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Blind to the Person with the Illness

Recovering from schizophrenia is an ongoing learning experience- what I learn about myself, peers, and research. Whenever I share my personal experience I try to use appropriate terminology to not offend, misrepresent, or make it sound too traumatic and without hope- Yes, schizophrenia can be a debilitating illness, however, it can also be very manageable, which I focus on the latter outcome to provide hope to my peers and families effected by mental health.

When I share my story I frequently use the phrase 'living with schizophrenia' opposed to 'suffering from schizophrenia,' because I have overcome the hardest part of the illness, to me- that being psychosis and the criticizing voices that nobody else heard. It does not bother me when someone uses either of the phrases, because everyone's experience is different.

There is no right or wrong way to describe one's experience with a mental health concern, in my opinion. Like so many perspectives on life, there is no specific style to depict one's feelings and emotions, or response to a mental health diagnosis... So why do some of us still compare and judge a person's recovery???- There is no standard like there is no normal person or perfect person, so why do some people still make comparisons?

I can go on and on about why we should not compare, but that is too easy to discuss, so why don't we take a look at ourselves and be truthful about whether we are judgmental or not and why. I used to be very judgmental before I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, not because I was mean-spirited, but rather because of my lack of life's challenges and ignorance.

I remember nurses trying to persuade me to take medication in jail, but I refused because I did not know I was battling with a severe illness like schizophrenia. In fact, I remember seeing several jail mates take their medication like candy, to me, and thinking I was better because I did not need medication. However, the truth be told I was probably one of the sickest inmates in that unit... I eventually stopped speaking, showering, moving and functioning.

Being diagnosed, in jail, has chipped off a lot of judgmental attitudes I had previously. Now, I feel like I can relate to more people of diverse lifestyles, not because we may have had similar upbringings, but rather because we have experienced something traumatic, life-changing, and stigmatizing; and more bluntly put- taboo.

Now, it concerns me when some individuals want their loved one to recover like me, because I see someone making unfair comparisons on two individuals in recovery without all the pieces to the puzzle to make a far-fetched criteria for wellness. A common question I get from some is: 'how long did take you to get to where you are now in your recovery?' Even though this concerns me, I understand this individual's intent is not to be judgmental or to harm anyone, however, it seems to naturally hinder their loved one's growth in recovery, to me, with the expectations to see results.

Like many families affected by mental health and its ups and downs, my family struggled too. More specifically, my mother and me. Several members of our family gossiped and blamed my mother for my psychic break. It did not help that my illness impacted my feelings, thoughts, and mood around my mother to make me angry, distant, and unwilling to cooperate when she tried to help. I consider my mother a survivor of the remnants of my mental health because she endured a lot to hold my hand through this entire experience; before, during, and after my diagnosis, which I am grateful for because I believe her support plays an intricate role in my recovery.

Finally, it is upsetting when individuals hold a strong opinion about mental health-related concerns when (1) they have never experienced it, (2) or never encountered it through a loved one, or (3) even researched it to know what exactly they are talking about.

Therefore, I challenge you as a peer, family member, and health care professional, and citizen, to not correct and judge an individual's experience with mental illness, and to be more open-minded, and to not place expectations on other people's lives when you do not know their personal history.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit: Embracing My Mind, Inc., Choices in Recovery, LinkNAMI, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


Lynn Kinnaman said…
Great article Ashley!
SSNS said…
Thanks for writing this post, Ashley! An important message!

Annie said…
Thank you for your post Ashley - the time was right for me to read it. It is easy for me to think all should be able to find the full recovery I did. I'll remember what you said here, as I share and discuss with others, as a member of my city's Mental Health Advisory Committee.
Please visit my blogspot anytime.
Blessings, Annie
Amy Karon said…
Terrific post. Recently I've encountered a common thread on blogs about mental illness -- writers say they're sick and tired of others telling them when and how to recover. It's a sentiment I think everyone should pay attention to. So often, pushing someone else to get better is really about our own discomfort with the reality of their experiences. I blog about mental health research, and try to write about treatments while showing my absolute respect for patients' individual needs.
Fifty-ONe-Fifty said…
I went through my first psychotic episode last year, and was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

Good entry. REcovery takes a long time. You have to be patient.

Anonymous said…
Thanks, Ashley for this post. I need to be more proactive about my life like you are.

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