There are many things that I wish people knew about living with schizophrenia, but I’m going to only focus on three issues that I think you should know. I live with schizophrenia and I’m not violent, I was never in denial about my disorder, and mental health recovery is possible.
People who live with schizophrenia aren’t dangerous and violent. It’s disheartening to me that due to discrimination and negative stereotypes people believe this to be true. Data suggests that only a small percentage of people with mental illness are likely to be violent to others.
The very small percentage of people experiencing psychosis may threaten violence against someone they know or themselves due to their disorder. This is because they feel the need to defend themselves from harm. In actuality, those living with psychosis are more of a danger to themselves than they are to others, and they’re more often the victims of crime.
I know this to be true firsthand. There were many times that I was agitated and aggressive when I was afraid for my life. This was especially so when my auditory hallucinations would speak negatively to me. To take control of them, I would aggressively talk back to those voices out loud. I understand this could be distressing for others, but you shouldn’t be afraid of me. I was more likely to harm myself than others.
Because of my episodes with psychosis and erratic behavior, my family desperately encouraged me to get help, but at that time in my life, I didn’t believe I had a disorder. I truly believed that I was being watched by the government and that my auditory hallucinations made me special, as if I was talking to an angel or some otherworldly being.
I wasn’t in denial. My acute mental illness made it hard to think clearly enough to consciously choose denial. Medically, I had a total “lack of insight” or “lack of awareness,” which is a condition called anosognosia. This condition makes you unaware of your mental illness or that you can’t perceive your illness accurately.
Since my self-awareness varied, sometimes I appeared to understand that I had schizophrenia. At other times, it seemed impossible to believe that was true. So when my insight would shift back and forth, my family and friends thought I was denying I had schizophrenia out of fear or stubbornness, but really I was experiencing anosognosia.
Because of the discrimination, the stigma of perceived violent behavior, and my inability to understand that I am living with schizophrenia, some people think that I wouldn’t be able to live a happy and productive life. At the time, it was as if the chips were stacked against me. The thought of living a life filled with purpose seemed like an impossible dream that would never come true.
With encouragement from my psychiatrist, support network, and with medication and therapy, I was able to set realistic goals and expectations for myself. There were times that I wanted a fast recovery process, but I had to learn to be patient and not set myself up for failure. I had many setbacks, but I also had a lot of successes along the way. Any dream or goal that I wanted to accomplish, I had to learn that although I may be struggling now, life wouldn’t always be like this. I had to take ownership of my recovery and work at getting and staying well.
So when you come across someone who is living with schizophrenia and struggling, I hope you think of this article and have compassion for them. Remember, they’re more afraid of you and their surroundings than you should be of them. They may be in the early stages of their diagnosis and unaware of their symptoms and disorder. Be encouraging and kind because your actions could help them to have hope of recovery.
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