What it took for me to recover from schizophrenia was having people who believed in me and who did not give up on me. Their belief and love for me encouraged me to believe in myself, so I could have the patience to heal slowly over several years, with the help of steady, continued medical treatment. Their love and confidence in me gave me a reason and the strength to try and endure the emotional pain and social stigma of having schizophrenia.
If you have a friend, family member, or colleague with schizophrenia, the worst thing you can do is give up on them and shut them out of your life. No one wants to give up more on a person with schizophrenia than themselves. Healing from schizophrenia is possible, but it does take a community of love, support and understanding, along with proper medical care.
My parents were never embarrassed by me and always believed that I would overcome my illness. Most importantly, they never judged me for a second or thought the real Sarah was gone. My husband of one year is also instrumental in my emotional recovery and the aftermath of having a disease like schizophrenia. I have been symptom free since I met my husband, but he has been my rock during a time in my life where I am dealing with a lot of residual feelings of anger and shame for what happened to me. I have shared everything about my illness and previous medical history with him, and he supports my desire to tell my story.
As a schizophrenic, the reactions of people who reject you or who treat you in a stigmatised way can haunt you. I have lived in fear of saying schizophrenia out loud and what people might think of me. It was easy for me to think the same way others do about my disease and agree with the majority about a controversial topic. It was easy in the past to turn on myself, tell myself it was my fault I was ill. I mistakenly think I’m empowered to both judge and fix myself, to be like everyone else. For years I felt like a human anomaly. I had never met, and still haven’t met, anyone else with schizophrenia, so I desperately wanted to be like everyone else in the world, as if I was some special unique case that the world had never seen before
I felt so crushed and deflated, even more so when a lifetime friend judged me and broke ties with me because I’d been hospitalized with psychosis and she had witnessed part of it. After my first psychosis, she increasingly minimized contact and started not inviting me to important life events. I finally called her out on it and told her I thought she was excluding me because I had experienced mental illness, and she flatly said, "I can't help you." I disagree with this statement. She did have the power to support me while I healed and make a difference in my life. Instead, I felt ashamed of myself, like I was an embarrassment or outcast in the eyes of someone I had known my entire life. Because she judged me, it triggered self-judgement.
One thing I know now is that if someone drops a person because they have schizophrenia, then they weren’t a true friend to begin with. I know that runs contrary to social stigma and norms. After all we’re conditioned to think that every person with psychotic tendencies is more likely to act aggressively towards other people. And that schizophrenia is a character flaw that makes someone a second-class citizen who everyone should be wary of and keep at arm’s length. Having a friend or family member with a mental illness shouldn’t be embarrassing.
I encourage anyone reading this blog to conquer these gut reactions and do your best to understand and have compassion for people with schizophrenia – this could be life-saving for someone trying to recover and move on from this stifling disease.
Don’t give up on someone in your life just because they have this condition.