Since being diagnosed with schizophrenia, I’ve struggled with the concept of what makes me, me. For years, I used the label of schizophrenia as my identifying mark, embodying the diagnosis and using it as a way to distinguish myself from the rest of the world. The problem with that, though, is that after a while it gets very tiring to keep using that stigma-filled distinguisher as a point of identity.
I’ve been writing for years about living with schizophrenia, and using this disease as a way to both further my career and to help me stand out in the world are things I’m definitely guilty of. I’ve incorporated the illness into the very facet of my being, and I’m sure a handful of therapists would look down on that idea, telling me instead that I am not my illness.
Only recently I’ve come to see the truth in that statement. If you were to think of schizophrenia like any other disease it would be ridiculous to incorporate it so strongly into your life. Having diabetes or celiac disease doesn’t change someone’s identity, so why would having a mental illness?
I don’t think it’s wise to base your identity on some illness you have because, first, it weighs you down to know that that’s what you’re becoming known for. Secondly, in the course of recovery you come to realize that you’re also different things than the illness. For example, I am a kind, quiet man with a love of art and culture; I have ideas about the way the world should be, and I value friendship and loyalty. None of those things have anything to do with schizophrenia, and as you cultivate who you are as a person you realize you’re much more than just the diagnosis.
So what makes a life outside of the label of schizophrenia? There are numerous things that make you a person. There’s the way you treat people, there’s your ideas about the world, there are the people you are close to, there are the quirks you have that make you an individual, and there are the things you enjoy doing.
All of these and more add up to a complete picture of what makes you a human being, and using a diagnosis as a lynchpin for your personality is like saying you are a doctor because you’ve been sick before. It doesn’t make sense to use one aspect of your life experience as a determinate for what you become in life. You are much more than your diagnosis. I know this intimately, having become so fed up with my work as a schizophrenic writer that I’m changing careers completely to be something that has no correlation whatsoever to my disease.
It’s taken time for me to get to that point, though; it’s taken a lot of growth for me to realize that just because I have a mental illness I’m not beholden to the whims of living with it. I can do other things with my life, and you can, too. People are complex, multifaceted universes of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and ideas, and there’s no reason to pin yourself down to one aspect of your life experience. You can do and be anything you want.