September 07, 2007

Schizophrenia. Love Work and Identity.

I have received a request from ‘Irked’ magazine asking if I could write some words on the effects of love, work and identity, whilst coping with schizophrenia. The issues I have to say are huge and have great effect on my life and instead of the 1000 words I have allowed myself I could write 6000 or even more, such is the complexity and importance of the subjects in my own and others lives.

So, I will get straight to the point and say that having the diagnosis of schizophrenia and living with my symptoms has taken away many opportunities with all three topics. My illness has made ‘love’ very difficult and has taken away opportunity for work. As for identity, my schizophrenia has left me unsure of whom I really am and has taken much of my ‘true identity’ away and replaced it with an identity that has often has been ‘assumed’ by others. This is because of the labels and misconceptions that are attached to my illness.

I feel that since my diagnosis my ‘identity’ has been made for me and I am Stuart Baker-Brown schizophrenic and labelled, as many are with schizophrenia, as troublesome, a potentially threat, delusional, odd and generally as someone who should be avoided. As though that’s all I am capable of being!

In reality the above is far from the truth and is a ‘mistaken identity’ projected on me by many who know nothing about my diagnosis. I am the 1st to admit, yes, I can be unintentionally troublesome but I have reasons. Many strange things have happened to me, which have scared me, caused confusion and caused me to seem strange to others. But my real identity is a ‘man’ who is greater than his condition, a man who cares and loves and a man who strives to be ‘good and strong’ and creative in life. A man who wants to help others and who is ‘most definitely’ not a threat to society. Nor am I a man who is just delusional and hears voices.

In fact, I am like any good man worth his weight, a man who is far less a threat to society than most!

As for work, well, for many years I have been unable to work because of the strong symptoms of my condition, which have been very disabling.

Also, with great thanks to the people who should have been looking after my well being, I was signed off from work in 1996 and put on benefits for life and told that I may never be able to work again! That attitude from my nurse and psychiatrist helped to destroy me and remove any dignity and self-worth I had left after the destruction of my illness.

There is also the stigma and discrimination to overcome in the workplace. I once heard from someone of authority in mental health that a convict who had served time in prison for an ‘intentional crime’ had more potential finding work than someone with schizophrenia.

My head shakes with disbelief in that statement but unfortunately my heart knows there is truth to it. I believe we all deserve chances to prove ourselves, including convicts, but I use that point to highlight the difficulties for someone in my position to find work and to highlight the huge stigma which we have to face from people towards my diagnosis.

There are many people in my position who could and would given the right chance contribute immensely to the workplace but because of stigma and discrimination we are too often unfairly overlooked and not recognized for our potential.

And what of love? Possibly the greatest and most powerful emotion to mankind. An emotion and feeling we all desire. I have to say, love and schizophrenia have been a very awkward combination. Symptoms of schizophrenia include ‘paranoia and fear of persecution’, so although finding love is possible, keeping that love safe, has, in the past, been hard. Too often ‘trust’ can be a big issue in a relationship and too often ‘trust’ and symptoms of my illness are unable to work together in harmony.

In the past and when my symptoms were very active I sometimes accused my wife of spying on me and working for the KGB or MI5 and this often caused us much distress and unhappiness and so caused a drift between us and love was difficult to maintain.

My illness and the labels attached to it can also make it extremely hard for people like me to initiate a relationship or for others to make the 1st steps towards us. Too often the self-doubt and low self-esteem and lack of dignity that comes with schizophrenia can stop the process of finding a relationship, and so, stops possibilities of love.

And what of family love? Well, it is very common for families to break up where mental illness is concerned. I myself have been unable to have contact with my brothers and mother for some years because of my condition and their lack of acceptance and understanding towards me

So, love, is probably the most important topic to me out of the three. It’s most certainly the topic I yearn for the most.

I will end by saying, that love, work and identity, can be so difficult for us all. Add a diagnosis of schizophrenia to the equation and things can become much harder in life. But saying that, I believe with the right frame of mind and attitude, so much can be achieved.

I know in my life, I am finally finding my own true ‘identity’ beyond my label and with ‘work’ I am starting to find the ability and belief in myself to work again.

And as for love, I am no longer married but I am in search for love from someone who will fully accept me and my true capabilities, as I will accept them. Who knows where any relationship will go and what obstacles will get in my way, mental illness or not? We all just have to keep on believing in ourselves and keep striving forwards with hope.

That’s what keeps saving me.

Stuart Baker-Brown.

Posted by Stuart Baker-Brown at September 7, 2007 10:16 AM
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