Guest-Post: I Am One In More Than 2.7 Million

Editor’s Note: This post comes from a dear friend who has been wrestling with the problem of where to post such a personal thing. I offered my site as a safe, anonymous place to post.

Because it is a sensitive subject and on my personal site, I WILL be deleting any negative or harmful comments, so please consider your response carefully and keep it respectful. Above all, read with an open mind, please. I’d like to start seeing positive, accurate portrayals of alternative mind-structures and mental illness in my fiction, thank you.

I’m schizophrenic. Writing this is difficult for me. English is my native language, but disordered thoughts are part of my life now. The words don’t want to come out right, whether I’m talking or typing.
I don’t see anyone like me in fiction. Male or female. Usually, we’re cast as murderers, or savants. Soothsayers. Catatonics. People tell their writers to make things more schizoid, when they’re trying to say something else. Make it more erratic. Confused. Hallucinatory.

Schizoid, if you don’t want to look it up, is defined as “pertaining to a personality disorder marked by dissociation, passivity, withdrawal, inability to form warm social relationships, and indifference to praise or criticism.”

I don’t see it used accurately very often.

Because you’re writers, you might want to start here; it’s an Australian site for media professionals on reporting about suicide and mental illness. There’s also the NIMH site on schizophrenia, which is a cornucopia of info. When I see schizophrenia portrayed in expertly in fiction, I think that maybe you just don’t do your homework.

I don’t need you to care about me or my case in specific. I just need you to be mindful. If people can tell you to just write characters as people —not as women or disabled or children or whatever —you should be able to do that for the mentally ill, too. You never see characters before the psychotic break, you don’t ever show the struggle for recovery.

Some of us become schizophrenic as children, or in our teens. As happily married adults. Middle-aged. Elderly. Most of us were people with normal lives until this happened. And that’s all some of us want to go back to. We’re not monsters.

When I had my psychotic break, I lost everything. My job, my spouse, my grip on reality, my life. Under the disease is the person everybody thought would be a politician or a lawyer. A doctor. I was a socially adept person who could work a room, and loved every minute of it. I was the one everybody thought would go as far as they wanted.

I don’t feel like that person anymore. I’ve made a new life, sure, but it’s one with unsteady legs at times. It’s one where I try to keep quiet that I’m schizophrenic, because I’m afraid it’ll tank my career if I’m too public.

I probably could have said all of this in a sentence, but I have to fight for the words to figure out how to tell you what I’m thinking.

You’re writers. You can do better by your stories, and by people like me, than you have.

*edit* A friend linked me to her blog from a while back on this same subject, for those of you who want more insight. No Mental Conditions Allowed

4 thoughts on “Guest-Post: I Am One In More Than 2.7 Million”

  • I absolutely love that you posted this!!! Especially since I am Bipolar (my biological mother was Schizoeffective) and terms get thrown around so casually by people who have NO IDEA what they actually mean, much less for them to be appropriate for what they are actually trying to say.

    PS Hey writers, don’t say “they were diagnosed with manic-depression AND bipolar” hello, Bipolar is the NEW name for Manic-Depression, same goes for multiple-personality-disorder/dissociative identity disorder, SAME thing, and psychopath/sociopath/antisocial personality disorder, ALSO all the same thing. Use whatever term was in effect for the period in which you are writing (you wouldn’t call it bipolar in the 50’s would you?)

    • My grandmother worked in county mental health for a while, and because she was my caretaker, I often spent time there as well. Probably not the most balanced upbringing for a child, but it laid the foundation for many years of working in fringe communities.

      More recently, I’ve become the sounding board for some of my good friends with PTSD, and worked with autistic kids. So these subjects are all near and dear to my heart. And, as the author here says, the portrayal of mental illness in fiction is light years behind where it should be.

  • Check out Caitlin Kiernan’s “The Drowning Girl.” The main character has schizophrenia and the story of her struggle with it is very moving and poignant. She’s a very real person. I think in this case the writer got it right.

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