There are a lot of things people living with a mental illness struggle with. whether it’s side effects, the symptoms themselves, or dealing with the gravity of the diagnosis, people are often left a little lost when it comes to it. There’s another facet of living with mental illness I want to talk about, though, and while this may not be a classic symptom according to the definition, it’s something that all of us who are struggling deal with.
Essentially, we want to fit in. We want to be thought of as normal, not defined by a label that may very well be damaging. I’m well aware that everyone, not just people with mental illness, feel as if they don’t fit in at some point in their lives, but when you have a mental illness and the whole world is different, filled with what we like to call “normals,” it can definitely be hard.
Around one percent of the population suffers with schizophrenia and it’s extremely hard to find like individuals that you can relate to when you have a mental illness. I can remember what I felt like at the beginning stages of my illness, right after I had been diagnosed. I was completely and utterly broken, and I was sad and almost catatonic. There didn’t seem to be a reason to do anything besides sit and watch TV. There was no motivating factor in my life that urged me to get out of bed every morning. I had been diagnosed crazy, I was a wacko, a nutcase. I was applying every bad connotation of the word crazy to myself and I essentially had no reason to even try to get better.
Then I realized I wanted to be how I used to be in high school: friendly, happy, gregarious, normal. I didn’t want to be bound by the label I had been given. Over the next 10 years, I practiced acting normal in every single conversation, every single interaction I had. I still do it even to do this day, and most of the time I get it right. Sometimes I don’t, and that lets me know that I might need to reevaluate things, but I try as best as I can to appear as normal as possible. I just want to fit in.
There may be a problem there, though. It may be that I haven’t fully accepted my diagnosis and the lifestyle that comes along with it, and I’m working really hard as well on being nicer to myself about that, about achieving perfection every time. I push and push for normalcy, and I blame myself pretty harshly when I don’t achieve it, but I’m getting better at being easier on myself.
I can remember a talk group leader I had once who told me that there’s no use comparing yourself to normal people because we’re essentially different. Basically I needed to own my limitations and my illness and, while I’m still working on that, the phrase rings truer and truer every single day.
We all want to fit in. We all want to get along with the rest of the world and not be thought of as an outsider, but I think there’s strength in accepting an outsider status and living by your own rules. If I had heard those words in high school and college I would probably be much happier. The point of it all is that, we, as a culture of mentally ill people need to embrace our diagnoses; we need to be ok with the fact that we can’t do what everyone else seems to be able to do so easily and, while it’s ok to try to be normal, we need to be conscious of the pressure we’re putting on ourselves to keep up the façade.
I’m not saying we should stop taking our meds and go wander the streets mumbling gibberish and getting in fights with people that don’t understand. I’m just saying we need to be kind to ourselves and maybe living up to the expectation that the world has of normal people isn’t within our reach. That’s perfectly ok. The best we can do is just be happy with ourselves.