No Hero I - Why "My Brave Battle with Schizophrenia" Aren't Words You're Likely to Hear.

Last night BBC1 showed a fact-based drama called "The C Word". It was based on the book and blog by Lisa Lynch, a woman who received a diagnosis of breast cancer at the devastatingly young age of 28. Tragically Lisa eventually lost her struggle against the terrible disease, but not before touching the hearts and minds of many with her witty, insightful and moving writing. So I must make it clear that it's not my intention in this post to decry a young woman who was so clearly inspirational. However, it is a source of sometime consternation to me that the words used to describe the plight of Lisa and others like her - words like "tragic", "brave", "inspiring" and "heroic" come to mind - seem to trip off the tongue so easily, whereas when one speaks of those battling with mental illness they are used sparsely, if at all.
Why is this? Using my own experience as an example, I have to make many efforts to stay well. Getting enough sleep, exercising and eating a good diet may seem like lifestyle choices to some, but for me they play an integral part in keeping my health on an even keel. Sometimes it feels like a constant effort. Indeed, one could say that it's a "battle", so why are the words "my brave battle with schizophrenia" not words you're likely to hear?
Perhaps it's because there's been year upon year of media coverage of people like Lisa which has invariably described their struggle with illness as brave, inspiring, even heroic, while as we all know, media coverage of those with mental illness tends to lean towards the sensational, often exaggerating links between mental ill health, violence and deviance. Perhaps depression, stress and anxiety are a little less feared than the likes of more severe illnesses like my very own schizo-affective disorder (I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005 but this has now been changed), but still the sheer ubiquity of such diseases hasn't, in my experience at least, eradicated the stigma surrounding them. Whereas if you admit to having a diagnosis of schizophrenia people are likely to run away in the opposite direction, having a diagnosis of depression is still seen by some as an admission of laziness, not trying, even malingering. So it appears, to me at least, that sufferers of mental illness rarely garner the same sympathy or admiration as your average sufferer of physical ill health.
Indeed, this has very real consequences for those experiencing mental health issues, and not just in the form of stigma. In a relatively recent article in "The New Statesman", it was shown how illnesses which are more likely to garner public sympathy, such as cancer and now perhaps also dementia, are being better funded, often having their budgets ring-fenced or even increased. Funding for mental health, on the other hand, has consistently decreased over the last three years, leaving the service and many users floundering.
So it would seem that me and others like me will never be seen as battlers, bravely struggling against the onslaught of what can often be chronic conditions. Even if mental illness in itself doesn't mean the end of your life, it can rob you of so much that life has to offer - a career, having a family and children, secure housing. To us such things just have to be lived with. So who needs heroes anyway?


Dixie@dcrelief said…
Hi David.

I had the most unusual experience when my Mom passed away in 1997. My job at that time, was manager of a frame shop within a larger store of craft goods. Many people began to avoid me and I could not figure out why. When I finally asked, one of the older women said, they saw my situation as being akin to a plague or my being contagious. In other words, these co-workers were afraid their moms might die. They could not handle hearing about my grief or even seeing me at work. So, then my life took on a second burden which I could not control. Depressed over the loss of my Mom and escalation of it via co-workers' distancing themselves. Something to be said for their 'self preservation,' I suppose? Thus began my spiral downward.

Yet it is my most recent experience that has helped me develope a new sense of self. For four years I have been 'friends' with a Narcissist, only to realize why I was attracted in the first place. Looking for friendship has been hard with all the frinds I lost with my Mom's passing. The loss of family from my Dad's passing. All of these things add up. The battle has been tremendous, but will I see my name in the paper? Will a TV program be made about me? Absolutely not. Why? Because people are afraid to lose control. People like me remind them that life is not always a bed of roses. Why read about depression when they can read about sex, drugs, and the Kardashians??!

My best revenge is to live well. No contact with the Narcissist bothers him, but not me. Daily I am stronger. My triumph should be important but it won't make front page news. Ironically I no longer care. I have my life back and my boundaries protect me. As far as posting on my blog I feel better holding my cards a bit closer. Having been stalked once, it's a relief to find some peace within myself.

Anger still plays in my head at times and I work on that to help myself recover more. I do wish I could add something more positive, but I agree with what you've posted. We're not the popular people. (smile)

Wishing you well, and happy!
klahanie said…
Hi David,

As sort of promised and incredibly way past the date of your posting, I'm finally getting here at four thirty on Saturday morning. The birds are very noisy!

I completely understand your angle within your thoughtful posting, my esteemed friend. I also know you are not diminishing the plight of those with more noticeable conditions that took the life away from such a young lady. Of course, the adjectives to describe her are justifiably correct.

Yet, your own brave battle with your, shall we say, not so obvious inner condition, is not something the media would readily highlight. Unless, as we both know, if it could be highlighted in an outrageous, inaccurate, sensationalist media misconception.

The unfair imbalance continues. Funding gets cut. You are expected to get a grip, just get on with it. However, let me state that I know that you have struggled, are constantly challenged by your own diagnosis. Beyond that diagnosis, you also know that support from me and the few who are willing to try to understand, can still make this a fairer society. You are a hero who has a message that needs to be heard.

I also wish to note my friend from the past, Dixie's notable comment.

All the best and keep informing, David.

David said…
Hi Dixie,
Firstly, thank you for your comment and continued interest in my little blog.
Yes, I suppose, as you say, suffering (or battling) with a mental illness does not make one popular, and your own story reveals a lot about how peope can react to things which for some reason they find threatening or simply don't understand.
I'm happy, though, that you've managed, through it all, to find some inner peace and spiritual strength. It may even be a case of the old Nietzsche addage that whatever doesn't kill us makes us strong!
Anyway, I do hope that your recovery continues. Who knows, happiness may be just around the corner!
Veru Best Wishes,
from your blogging pal,
David said…
Hi Gary,
It's good to have you back, my hirsute pal!
And thank you for all the praise you've heaped onto myself and my amazing words. Of course, I always knew that I was a hero, gladly disseminating my wise and important message.
Of course I jest, but as you say, Gary, it is indeed important to recognise the unfair way those with mental illness are treated, and I sincerely appreciate your support of both this blog and my own struggle.
Hopefully happier times are to come.
Very Best Wishes, my friend,
klahanie said…
Ah, David, man on a mission. I wonder why you are awake at three in the morning. Says me, wondering why I'm awake at three in the morning.

Popular Posts