I live with schizophrenia, and here are six things I wish people understood about my experience:
1. I’m not violent. Most of us aren’t. People with mental illnesses are actually more likely to be victims of violence than the other way around. Some people are scared of us because of this wrong assumption, but if you treat us with respect, we will treat you with respect — just like any other human being.
2. I see things, but I manage my illness well enough that I know not to interact with my hallucinations in public. I don’t want to scare anybody. I know I’m the only one who can see my hallucinations. I’m not going to communicate or interact in any way with someone or something I know other people can’t see. Getting into a debate about what is real and what isn’t is one thing. I have doubts sometimes about my hallucinations being completely not real, like maybe they are from another dimension or realm… but now we’re getting into delusions. Let me tell you about those.
3. I have delusions, which means I have false fixed beliefs. I may think you are a spider and not look you in the eyes…but that’s the extent of how much it’ll affect you. While I can tell what’s a hallucination and what’s not, delusions are a different feeling. I get paranoid as well. So if I give you a look, or seem scared, just reassure me, or ignore me. Either way, don’t escalate it. Don’t get defensive and give my mind a reason to be paranoid. My demeanor may have set you off, but then your behavior will only feed my paranoia.
4. I have a thought disorder, so it’s hard for me to understand things sometimes. Give me a second to catch up. If you’re talking really fast or about complicated things and I look lost or I’m only replying minimally, please give me a break. Some people just don’t listen well, but that’s not me. I’ve been called a bad listener plenty of times because I couldn’t follow a conversation or a lesson in class. Just give me a second to catch up. Ask if you think I’m having trouble. But don’t accuse me of not listening. I’m trying the best I can.
5. Sometimes, I have mild poverty of speech. That means I can’t find the right words for things. Please don’t look at me weird if I call the coffee maker a “red box.” It’s not a big deal. Give me a minute to find the words. Be patient with me. Because I’m desperately trying to find the words for “coffee maker,” and sometimes I even start crying because I just can’t find the right words. And it may not seem like a big deal to you, but when it feels like my brain is short-circuiting, I feel stupid and get frustrated, so try to be patient and helpful. Even just offering the right words can be so helpful. Simply saying “coffee maker” is like a lifeline back to rational thoughts sometimes.
6. Just because I have a chronic mental disorder doesn’t mean I’m mentally incompetent. I just have extra trouble sometimes. I can work. I can drive. I’m a person like everyone else. I’m just a little more unique. You could even say, I’m extra special in some ways. Give those of us with mental illnesses a chance. We see the word differently. We can offer a new way of looking at things. You might even learn something from us.