By Rebecca Chamaa
I am one of them, a “mentally ill monster,” and let’s be honest it isn’t just Trump that uses that language. The President might be divisive on many issues, but on this one, he’s in the majority. How do I know? What statistics or facts am I basing my statements on? Life as someone with paranoid schizophrenia. I am making an observation. True, there is a portion of the population that is battling against the stigma of severe mental illness. I can easily name twelve people who live with the same diagnosis I have. I can name them only because those people are brave enough to publicly admit to having a disease that sufferers are demonized or criminalized for having.
Once there was a saying that leprosy was the only illness that was also a crime, but that saying isn’t true now that people with schizophrenia are let alone to eat out of garbage cans or locked up for crimes directly related to their symptoms.
Of course, I want to speak out against the treatment, so many of us struggling receive, like living with delusions, voices, mysterious smells, tastes, and other forms of hallucinations. Speaking out doesn’t make people care, though. I know parents who have a child with this illness who blame severe mental illness for mass shootings. The illness, even if it impacts someone you love, can carry a deep and insidious stigma.
I’m not going to argue about guns, though. I don’t believe I should own one or have access to one. It is not that I am violent or a white supremacist or misogynistic like most mass shooters. I don’t think I should have access to weapons because I can’t trust my mind. No one can guess what exactly my mind will think or have me do during an episode. I thought I was Jesus on two different occasions, that alone says all I need to say about my right to firearms.
None of this is what I wanted to write about though. I know people see me, and those with my illness as monsters, it is obvious almost every day, but what I want to ask you, yes you, scrolling through social media, comparing your life to the curated lives of others, staring at a phone when real live people are sitting across from you, are you happy?
That question is worth more than a six-figure income or the resources to travel and stay in the Four Seasons Hotel. Are you happy? When you open your eyes in the morning, what is your first thought? Mine is, “Thank you, God, for another day.” Then I proceed to pray for a few minutes moving between thank you and requests before I make my way to the bathroom or to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.
During the day, there will be other occasions for thanks – a piece of mail that makes me smile, eating a fresh peach, banana, spinach smoothie, a call from my husband who wants to say hi at a random time during the day.
Before I put my head down at night, I will have laughed at something, smiled at someone, performed an act of kindness no matter how small like sending a friend who is a writer a job opportunity or calling to check on my ailing parents. When my head hits the pillow, I think about my day, and again I say, “Thank you.”
So, you see, even though I have paranoid schizophrenia I’m thankful, happy, pleased, delighted, enthusiastic about so much of this beautiful mystery we call being alive.