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Dr Richard Schweizer from One Door Mental Health talks about living with internalised stigma.
Stigma is a terrible thing. It can prevent you getting jobs, having relationships and expressing who you truly are. And of course, for major mental illnesses like schizophrenia, this stigma can be intense.
It is something I have learnt to deal with. I know that I can’t tell everyone I meet that I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I know that people may judge me unfairly. And I know that I have to be careful with the people I do tell to assure them that I am not crazy; I am not violent; I don’t have multiple personalities.
Luckily I have eked out a living in organisations such as One Door and Eastside Radio that accept my mental illness and still respect me. I guess they give me a fair go. I also have a very supportive family and very understanding friends. And for this I give thanks.
But stigma is not just something that other people do to you. It is not always external. It is not always visible.
Sometimes it’s in your own head.
Stigma is something I carry around inside of me. It is a feeling that I am not quite up to what everyone else is up to. That I am different. That I have been marked. It’s a thought in the back of my head that I do not always concentrate on, but is always there. Every time I have to take my medications, morning and night, I am reminded of it. Every time I have to miss a social occasion because I sleep so much, I am reminded out it. Every time I hear about a person in the media who was psychotic at the time of some crime or violence, I am reminded of it.
I guess the worst part about self-stigma is that I am frightened of situations where other people might see opportunity.
I cannot help but feel that for all my strengths, I am fundamentally a flawed human being and that it will take an extraordinary act of faith and kindness for someone to date me. Because of this, I have been avoiding dating situations. And this of course leaves me lonely. And when I am lonely I feel bad about myself.
It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself.
Now, with all that said, I am still a very lucky person. I have responded very well to my medication. I have no positive symptoms of schizophrenia, I am able to live and work, and I have not had any relapses. I really cannot claim to have suffered the way many people with this illness suffer every day.
But I still feel marked. I still feel different. And I guess this is something that will never go away.
Dr Richard Schweizer - Photo Credit news.com.au