Schizophrenia: The first time I experienced stigma was at university
It’s not easy when you hear that the probable diagnosis for you is schizophrenia. It comes as a shock to the system, something that you thought would never happen.
Before I started to get ill, I thought the same as what, most likely, is the popular understanding of Schizophrenia - that it was a multiple personality disorder with violent tendencies; something that you would see in the news about murderers. So, once you receive that diagnosis, you start to feel like the popular opinion is against you.
The next question that comes to you is whether you are going to tell anyone. Would my family mind? Would my friends mind? The first people I told were my immediate family, who immediately wanted to keep my problems behind closed doors.
only a few of my wider family members know my true diagnosis
Even now, 3 and a half years into my illness, only a few of my wider family members know my true diagnosis. To any other people who may have enquired why I was in and out of hospital, I was the girl who had “breakdowns” or was “a type of bipolar”.
It is interesting to me that the natural instincts of my parents are to disguise my illness. Of course, this is because they do not want people to avoid me or treat me any differently. What would family and friends say if they knew I had Schizophrenia? I’m not even sure myself but the great shame is that I do not want to find out.
The first time I experienced stigma was when I went to university
The first time I experienced stigma was when I went to university. A month or so into my stay in student accommodation, I was feeling low. What was happening was that I was remembering what happened the year before - my second hospitalisation, which I found to be very emotional. I started drinking that evening and was slumped on the stairs in the accommodation. A few of my flatmates found me and were very worried about me.
The next day I told 3 of them that the year before I had been in a psychiatric hospital, hearing voices and thinking I was being spied on. These people seemed surprised, but were encouraging. However, the next day when I turned to drink again, they said they were fed up with me moping around and that I needed to pull myself together.
I knew then that I had made a mistake in confiding in them
I knew then that I had made a mistake in confiding in them and that they just wanted to be rid of me. For the rest of the year I had an awkward relationship with them and another friend who I knew, who was friends with one of my flatmates, suddenly started treating me differently. I couldn’t help but wonder if she had been told about my mental health problems.
Since then I have been very cautious about what and who I tell about my mental health. It’s wrong, but I often tell people I have a different illness to ‘test the water’. In fact, I have told a few people that I am bipolar, thinking that this would be a more acceptable illness and just to see how they reacted. I figure that bipolar is more widely accepted and if they can accept that, then perhaps at a later date I could tell them my true diagnosis. I know this is wrong but my fears about the stigma I experienced at university override my want to be truthful.
It was very interesting for me when I started to keep a blog about mental health. I was desperate to talk to someone about my feelings, but having no one in real life to talk to besides mental health professionals and my parents, I started a blog and also set up a twitter. I can’t say how valuable this is, to be able to be free about your diagnosis for once.
Online I can safely say that I have schizophrenia
Online I can safely say that I have schizophrenia, without feeling judged by the online mental health community I have thrust myself into. I really hope that one day I can be open in real life about my diagnosis without fearing that I would be judged.
For now the situation I faced at university leaves me limiting my experiences to online but I hope that through my blog I can change opinions on Schizophrenia, let people know the true symptoms and challenge popular myths. All we need is a little understanding.
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