As most of you know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but some of you may not know that Schizophrenia Awareness Week kicked off on May seventeenth. I’m going to be completely honest and tell you that while I consider myself to be a mental health advocate, I have never acknowledged this particular week, until now. It’s not that I didn’t believe that schizophrenia wasn’t important. It’s not that I didn’t believe that schizophrenia didn’t need more awareness. It’s not that I didn’t understand the gravity of what people endure. I just didn’t take the time to actually acknowledge it separately from the blanket of mental health awareness, and why didn’t I? It’s because I was ignorant. Yes, as much as that pains me to say it, I was fucking ignorant.
One person changed all of that for me. One person opened my eyes and educated me; but more than that, she shared her story with me. She befriended me. She trusted me and eventually even called on me during some of her really bad times. I have often described her as brilliant, and she has proven that to be true one thousand times over. She has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia; I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, two completely different hands that we’ve been dealt, but there’s a common ground that we’ve found. We’ve had some intense conversations about hallucinations, psychosis, and delusions, none of which can be compared, but it is a comfort to know that someone gets it. It’s a comfort to know that we don’t have to go into great detail, but if we do, the other will be there to listen.
A person is not their diagnosis, but I do sometimes wonder how much schizophrenia has played a role in shaping the person that Allie Burke is. There is no disputing the fact that she is an actual genius; she’s been tested, that shit is real life. There is no disputing the fact that she has written one of the most exquisite novels that has ever been published, and she did so while in the depths of schizophrenic psychosis. The controversial question runs on a continuous loop in my mind when it comes to Allie; how much does a mental illness or a brain disorder contribute to the creativity and intelligence of the person afflicted?
There was a time when Allie, Sarah, and I were having a conversation about stigma and the amazing work that they were doing with Stigma Fighters when the topic of strength and courage came up and I stated, “Selfishly, if I could take away our illnesses, I wouldn’t do it.” I would eat those words now if I could, because shortly after, Sarah and Allie had another conversation where Sarah was concerned about Allie having the “big break”. Allie’s calm response was, “I may just one day fade away.” Those words gutted me. The reality of what schizophrenia does to a person hit me so hard that it dropped me to my knees.
I have a bit of an understanding of what Allie, and other people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia live with, but I can’t say that I know what’s it like. I know that Allie had two years med free, and managed her symptoms well. I don’t know how she did it, other than her strength. God, that woman has strength and stubbornness like I’ve never seen. I also know that she’s learning to accept that it’s ok FOR HER to accept the fact that sometimes the symptoms are too much and a little extra help in the form of the meds may be what she needs. I see her struggle with the meds and their side effects. I see her strength and her power; she refuses to to give in. I see her living her life, and helping others. And I see her sharing all of it, on Stigma Fighters, on Psychology Today, on guest Blogs, and she is changing the world.
I have also seen her stigmatized for having schizophrenia on a Facebook Post. It read, “Ha ha. You have paranoid schizophrenia! Well you are invalid to my post.” and let me tell you her response was full of grace, dignity, and on point. “ Wow. Thank you for reminding me how much this world has to learn.” I would have told him to fuck off, but Allie Burke is a bigger person than I am, and one that I know will continue to teach this world exactly what it has to learn.
Happy Schizophrenia Week.
Well Hi there. I’m Nicole. Let me start off by telling you a little bit about myself. I’ve been a nursing aide for way too many years to count. I spent most of my time working with residents who suffered with dementia, but also residents suffering from other illnesses such as Parkinson’s, MS, ALS, and Huntington’s. It’s a difficult job, but a very rewarding one. I’ve worked hospice care, and been honored and blessed to hold people’s hand as they’ve taken their last breath. You meet these amazing people, usually on the last leg of their journey, and they all hold a special place in your heart.
I also live with a disease called Bipolar Disorder. It’s tried to take me out a few times too, but I’ve fought hard. Here you will read about my journey and battles and triumphs. I share my stories so others don’t feel so alone. I speak up because I’m sick and frankly quite fucking tired of the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Oh, that’s another thing you’ll learn about me, I have a dirty mouth. It could be worse.
I’m probably also going to blog about anything really. So don’t be expecting everything mental health related, for that you can go to my Facebook page by clicking on The Lithium Chronicles, easy enough to remember. I love that page, and I stick pretty close to Mental health Awareness and Support there. Come and follow me on Twitter too, and be patient with this site, please. WordPress is new to me….
I currently volunteer with the Canadian nonprofit Partners for Mental Health, specifically on The Right By You Campaign where we try to bring proper care, treatment and funding to Canadian youth.
I just received my own blog on Psych Central called Embracing Balance and I’m really looking forward to diving headfirst into that. You can check it outhere I am so thrilled to be part of such an amazing and trusted site, and I hope you’ll continue to follow me there as well. It’ll be less of an online journal and more of a tool to live well with mental illness. I’m still in shock and awe over the entire thing. I also blog for The International Bipolar Foundation and you can find a link to some of my articles by clicking here.
The best thing about me is definitely my family. I have two beautiful daughters, Brinly and Tatym, who are brilliant and funny and infuriating. Their father, Scott is my rock, and I am grateful for his support. I can’t put into words how much I appreciate him. He is an amazing man, and I am lucky that we still have a great relationship after all I have put him through over the years. I’ve got a great life. It is at times, rough and snarly and scary, but I know I can get through it, and come out smiling. Thanks for being here.