Stigma and discrimination can be very hard for those of us who are living with schizophrenia. Often the media and community have a very stigmatizing view of people who live with this disorder, leaving many of us to stigmatize ourselves. Over the years, I have learned how to deal with both, and it has helped me in my recovery process.
Three years ago, I participated in a Human Library event at one of my local libraries. The event helps local patrons learn about different people in our community. They sign up for one-on-one discussions with community members to gain more insight about their life experience. As part of the event, I shared my mental health recovery of living with schizophrenia.
On the day of the event, four community members wanted to speak with me, but I’ve never forgotten one meeting. It was a very nice woman who signed up to talk to me. I shared my recovery story with her and answered all her questions. As the meeting was about to end, the woman looked at me and said that my story was amazing, and she was surprised that I looked so “normal.” I was so shocked by her statement and truly dumbfounded. As she got up from the table to thank me for my time, all I could say was “you’re welcome.”
To be honest, I’ve had other instances like this, but for some reason, this meeting really stuck with me. It took me some time to process the interaction. I did bring it up in my next therapy session. I had to because I had begun to stigmatize myself. I began to question what it meant to be and look “normal.” When I was early on in my recovery, was I not normal then?
In therapy, we discussed this meeting at length, and what I came to realize is that this woman had a stigmatized view of people living with schizophrenia. She viewed us the way the media and community do. Too often we are portrayed as delusional, hallucinating, homeless, unkempt, and a danger to society. It’s unfortunate this stigmatized view still exists and that many don’t know mental health recovery is possible.
When people make stigmatizing statements or treat me differently because of my diagnosis, I don’t take it personally. I have to remember that their view comes from a place of fear and lack of knowledge. The more I become comfortable with sharing my mental health recovery story, the easier it is to forgive those who don’t understand my condition.
Therapy, and my large support network of family and friends, keep me from stigmatizing myself. It didn’t happen overnight, but as I progressed in my recovery process, I became more comfortable in my own skin. It made it easier to be more transparent with others about my mental health recovery.
If you’re living with schizophrenia and have ever been in a situation where you felt discriminated against or stigmatized, know that you are not alone in your struggle. Remember that being diagnosed with schizophrenia doesn’t define who you are. Don’t let stigmatizing statements or discriminatory behavior from others bring you down. The best thing you can do is to surround yourself with positive people who lift you up. Educating yourself and others about schizophrenia helps to foster mental health literacy and break the stigma that is associated with living with this diagnosis. Mental health recovery is possible.
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