September 11, 2017

Karim: Society can be cruel but I wear my label of schizophrenia proudly

At the age of two I was adopted. I was a mixed heritage child, placed with a white family. My early recollections were of brutality. I was born in the mid-50s. My white mother and I were sitting on a train and a man verbally abused my mother because he thought she was married to a black man. Racial tension was blatant. I saw my first black person at the age of 12 because we lived in the quaint streets of suburbia.

After being named and shamed with schizophrenia, my mother threw me out of the house. I abided by the laws of being judged; it was in the days of the old institution. Patients had been in hospital for 50 years. I had broken down, my friends were cold comfort. The stigma was evident in the tabloid press: “Schizophrenic runs amuck and kills mother and child.” Children also poked fun at you in the street: “Here comes the thing in the street”. There was no such thing as political correctness. I was on my own. The medication was not of a standard it is today; I walked around like a zombie.

I have had other significant issues; I am transgender. I had my first consultation with a professional when I was 40 and my last operation when I was 50. Now as a living, breathing male, I am happy in my own skin. When at the age of 24 I asked to be referred to the gender unit, the doctors thought it was farcical. They could not distinguish between my gender issues and my ongoing schizophrenia. I got out of bed one day and said if I do not sort my head out, I will never be taken seriously. It took 20 years of persistence and pleading to be given an appointment. Again, the children called me names in transition; “Are you a man or a woman?”, “He-she - the thing in the cap”. I was also threatened physically by an abusive adult. People talk about transgender issues now but from the earliest stages, I had no one. It was misunderstood and a huge taboo. People like difference, but when you are different they do not like it. That has been my experience.

I did find pockets of kindness. Strangely, when I returned to what they call normality, people wanted to help. I have lived with schizophrenia for over 40 years. I am an expert by experience. I have a handle on my mental health. My memory is not short, it is long. Society can be cruel. I wear my label of schizophrenia proudly. My experiences have not been typical but I have survived, if not only for another day.

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