A person is more than his diagnosis

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, the illness of schizophrenia only affects 1 percent of the population. However, I canít help wonder how many people are truly affected. Without counting the patient, who else is directly affected? Family members, friends and members of the community ó who else is touched by schizophrenia? The saying that no man is an island could be directly associated with the situations that arise around a mental illness. Because schizophrenia is so debilitating and catastrophic in so many cases, society steps in to help not only financially but also with the patientís road to recovery. With just the effects of schizophrenia, not to mention PTS, bipolar or depression, the help for a patient and the family to withstand the illness is a great responsibility given to us all to bear. For some, help may never come. For some, help may be rejected, and then there are those who donít even offer to help.

As a fellow patient of schizophrenia, John shared with me the trials and struggles he has gone through with his diagnosis. John mentioned that to him, ďRecovery isnít that everything is all right; it is learning to accept things as they are even though I donít understand them.Ē

With this attitude toward his diagnosis of schizophrenia, John has struck me as someone who always had a smile on his face and a laugh that is contagious. I learned from a discussion about his illness that Johnís struggle has left many scars on his life that makes it hard to handle. One of those scars, John mentioned to me, was that Ďíthe hardest part of having a mental illness is seeing old teachers, classmates and friends in the store and seeing them turn around in the aisle real quick and go the other way because they had seen me at my worst.íí

I do not know the feeling John has gone through in being rejected by some members of society, but I feel for the pain that he has gone through in this illness. John told me, ďI learned never to take anything to serious because this too shall pass, and to remember to smile and laugh it off if possible.Ē

The stigma around schizophrenia has touched John in many ways. John told me that the stigma around his mental illness has caused family members not to invite him to family events. John mentioned that one misconception people have about his diagnosis is that they only remember seeing him at the hard times in his illness. He said he wants people to know him for who he really is, not based on the past and their own fears of his diagnosis.

When at the height of your mental illness and you are in psychosis (where you are experiencing hallucinations and delusions), it is hard for those seeing you in this time to know that you can recover from schizophrenia. A patient of schizophrenia is not always experiencing symptoms that can cause psychosis.

From my own personal experience in recovering from schizophrenia, the hardest part of recovery is being accepted by others because it centers on the unknown of othersí perception about you. It is the one area of a mental illness that you canít alter on your own strength or determination. Although medication can take away symptoms, it canít take away the way people treat or respect you. This stigma, that comes with the illness can be so detrimental in a personís perception of worth as well as taking those needed steps to recover.

We all have our trials to bear and for those who have purposely ignored John or altered their course because of his diagnosis, we can only hope that you know him now. With a laugh and a smile that will leave you blessed, John is recovering from an illness that you have not had the opportunity to endure. I know that he has lifted me up many times, and I wish you had the privilege to know him as the man who just happens to have schizophrenia as well as a great smile.

Mindfulness is brought to you by NAMI Montelores, your local NAMI affiliate. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nationís largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI recognizes that the key concepts of recovery, resiliency and support are essential to improving the wellness and quality of life of all persons affected by mental illness. NAMI provides support, education, and advocacy for individuals and families through community classes, in-service trainings, support groups, and more. For more information please contact Geri Sanders at 970-759-2416.

Randy Davis is a member of NAMI Montelores. He can be reached at mindfulnessincortez@yahoo.com.

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