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Family Secrets

There is a major difference between gossiping about someone and discussing conditions and/or events within the family. Some people do not want to talk about mental illness because they do not understand it and do not think it is relevant, they are in denial, or they are embarrassed by it. The fact is schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that can have detrimental consequences if untreated. Furthermore, not discussing family history can be life threatening; ten percent of the people living schizophrenia will commit suicide. Schizophrenia can also lead a person to isolate themselves from people, not speak, eat, or not even take care of personal hygiene.

Some illnesses are hereditary, or places family members at greater risk if there is some background, schizophrenia is one of these illnesses. Being aware means you are a step ahead, or proactive, and can look for signs. Shhhhhh or pretend like it does not exist? I say "Ouch," to that! Symptoms are not like ooooooh or psssst psssst guess what, its knowledge and very important at that! As long as it's the truth, it's not being mean! In fact, I believe it is mean not to share something as important as schizophrenia to your child, spouse, or other member of the family.

Growing up the only thing my family prepared me for was the risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. Therefore, whenever I filled out the information section of medical history I blindly over looked the mental illness box. As a teenager I was athletic, vocal, and ambitious. I made good grades and got involved in high school theater productions. When I went onto college I remained consistent with grades and sports. I never phantom the notion of having a mental illness.

However, when my life started deteriorating I did not understand what was happening. It totally blew me away!!! It seemed to have come from no where, when in fact, it had. I had family history of mental illness, but no one told me.

In order to complete homework assignments I had to take naps, formed study groups, and worked on other projects to overcome my lack of attention. Trouble concentrating is another symptom of schizophrenia. As the illness manifested, I lost interest in activities I generally enjoyed such as Bible study. I stopped eating, speaking, and even showering. Now that was a biggie. My mother used to tell me that if I even got a speck of dirt or dust on me, I'd run to wash it off. I lost interest in life.

When I was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia my mother still did not know we had a history of mental illness in our family. It turns out that my grandaunt had a mental illness...She would accuse her eight year old niece of trying to kill her, and accuse the neighbors of spying on her; similar to my symptoms. I accused my aunt of trying to harm me and the neighbors of spying on me. Feelings that others may harm you or are spying on you can be another symptom of schizophrenia. Family either made jokes about my grandaunt or shrugged off her mental illness. But when it came to me, the family was in denial and blamed my mother for my illness. They contributed my illness to a poor upbringing. In fact, it is a myth that a poor upbringing could cause schizophrenia. There is no known cause for schizophrenia; it is a combination of genetics, critical moments in brain development, and environmental factors.

To this day, I am still astonished that a relative of mine had a mental illness. When I briefly studied the illness in school it was so foreign to me, and out of mind when it came to myself or members of my family. You never know what life may bring you, so be alert and inform yourself about different health issues. Now that I have the illness, I am just glad that I didn't have a family of my own such as a child or spouse to see me in such a mess.

As I research information on schizophrenia I share that knowledge with my family so they can be aware. I have an 18 month old niece, when she comes of age to develop schizophrenia I will be alert and know the symptoms if I see them in order for her to get help if she does develop the illness. However, I hope and pray that she is more fortunate than I and will not have to deal with this illness.

Like all illness it has its ups and downs. Right now I am in the recovery stage and I am taking medication. So far I am doing very well, and getting better.

Share your family medical history, be proactive, because one day it could come back to haunt you.


Debbie said…
Very well written, I have a daughter who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia Oct/07....I commend you for have a gift.
I never knew any of this about Schizophrenia or mental illness in general. You are also an amazing writer, keep on writing.
Lesley said…
Hi Ashley,
You left a comment on my blog (Studebaker) today, and I thought I would visit yours. I'm glad I did! My mom was bipolar, so I can relate to a lot of your posts.

It's SO important for people to learn about mental illnesses. They are more common than most people realize. You are doing a wonderful thing by sharing your story.

God bless -

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