Anyone who’s experienced a loved one — whether a family member or friend — who has schizophrenia knows it is often an unpredictable and sometimes-scary relationship. Scary because you’re never quite sure what’s coming next, or how a particular hallucination might manifest itself in the person’s behavior or decisions.
But schizophrenia, like all mental illness, can also be a teacher. Albeit often a hard one.
Dr. Anne Aspler, writing in the Globe and Mail earlier this week, recounts her experiences in what she’s learned in growing up with a mother who suffers from schizophrenia, and the fear she lived in during her early adulthood that she, too, might suffer from this disorder.
She recounts her fear in knowing her mother’s diagnosis:
My mom is afflicted with schizophrenia. Despite never having had signs or symptoms, I used to live in constant fear that, one day, I might develop it. The path of my life was driven by this fear. I overworked myself to ensure a livelihood that would enable escape from the stigma of mental illness and unemployment. Becoming a doctor seemed the best I could do to champion my own mental sanity, and to further understand an illness that has never made sense to me.
But I found her musings about the nature of mental illness and what living with someone with a serious mental illness most insightful:
I understand now that “mentally healthy versus ill” is an often unhelpful dichotomy. The psyche of the population exists on a spectrum. Scientifically, we have constructed an arbitrary standard. Past a certain point of dysfunctionality, some will be labeled, recommended for therapy and medically treated.
The rest of us can retain our status as “normal” and obtain socially acceptable therapy in the form of free counseling from family members and friends, self-therapy in the form of reflection, and perhaps moderate doses of self-medication.
Even for one individual, mental wellness fluctuates immensely over time. Practicing medicine has reaffirmed for me that there is not one among us who is 100-per-cent mentally sound in all day-to-day exchanges and decision-making. Most of us could probably cite one or two mental hang-ups they could do away with. Thankfully, we escape any permanent labeling and write these off as a mood, an anxiety, impulse or worry. […]
The reality? My mother is a great parent. With age, I’ve come to appreciate that her demeanor has given me a positive outlook on life; and it has imbued me with an inordinate capacity to tolerate chaos and disruption
While I don’t believe it’s true that every cloud has a silver lining, I do believe that even the most negative life experiences can teach us something that we can take into the future with us. It’s often hard to see or appreciate what those specific things are when we’re in the midst of them. It’s often only later on, with time and hindsight, that we begin to appreciate what we’ve learned.
Many people have negative experiences associated with serious mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. But sometimes there is something we can learn from the experience nonetheless, as long as we keep an open mind.
Because people with mental illness are not “them.” They are us. It touches each and every one of our lives, and we need to stop thinking of people who have a mental illness as “someone else.” Stories like this one go a long way in helping us understand that.
Read the full article: Blessings from schizophrenia? Believe me, they exist