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What It’s Really Like To Live With Schizophrenia

“I haven’t scrawled a bunch of complex mathematical equations on a window lately”

I am one of the 51 million people worldwide living with schizophrenia, diagnosed five years ago when I was 25 years old. Since then, I’ve been wrestling not only with the uncomfortable and often scary effects of the illness itself, but also with the often insensitive way people close to me—and in the culture at large—still view the illness. As of December, the Canadian Mental Health Association ranked schizophrenia as one of the “most stigmatized and misunderstood health issues.” It’s easy, though, to throw around words like “stigma” without appreciating what that means in daily life.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Schizophrenia is loud. It is so, so loud.[/quote]


So here’s what it’s like: That news report about a mass shooting and—wait for it—the reporter with no psychology background or experience claiming that the killer has schizophrenia. Your friends on Facebook, swearing that the shooter absolutely has to have schizophrenia, because anyone who willingly shoots up a school must have something seriously wrong with them. It is your family, pointing a finger at you for getting all TMI on the internet. (Don’t you know, it’s nobody’s business what’s wrong with you?)

Of course, schizophrenia can also be a 10-year-long steady job and awkward giggles from your colleagues: “You can’t be schizophrenic, you seem so normal!”

Honestly, I think part of the problem is that other mental health disorders have celebrity advocates. Pop culture can do wonders. Bipolar disorder can claim Carrie Fisher and Demi Lovato. Depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder have Kristen Bell and Maria Bamford. But schizophrenia must make do with A Beautiful Mind’s John Forbes Nash Jr. and—for those in the know—Elyn Saks, two figures who have become cartoonishly exaggerated in the culture’s perception of them.

Schizophrenia isn’t about what you think it is (for example, I haven’t scrawled a bunch of complex mathematical equations on a window lately). It’s loud. It is so, so loud—the voices in your head and the voices outside your head and the typing of keys and the vibrations of phones and the TV and the brewing of coffee and the footsteps behind you. Does he need to follow so closely? I’m sorry, what did you just say? I was too busy listening to the voice telling me I’m a loser.

And my loud world can only be quieted with meds that can take two months to end up in my medicine cabinet because securing an appointment with my psychiatrist is such an ordeal. And those meds often end up causing acne or depression or diarrhea, or leave me barely able to function—let alone work efficiently. (Sometimes I need to sleep 12 hours and take two daytime naps just to stay alive.)

Ever since my diagnosis, I’ve dedicated myself to advocacy on behalf of those with schizophrenia. Many who, because they aren’t writers like me, don’t have a way to voice their experience or are too afraid to use it because they have been stigmatized to the point of personal bullying and assault, as Miguel Angel González-Torres laid out in his 2016 paper “Stigma And Discrimination Towards People With Schizophrenia And Their Family Members.” Yet, despite how often I try to educate others about my illness, I face daily comments like, “You don’t look schizophrenic; you’re too well put together.” I’m sorry, what do schizophrenics look like?

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]I call myself schizophrenic. I don’t say that I’m a ‘person with schizophrenia.’ I want to directly own the disease that is part of me.[/quote]

It’s hard to be hopeful in the face of this kind of cumulative misunderstanding. But over time, I have found a few amazing people—still fewer than five, though—writing and talking about their experience living with the illness. I always try to respond to messages from people with schizophrenia, thanking me for my contribution to these people, or from their mothers, asking for help as their sons rot in prison for having a brain disease.

So on their behalf, I want to tell you: Not all schizophrenics are violent people. A lot of us work full-time jobs at Fortune 500 companies or write novels for fun and go out for coffee just like everyone else. In fact, violence committed by schizophrenic people makes up less than 10 percent of violent crimes. Schizophrenia is people who look like you and work like you and buy gifts during the holidays like you and kiss their loved ones at night like you, just trying so hard to live a happy, functional life. A life where we might be remembered as that neighbor who always said good morning or that author who poured her life out on the page.

A schizophrenic life. I call myself schizophrenic, by the way. I don’t say that I’m a “person with schizophrenia.” I want to directly own the disease as something that is part of me and that will never go away. It is not a crutch. My schizophrenia helps me be creative and find passion in the small victories. It makes me who I am, which means that it’s something to be thankful for.

Health
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

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Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

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In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

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In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

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But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

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But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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The Planet