Schizophrenia, now what do you think of when you hear that word, a lot of people think of dangerous, out of control psychopaths running amok in society that are out to get everyone. This has been fuelled by the media using derogatory terms such as ‘psycho’ and ‘schizo’ in their headlines and making a big deal out of any hint of mental illness in people that have killed or seriously injured others. In reality schizophrenics are rarely violent just as the majority of the general public are not violent. Due to all the misconceptions about schizophrenia and the stigma surrounding having a mental illness I have found that not many people who are diagnosed will tell people around them about their diagnosis. I have heard people say that to them it would be as bad as getting cancer. Despite how little people know about schizophrenia it is surprisingly common,1 in 100 people worldwide have schizophrenia that is 6 times the number of people living with diabetes which virtually everyone has heard of and understands.
I was diagnosed with schizophrenia nearly two years ago after finally being able to pluck up the courage to tell someone that I was hearing voices before that everyone thought I was a loner and just a bit weird or maybe at worst depressed. It hasn’t been easy even after diagnosis I have had to battle with symptoms of the illness, side effects from medications but worst of all with the behaviours of others around me after they have found out about my diagnosis. My family could not deal with my illness and have essentially disowned me, some people I thought of as friends no longer wanted to be around me or couldn’t understand my behaviour. I have fortunately been accepted as part of the VIK group and have made some close friendships with some amazing people who accept me for who I am not what diagnosis I have. Having this illness has made me fight for my self-respect and has made me appreciate those around me more than I think I would have done before. Now I’m not saying I would have chosen to have this illness I don’t know anyone who would choose to be ill but with it life has been more challenging and therefore more rewarding and sometimes even amusing than if I was ‘normal’.
In order to help people understand what schizophrenia is really like I have tried to explain to people what it is like but like with any illness things are different in different people so I have decided to call it ‘my schizophrenia’. In order to help people understand what it is like for me when I am hallucinating I ask them to visualise themselves in a room with the television on, the radio on, someone talking sat next to you, with flashing lights and random objects/people appearing out of nowhere. Now try and concentrate on one thing like reading the newspaper or answering a phone call with all that going on; it’s really not easy. This is very simplified but it does get people thinking about what it must be like to live with hallucinations like this. Hallucinations are a symptom of schizophrenia they can be auditory which is hearing sounds that no one else can the most commonly know is hearing voices, visual which is seeing things that no one else can see. These are the most common but people can also smell, taste and feel things that aren’t real.
As well as hallucinations schizophrenics can experience symptoms that can be mistaken for other illnesses such as depression for example losing interest in activities, becoming withdrawn from friends and family and trouble with sleep either sleeping excessively or not sleeping to name a few. I encourage people to find out more about schizophrenia particularly if they know someone who has the illness as only then can you understand how it is like for someone living with schizophrenia. http://www.schizophrenia.com has helped me understand my illness and also my close friends. It has lots of easy to use resources for those with schizophrenia, friends, family and professionals. Also, please look at Kat’s list on the self advocacy page for more information.