I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think of different ways of breaking the stigma of schizophrenia through this blog, and I realised that I was depending upon you taking my word. This lead me to ask my lovely follower, and I like to think, friend @OneDizzyBee who has experience of knowing a Schizophrenic to write a post for me. She can be found at http://onedizzybee.com/ so go and check her out!!
So with that I pass it over….
I’ve been a fan of Alex and her blog since I discovered it my very first day on Twitter. I think she’s an incredibly courageous young woman, as I’ve said numerous times in the past, and will probably continue to say for a long time to come. When she asked if I’d guest post on her blog, I was proud, flattered, and a little bit scared.
Schizophrenia is a hard subject to write about. People are afraid of mental illness. I’m afraid of it myself. It’s not something people want to talk about. In some ways, I believe that people think if they talk about it, or even spend too much time thinking about it, that will somehow draw the ‘demons’ into their own minds.
That’s not how it works. We need to get over that. It’s all right to be afraid. It’s not all right to let that fear rule you, or to use that fear as an excuse to treat someone badly.
I’ve titled this post as I did because I believe that when someone you know and love is diagnosed schizophrenic, you need to make friends with the disease. You need to know it, try your best to understand it, inasmuch as one can understand an illness that’s so fluid from sufferer to sufferer.
In a way, you even need to love it a little. That might sound strange, but if you think about it, part of loving someone is loving who they are. You don’t just choose bits and pieces of a person to love. If you love a schizophrenic, then you cannot ignore the part of them that is defined by their illness. It’s not all of who they are, but it does make up a portion of their identity.
My good friend ‘Lena’ is caretaker to her childhood sweetheart, ‘Donny’. I’ve modified their names out of respect for their privacy.
Lena and Donny hadn’t seen each other for thirty years when they discovered each other again on Facebook. They struck up their romance all over again, though at the time, Lena wasn’t aware that Donny was schizophrenic. Then one night, several months after they’d begun talking, the police in the state where he was living (several hundred miles away) phoned Lena up. They’d gotten a call from Donny’s neighbor. He had a gun and was threatening to kill himself before “they” did.
No one knew who “they” were. He was alone in his apartment, and as far as the police could discover from the neighbors, he had few visitors.
Over the course of several weeks, we were to discover that Donny had been in therapy, and was supposed to be taking medication for his schizophrenia. Since he was living alone, no one was there to make sure he took his meds, so he’d fallen off.
Long story short, Lena ultimately brought him home with her, took on the position of caretaker, and through contact with Donny’s therapist, began to educate herself (and me) about schizophrenia.
As an outsider, feeling helpless is a go-to emotion. There’s literally nothing anyone can do to make it better. On bad days, he’s a different person. He doesn’t just hear voices; he seems to become these people. He says absolutely frightening things. He makes threats against himself and others.
Then there are the days when the more childish persona seems to take over. He can’t do the simple things, like bathing himself, or making himself a meal. His verbal skills devolve. There are tantrums.
Other days, he simply sits for hours and stares at walls, silent and unmoving. We don’t know who he is then.
The biggest and most cruel misconception people have is that a schizophrenic has control over these ‘others’. In reality, they have no more control over what these ‘others’ say and do than you have control over what I say and do.
But it’s hard, so very hard, especially in the beginning, not to get angry at Donny and hold against him the things the ‘others’ say.
He pushes people away on a regular basis. Even on the good days. Especially after a bad episode. He doesn’t want anyone to look at him, or talk to him. He’s ashamed about the things the ‘others’ have said and done.
He used to apologize profusely for them. It must be an awful thing to feel compelled to apologize for something someone else did. We’re past that now. He no longer apologizes to me because he knows he doesn’t have to. Nor do I ever expect any of the ‘others’ to apologize. They’re real arses about doling out apologies!
That’s one of the most painful things to understand. It’s not really your friend or loved one saying or doing those things. The person called Donny in a sense, goes away, and is replaced for a little while by someone else. This someone else may not like you very much. But that doesn’t mean Donny doesn’t still like you. Donny will need you when the ‘others’ give him space again. Donny is more afraid than you are. It’s happening to him, after all.
There was a time in the beginning when I just avoided going to Lena’s. It was selfish of me, I know. I was afraid, and I figured it wasn’t my problem, and I just didn’t want to cope with it at all. That’s hard to admit, but there’s really no point writing this if I’m not going to tell the truth. There are still days I don’t go over there, but that’s not dictated by me. Lena will tell me if it’s not a good time. But even on the good days, things can go bad quickly. Nothing is written in stone with schizophrenia.
I leave you with this: Donny is worth knowing. Alex is worth knowing. As are so many others with some form of mental illness. Yes, they may have schizophrenia. But that’s not all they have. Get to know them. You’ll see.