I am also unique, because my all coworkers know I have schizophrenia. Considering I don’t know any of the other people affected by a mental illness at my job, it is likely there are a lot of mental health secrets being kept from management. Such is not the case with me, though.
My boss believes that making connections in an effort to build a circle of trust is what makes a great team. When he found out I was an author, he organized an impromptu conference-room book signing in an effort to build those connections. I was given the opportunity to talk about what made me want to write books. When I was asked about my interest in schizophrenia as it relates to one of my novels, Paper Souls
, I told them the whole truth. I wasn’t going to lie about it.
“It’s me,” I said. “I have schizophrenia.”
The reaction is always the same. The room goes silent and people look at you as if you just said you killed somebody. But then they remember they are not supposed to stigmatize people with mental illness and their expressions soften. They nod and someone gives you a hug. “You are an amazing person,” somebody says. “I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through that.”
You would think that in the weeks, months, and years that follow an admission like that, people would treat you differently. They would give you special treatment and go out of their way to be kind to you, because you have a disability. Or maybe, they will fear you. But that’s not what happened, at least not with me. People go on with their lives. They don’t have schizophrenia, so what do they care — as long as you get your work done. People like me prefer it that way, I think. We’ve never wanted any kind of special treatment. We just want to be treated like everyone else. We just want to be treated like we didn’t actually kill somebody, because we didn’t.
That’s not to say life isn’t difficult for those of us lucky enough to escape the stigma in the corporate world (at least for a little while). I know that stigma is still very alive in many professional environments, because I have heard the stories from other advocates. I have been lucky enough not to face that at work.
Sitting at a desk surrounded by white walls while being expected to be normal is no easy task. It is quiet. Scary, sometimes. It is the perfect setting for a horror movie, really. Sitting in your gray cubicle with no sound except eager fingers banging away on keyboard after keyboard until a bloody monster with 300 teeth pops out at you and tells you to kill yourself — because if you don’t, he will kill you. It’s only one person with schizophrenia's interpretation of the dopamine demon, but every person with schizophrenia gets it. A pressurized environment, packed tight with corporate stress, is a recipe for disaster in a person with schizophrenia's mind. I live it every day.
There are things I’ve tried to do to make life easier on myself. I’ve attempted to take the dose of meds I’m supposed to take to live a somewhat normal life, but the medication they give people with schizophrenia is not designed to allow a person to wake up at 6 a.m. It is not designed to make a person work a specific shift. We need breaks. We need naps. The effects of the medication are similar to those of marijuana. It makes you tired and slower on the draw than the average person. Our brains aren’t slow; our reflexes are. Disorganized speech is a very real thing for those people with schizophrenia, medicated or not. We are paranoid about whether or not people notice. They know
, we think. They know I hear voices