My depression didn’t count as a mental illness in my eyes.
At the age of 13, I began being bullied in school and as a result, I started suffering from depression.
I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was 18 and despite having involvement with mental health services from the age of 17, I was largely negative about mental illness. Those with a mental illness were bad or weak people as far as I was concerned.
Despite my battles with depression, I became exasperated with those who struggled with depression, anxiety or similar illnesses in my late teens. They weren’t really ill. They were just weak or lazy. My depression didn’t count as a mental illness in my eyes. I had developed depression from bullying, not from being crazy. There was no way that I was mentally ill.
Even when I started experiencing symptoms of severe mental illness, hallucinations, delusions and intrusive thoughts, I didn’t believe I was unwell. I believed my dominant voice, which told me my experiences were punishment for being a bad person. Because of my beliefs that I was mentally healthy, my opinions about mental illnesses stayed the same until I was 22.
At 20, I was sectioned and diagnosed with psychosis. At 21, I was sectioned a second time and my diagnosis changed to schizophrenia. These scary diagnoses were proof of what my dominant voice told me in that I was a bad person. Psychosis and psychotic were those words used on television to describe murderers. Schizophrenic was used to describe a crazy person, one of those weirdos on street corners who screamed obscenities at random strangers. Being psychotic and then schizophrenic must mean that I was a crazy murderer, right?
I believed I was mad, bad, crazy, evil, murderous and every other similar word for about a year after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. At 22, I was towards the end of a seventeen-month stay in two different hospitals, the second being a specialist psychiatric rehabilitation unit. In the unit, I was able to really speak to other people with my diagnosis for the first time.
The other people in the unit who had schizophrenia would live like normal people. They had never murdered anyone, nor had they been violent towards anyone else. They, like I, had harmed themselves numerous times and most of us had attempted suicide at least once. Yet, none of us had ever hurt anyone else and we certainly weren’t murderers.
I wasn’t the only person in the unit with schizophrenia who believed that our diagnosis made us evil. I was also not alone in realising that our beliefs were wrong. Schizophrenia does not make a person evil. Schizophrenia is just a diagnosis. Plus, schizophrenia isn’t a life sentence. I have learned of many people with schizophrenic illnesses, such as schizoaffective disorder, who are high functioning and have fantastic, high-level jobs. However, I am yet to meet someone with a schizophrenic illness who is evil or violent.
Now, at the age of 24, I have learned that violence in those with a mental illness is a rarity. People with schizophrenia are actually 14 times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than anyone else and it is rare that we are the perpetrator. Despite this fact, I remain secretive about my diagnosis to all but a few who know me and I stay anonymous online. The stigma that surrounds mental illness tends to be worse around schizophrenia and I am fearful of repercussions if I revealed my identity.
When it comes to my illness, I am starting to get the hang of this schizophrenia malarkey. I still hate my diagnosis and wish it could be changed but I now know I’m not the evil person I associated with schizophrenia. I’m much more understanding of other mental illnesses now too. Ten years ago, if someone were to tell me they had a mental illness, I would have avoided them like the plague. Today, if someone were to tell me they had a mental illness, I would want to know more. How does it affect you? Are you in recovery? But more than anything, I would want to know the person beneath the illness.
A mental illness is not a person’s identity. A mental illness doesn’t even have to be a part of a person’s identity. With the right help, a mental illness can be squashed into a corner and the sufferer can start to move on. I hesitate to say that a person with a mental illness can live a normal life because what is normal? I don’t think that those without a mental illness can live a normal life. I don’t believe a normal life exists.
One of my hopes for any person with a mental illness is that they live the life they want to have. My other hope for a person with a mental illness is that they would be able to be open about their diagnosis, without the stigma and shame that so often accompanies it. This is why I battle stigma with Time to Change Wales and others. A mental illness is not the sufferer’s fault. So why should we experience shame? Let’s end mental health discrimination.
You can read more of Katy’s writing at http://schizophreniasucks.blogspot.co.uk/ and follow her on Twitter @schizophrenicGB.
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