing things.

I often wonder if at some point in the future someone will come across my story and be amazed at the things I was able to accomplish given my diagnosis.

I hope that I will somehow be able to inspire others in the same boat but I’m gonna stop talking about that because I want to remain as humble as I can.

The world is your oyster though, and you have the ability to build something great.

Funnily enough, it helps that we’re in a place with our diagnosis where the world doesn’t really expect a lot from us to begin with, we’re kind of on the fringes and regarded as people who don’t have to contribute to society.

If we do though, we’ll be recognized for how much we’ve done given the circumstances and in many cases, due to our innate creativity we can do things that go above and beyond what society expects of even normal people.

The point is, we don’t have to limit ourselves, we don’t have to be told that we’re defective and we don’t have to let our illnesses dictate what we do with our lives.

We are capable of great, enormous things.

We just have to be cogent of where we put our energies and be careful not to overdo it or burn ourselves out.

If you want to go back to school and get your masters or doctorate, you can. If you want to write a book, you can. If you want to start a business, you can do that too.

No matter what it is, you’re not alone in this and you can do it.

I have faith in you.