I’ve just been talking to my friend N, who (for those of you who haven’t read other posts of mine) is a close friend who also suffers mental health issues. We met at the Royal Bethlem hospital and so she is the only other person in the world I can speak to openly and honestly about the symptoms and manifestations of the condition we both suffer from. She said something, a couple of days ago, which made me think and so I thought, seeing as I haven’t written for some time and would like to reclaim this space as somewhere I can ramble away without worrying too much about judgement, that I would write a short post about the way one labels and subsequently conceptualizes there own mental illness.
What she said was that she no longer believes the label schizophrenia applies to her: she said that she feels the symptoms she suffers are weirder now than they were years ago when she received the diagnosis and that they no longer fit into the schizophrenic mold. It surprised me, and made me stop and take note because it’s an area that we differ from one another in. I still feel comfortable with the diagnosis (in the sort of way that one can ever be comfortable with a mental health diagnosis), years after it was given to me.
I will have to point out here, that I greatly respect her own right to diagnosis her own experiences in any which way she chooses to, and to label them in a way which works for her and brings her the greatest possible amount of peace. In fact I think this is completely fundamental to living with the condition, and so I didn’t say anything to her at the time, and I don’t state that she’s right or wrong.
A reason her statement got me thinking so much, is that in my mind that word schizophrenic is practically synonymous with the word weird. In all honesty I think the first thing which went through my mind was wow- if the symptoms you’re experiencing are weirder than schizophrenia, then you’ve really traveled far out of orbit. I was already somewhere just outside of Saturn’s; you must be closer to Pluto! To me, schizophrenic is a massive and loaded word, effectively and close to perfectly summing up the mystery, terror and strangeness which the condition is comprised of. I don’t think I can imagine, like literally cannot imagine, symptoms and experiences which were weirder than those of schizophrenia.
I don’t really think the label has limits; I used to experience symptom sets which I no longer do, some of the most forceful and horrifying, and I experience weirdness, sensations and preoccupations now which I didn’t used to. For myself, the way that I relate to the condition has changed massively over the years and now I really consider schizophrenia to be a prism through which I sometimes, often, experience my own thoughts and internal processes, and the world. Although, whilst the way I relate to the word has changed, my fundamental acceptance of the word itself has not.
Moreover it seems to me, from speaking to my friend, that the essence of what she describes still sounds very similar to what I experience, and to what she has always described. It doesn’t seem, from the outside, that what she experiences has changed that much, although I realise that is only from my point of view. I think her statement really got me thinking because it made me wonder if I to should reevaluate how I define my own condition. It made me wonder that perhaps her condition hasn’t changed too much, but she has, and so in comparison am I holding myself in one place by not altering the way I regard my diagnosis.
It’s obviously a really personal issue and decision and whilst I like to believe I remain flexible and open-minded, I think that for myself retaining the label still works. After a consideration of the sense and functionality of casting off a diagnosis which has been lived with for twenty years, it didn’t personally seem like the right thing to do. It might be an uneasy bedfellow; a monkey on the back, but it is known, it is familiar- the phrase “better the devil you know” springs to mind.
Moreover I don’t see that the diagnosis defines me, I never have done and never will. I do regard it to sum up all the “crazy” in my personality, and god there is a lot of that; but I feel that there is a lot more to me that only that, a lot more which I would deem to be very “uncrazy” if you pardon the expression. I hate the terms sane and insane, and don’t even get me started on normal, so “uncrazy” seems to work well enough. Obviously we’re all on a continuum anyway, and I think the best way to sum up what may make me different is that sometimes I fret, and am consciously preoccupied with things which another person might raise an eyebrow at, or not be able to understand.
So I wondered about whether she was right or wrong, and then wondered about whether I should think about changing that way I think about my condition in my own head, but ultimately decided that I believe the word schizophrenia basically works for me and so I won’t worry about it too much. Labels are such funny things anyway, some are universally accepted- sister, worker, painter- whereas some are lot more subjective- worrier, fighter, realist. I think that personally you just have to honestly search your own self and then then use words which resonate and bolster your own sense of self belief. If you’re trying to find words which fit around your more negative attributes then finding neutral expressions works best, none of us really need any reasons to beat ourselves down any more than we likely already do.
Thanks for reading! 🙂