There’s something difficult that everyone with mental illness has to face at some point or another. This thing has the potential to either make or break a new relationship or to kill or spur a conversation that reveals a vulnerability that most conversations lack. This thing is the process of disclosing your schizophrenia diagnosis to someone who doesn’t already know.
I’ve had the experience of doing this more times than I probably feel comfortable with, and each time there’s the inevitable course of events that can follow. In the case that someone is ignorant and fearful, the conversation grinds to a halt, there’s a look of horror and disgust that splashes across the person’s face and, before you know it, the meeting or date is over and you’re left sitting alone with this knowledge that you exist with a thing that has the potential to scare people off. In the case that someone is open to the idea of mental illness, there’s still a look of shock but it’s followed by a look of pity and a series of questions about the extent of things and what brought it on.
Disclosing your schizophrenia diagnosis is something that will eventually happen in every relationship but you have the choice of when to fully disclose, granted you don’t make a living off of your diagnosis as I do. The thing is, your diagnosis, your illness is something that you live with, it’s a part of you that encompasses a good deal of your behavior, at the same time though, it’s a personal health issue and just like you wouldn’t disclose that you have cancer or diabetes on a first date or in a job interview there’s no real reason to tell someone unless they express an interest.
There are also deft, tactful ways you can get around fully disclosing, as I do. Usually when asked why I choose to write about mental health I say I had a little bit of a breakdown in college and that usually ends it. In the case that I don’t want to discuss mental health at all, I usually just tell someone what I write and change the subject immediately by saying something like, “Well, I write about mental health and brain disorders, but I’d like to switch to something a little more fun like movie and music reviews.” That usually pulls the conversation into different territories and opens the door to talk about music and movies, things everyone enjoys as opposed to the serious issue of mental illness.
Essentially, you don’t have to disclose if you don’t want to, it’s your deal, and if you don’t feel comfortable telling someone about your diagnosis you don’t have to. There are other things to talk about. Just make sure you have enough conversation ammo to be able to talk at length about something else because I know what it’s like to live and breathe the illness and not have any real way of connecting to normal people. If you do choose to disclose your schizophrenia diagnosis, though, there are ways of handling it gracefully, and that tact comes with years of practice living with the disease.
Believe me, I’ve been in your situation more times than I care to discuss and I’ve practiced with different ways of handling it. I am 10 years out, though, so just know that it takes time. I’ve been there and you should know you’re not alone.