Allie Burke, an amazingly talented author and mental health advocate (and by-the-way a paranoid schizophrenic) posted a blog on Psychology Today for Schizophrenia Awareness Week. Great article. You should read it.
In the article she said:
“I really don’t know how people with schizophrenia are perceived because I’m not in the heads of others.”
That struck me for some reason and I felt obliged to write this.
First off I hope I’m not as offensive and insensitive as the rude person she describes in her post. I don’t mean to be, but I do mean to give an honest, unfiltered, example of an average Joe’s take on a condition that is shrouded in misinformation and a strange popular mystique. To those of us on the outside looking in, as-it-were, often only have what we’ve read or seen in popular media to go on – which is never a reliable source.
Some people with schizophrenia are institutionalized. Some live in the street with no one to take care of them, and hardly able to take care of themselves. Others live on the edges of society by choice because it is easier than dealing with the stresses of “normal” society and the stigma that society puts on them. Many are quite creative and even thrive as artists of various types.
Then there are those like Allie.
I will admit my prejudicial stereotype did not leave room for Allie until I encountered her. And the more I learn about her, the more it amazes me and shakes those stereotypes. I may have thought someone with mild schizophrenia – is that a thing? – might be somewhat successful in “normal” society, but Allie’s accomplishments impressed me before I knew of her diagnosis. She is impressive regardless.
So why do we act weird about schizophrenia, other than dumb prejudice? Often because schizophrenia scares the hell out of us, whether we admit it or not, not only because we don’t understand it, but because we can’t – and therefore we can’t relate. Just like Allie can’t get in the heads of others, we can’t get into hers (and would be afraid to if we could).
We live in a society that is saturated with psychosis. Everyone seems to have some malady; depression, PTSD, OCD, panic disorders, anxiety, not to mention a litany of phobias. We’re okay with that. But schizophrenia? That brings to mind Victorian asylums filled with hysterics, psychotics, SCHIZOPHRENICS! virtual leper colonies of the mind.
Too often people think of schizophrenia and then immediately think of zombies with dead eyes, wearing hospital gowns, and wandering the halls of an asylum. But this is the twenty-first century, folks! Yet even those like myself who are somewhat enlightened in the workings of the human mind can be guilty of having preconceived ideas and making thoughtless and dumb statements based on stereotypes.
I may have already said something stupid and insensitive in this article. I hope someone will correct me if I have.
The point of Mental Health Awareness Month, and Schizophrenia Awareness Week, is honest, sensitive, loving dialog that can increase understanding and awareness. We fear what we don’t understand. It makes us uncomfortable, then out of overcompensation, or a lack of sensitivity, people sometime make stupid posts on social media or say stupid things.
That can hurt people who only want acceptance and don’t really expect people to understand. You would need to be a psychiatrist to even begin understanding the mysteries of mental illness(even they don’t fully understand the workings of the human mind)but we can throw out the stereotypes, and stigmas, and just love people.
I’m reminded of a girl I dated when I was a teenager (way back in the ancient 70’s). She suffered epilepsy. I held her in my arms many times when she had seizures – in the cafeteria, at a dance, in the hall – and I remember the looks of those around us – fear, confusion, the wide circle that often formed in a crowded room. Then we would assure everyone it was okay. Nothing to see here. Move along.
She was so comfortable with her condition, and she taught me to just hold on and not let her hurt herself – and not care that people looked at us like we were space aliens. Allie reminds me of her – paranoid schizophrenic, nothing to see here, move along. Then you read her writing and forget that she isn’t “normal”.
I don’t believe in “normal”. Jung gave an example that if you had a pile of stones with an average weight of one ounce, you can dig through the pile and probably never find a stone that weighs exactly one ounce. Normal is average, and we really haven’t defined the extremes of human consciousness yet. So we don’t know what average/normal is. And even if we did, no one person would be perfectly normal – if they were that would be weird!
It is our differences that make us interesting.
We all have stuff we are dealing with that no one else can fully understand. They can’t get in our head! But we can try. A little sensitivity and patience goes a long way. And a whole lot of love. We can also get to know someone, read up on mental illness, and be aware.
David Moore is a freelance writer, literary blogger, and under his pseudonymMaxwell Cynn a best selling author in multiple genres. His psychological techno-thriller The Collective was top of its category on Amazon in 2011 while his cyber-erotic romance CybrGrrl also commanded that spot in the romance category. Several of his short stories, essays, and poems have found publication online, in newspapers, and in national magazines.
David is a classic introvert and Max is his extroverted alter ego – think Peter Parker and Spiderman (but with a southern accent and cowboy boots). As Max, David won his first literary contest, and first Kindle Reader, writing an erotic comedy (he didn’t know that genre existed). He enjoys writing an eclectic mix of topics and genres – essays, poetry, and fiction – and is an avid student of depth psychology, sociology, philosophy, and religion. His favorite series is “In Death” by J.D.Robb, he hates zombies, and his hero is William Shatner.