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Brave Talk Bulletin

How a Waiter's Question Unveiled My Hidden Schizophrenia Shame

By the time I got to see a psychiatrist for PTSD, I thought a famous magician was stealing my thoughts. I’d tried to barricade my front door to stop people from getting in to kill me. I had no idea who these people were, but I was sure they worked for the government and wanted me dead.

But I couldn’t barricade the voices from my head. I spent every waking hour listening to them calling me scum and telling me to kill myself. I’d given up driving because they told me to crash the car.

I felt scared to go out but had nowhere to run. The real terror was in my mind.

I thought I would see a psychiatrist to build a case against the magician. I believed I was completely sane. I hoped the shrink could pick up that the magician was telepathically harassing me. This would help in the private prosecution I planned to start.

Instead, she diagnosed me with schizophrenia, changed and ramped up my meds, and sent me on my way.

The impact of my diagnosis hadn’t hit me, but the medication worked well. The voices quietened, and the paranoia faded.

The next time I saw a psychiatrist, and they confirmed my diagnosis, I reacted with shock. Schizophrenia is the one mental illness no one wants anything to do with. Some people find illnesses like bipolar “quirky.” They hide behind labels like “anxiety”. No one wants to be thought of as a potential axe murderer. The stereotypical mad person who sits in the corner muttering to himself.

It’s a stigma that I have against myself to this day.

The dreaded question for someone with mental illness.

Last week, me and my partner Amy went to a restaurant. When it was time to pay the bill, she went to the restroom, and I settled up. I don’t usually talk to people and hate small talk, but we had an amiable waiter this time.

He asked me if I had any plans for the rest of the day, and I said I’d be relaxing. This is usually where the small talk ends. But this waiter got more from me. He asked me the dreaded question, “What do you do?” I hate this question — it’s part of why I don’t talk to random people because it always comes up. I don’t know how to give a painless answer.

When forced, I tell people I’m medically retired from the police with PTSD. I hate calling myself a writer, as it’s so pretentious. It’s like calling yourself an artist or a singer. Most people who can’t wait to tell you they’re writers are awful at it. They make no money and self-publish everything. Instead, I say, “I write blog posts about mental health now that I’ve made a good recovery.” I also trade the stock market.

He seemed impressed that I wrote articles and called me an author. I cringed so hard I choked on my Diet Coke. But that’s not the thing that stuck out most from this conversation. I realized that I am prepared to divulge my PTSD in a way that I never would with my schizophrenia.

My PTSD is like a badge of honor. I can explain it positively. Of course, some people think I’m weak or faking it for the benefits. Most of those people also struggle to tie their shoelaces. The rest of society knows that getting PTSD from policing means I’ve seen nightmare-inducing stuff. People respect that.

I feel shame about having schizophrenia. Most people have no idea about it. They believe the old trope that schizophrenia is synonymous with split personalities.

People think those with schizophrenia are dangerous. There are high-profile cases of crimes committed in a psychotic state. But these are the exceptions. Most schizophrenics are only a danger to themselves.

They think we should be in mental hospitals because we can’t recover. Although I’m proof that isn’t true, I can’t get into such intense debates with a stranger.

The real reason for my shame.

My diagnosis of schizophrenia has left me bitter. Living in a psychotic state took a decade from my life. The medication has made me fat, slowed my thinking, slurred my speech, and gave me problems with my teeth. It gave me high cholesterol, and I’m sure it’s taken years off my life expectancy.

I lost the best years of my life to an illness that made me believe in nonsense. People say it’s all good talking to God, but watch out if he talks back.

I think of all the things I could’ve done and how much more advanced I’d be if schizophrenia hadn’t blighted my life.

I’m someone who admires courage above all else. And although I was brave in overcoming schizophrenia, I feel weak for having had it in the first place.

I know this doesn’t make sense. I know mental illness can happen to anyone, and I know it’s not a sign of weakness when it comes to other people. But I feel differently about myself.

On the positive side.

When the frustration and sadness kick in, I have to remind myself of the huge positives in my life.

The biggest positive is that I’ve recovered. I’ve had no symptoms for years, and as long as I stick to my medication regime, I have no reason to believe that will change. Many people with schizophrenia aren’t fortunate enough to find meds that work so well.

Many people with schizophrenia live sad and lonely lives. They’re shunned by society. Yet Amy has been with me for 20 years. Somehow, she stuck with me through my darkest times.

Many people with schizophrenia are poor and dependent on benefits. I saved a lot of money because the police paid me for my disability in the line of duty. I then learned to trade and invest in stocks.

I’m my own poster boy for why you SHOULDN’T feel shame for having schizophrenia. I was once diagnosed as 100% disabled for the rest of my life. I’m proof that you’re never too old or broken to recover and live your dreams. Yes, you may have lost time to your illness, but better late than never.

And yet, despite these incredible achievements, I still feel pangs of shame. I will continue working to understand my feelings and overcome them.

Maybe one day, I’ll be able to proudly proclaim that I’ve spent a decade beating schizophrenia. And on that day, it will be less embarrassing than calling myself a writer.

Brave Talk Bulletin

Former police officer 🚔 | Suicide hotline volunteer 📞 | PTSD survivor 💪 | Helping others navigate tough conversations with empathy and clarity 💬

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