November 29, 2016
I remember when I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia. Nothing made sense. Everything I thought was real was just an illusion, brought to me by the chemical imbalance in my brain. I was scared and I had no idea what to expect with any part of my diagnosis.
In thinking back on that time, I wish there was some set of guidelines I had for dealing with something so life-changing. While I can’t hope to espouse everything you should know in just one article, I’m going to do my best to go over the basics.
The first thing you need to know is that schizophrenia is an illness. It does mean you’re deficient in any way, from your mental strength to your personality. There is nothing inherently wrong with who you are. Schizophrenia is an illness just like cancer or diabetes. It does not and should not define you as crazy or unhinged; it’s just something that happened to you.
Secondly, it will take time to recover. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to get better soon after you’ve been diagnosed. Recovery is a years-long process of both learning about yourself and your illness. It’s a process of learning what you can and can’t handle and of slowly pushing yourself to do better and better.
It takes a long time to learn how to deal with a mental illness, and the most important point here is that you should be patient. This goes for families, too. They need to be patient with the person in their lives who is suffering.
Third, don’t think that because you have a mental illness you can’t do what “normal” people can do. It will take time, and you will get frustrated, but if you give it patience and keep plugging away at being the person you want to be regardless of your illness you can get there. I can guarantee it will be a hard road, and recovery is probably the greatest single challenge you will face, but know that the little inconveniences most people have that stop them from doing things are no match for the strength of will you’ll acquire in learning how to get better. If you keep doing good work, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
The fourth thing to know after you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness is that there will be difficult times. There will be times when you feel like you’ve had enough and just simply can’t do it anymore. I’ve been there. I’ve been so depressed that the only thought I had for days was how best to end things.
Know that life isn’t supposed to make sense though. It’s a long string of days, and you have the ultimate choice about what to do with these days. If you want to veg out on Netflix and eat junk food, you can. If you want to write a book, you can. If you want to get a normal office job or be a lawyer or stockbroker, there’s nothing stopping you.
When the days get dark, it’s best to think about your family. Think about the people you love who will be disappointed if you decide to end things. Stick around for them if you have to; there’s more strength in staying alive then there is in ending things.
Finally, the most important thing you should know about having a mental illness is that you’re not alone. One in 5 people in the world have an ongoing mental illness. That’s about 1 and a quarter billion people. Billion with a b. Also most people will experience some form of mental illness in their lives, from depression to anxiety, so there’s no shame in having one.
There are communities out there of people with mental illness who can guide you through figuring things out and who can help you if things get hard. You are never alone in this; there will be community and help anywhere you go. There are hundreds of organizations with the express intent of helping people deal with their illnesses, and there are classes you can go to and groups you can join.
I know it can be an isolating thing to have to deal with a mental illness, but just know that help is never far away. All in all, the most important thing to remember is that recovery takes time. Just be patient and put in the work and you will get better, I guarantee it. If you need help reach out; you are never alone.