Life and Love With Schizophrenia

PHOTO Two Million Live With Schizophrenia; Productive Social Life Still Possible

"Nobody wants to think about it

Nobody wants to talk about it ...

Well I found out if we opened it up,

We could work this out."

-- "Nobody Wants To," a song by Crowded House

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. Although that beautiful song may not have been written about mental illness, it applies, in my mind. I'm ready to open things up.

It's not always easy for me to live with schizophrenia but, like any significant part of one's life, it can be a learning experience. About one percent of the population -- more than 2 million Americans -- live with schizophrenia. About 55 million others live with another significant brain disease such as bipolar disorder or major depression.

Many of us feel like we are, or are perceived as, somehow "less" than normal. But if your mind is open, believe me, you may find a different way to feel.

As I got up this morning, put on my ring and took my meds, I thought back over the previous days. For years, I had tried not to think about problems I experienced as symptoms of schizophrenia. But a few days before, they had come to my attention as exactly that.

Early this week, I broke down and cried for myself for the first time in as long as I can remember. Work was getting hectic: I was developing a Web site for my family's charity, the International Mental Health Research Organization, and I wanted it to be world-class and ready pronto. Our PR team was setting up interviews for me with the media for Mental Health Awareness Month, and I wanted to present myself well in the spots because they were aimed at fighting stigma.

But I was feeling strung out. That week, I had had not much free time and not enough sleep, and that day I was getting to work a few minutes late -- again. When I was in high school -- before I got sick -- I was used to being on top of things all the time, and was on time for everything. I wasn't sure I could handle this much longer. I called my Dad (my boss) as I drove in to work to talk about this with him, and he reminded me of something:

Mental Health Conditions Can Be a Part of You

"You put a lot of pressure on yourself," my father said. "Whether you get in a little late, it's not important, just as long as you get your work done. And you are! It's not healthy for you to work to too rigid deadlines. I'm happy to give you the time that you need in the morning to take care of yourself. Take the time!"

It dawned on me that, yes, I did sometimes have needs, especially related to stress, that other people didn't. After years of thinking my schizophrenia was essentially behind me, it was still a part of me.

I cried a little that morning, but today, I am at peace. I got up early this morning, read a little and passed a few quality minutes with my wife while making breakfast for us. I have remembered some truths about life: It's about taking care of yourself and those you love. And it's OK to have your own needs; let those who love you help you! With trust and love in your heart, the stressors that once seemed so big become very small. And you can feel better and begin your work anew.

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