BRAIN AWARENESS WEEK
THAT THING ABOUT MY BRAIN
By Margery Wakefield
My eyes are different from your eyes. No problem.
I weigh more than you do. No problem.
You are taller than I am. No problem.
My brain is different from your brain. BIG problem, especially if I happen to have schizophrenia, which I do. Because I am schizophrenic, I can be fired from my job, thought of as a deranged killer, called names like “nuts,” “psycho,” “fruitcake,” “wacko,” “crazy,” “weirdo,” loony,” and many others. So, I learn to keep it all a BIG SECRET.
I first knew that something was wrong when I was about seven years old. I was at a summer picnic at my grandparents’ house and I suddenly knew that I was different from the other kids. They were all playing and I didn’t feel like playing. Something was wrong and I called it the “shadow.”
The shadow followed me throughout grade school and high school. Some of my teachers sensed that something was wrong with me. I seemed troubled, depressed. But since we lived in an isolated part of the country, there were no mental health services, especially for kids, and teachers were not trained to look out for this kind of thing. My friend Sharon W. was always getting beat up at home and coming to school covered with bruises, but that wasn’t caught either. We were silent victims.
Nowadays, things are better for children. Teachers, and the community in general, are trained to be aware of differences, of abuse. But some children still fall through the cracks, unfortunately. The results are the shooting tragedies which have happened recently in so many places by young people with untreated mental illnesses. They give all of us schizophrenics a bad name. 99.9% of schizophrenics would probably hurt themselves rather than another person. But there is the .1%, and they make the headlines and become the media stereotype.
In 1966, the shadow was finally given a name – schizophrenia. I had a particularly brutal and painful nervous breakdown when I was eighteen years old. The word schizophrenia didn’t terrify me. I was just happy that the shadow finally had a name. If it had a name, then something could be done about it, I reasoned.
It took me 16 years to make it through college, but I finally did. I took some detours along the way. I was hospitalized more than 55 times for my unbearable anxiety and psychosis. But then, a strange thing happened, I started getting better. I finished my degree and went on to get a master’s degree in social work. I decided that I would thrive in spite of the odds.
Today, I live a quite normal and happy life. I work part time in the community. I also work part time for SARDAA, the organization which oversees matters relating to schizophrenia and related disorders and organizes the Schizophrenics Anonymous groups springing up all over the country. I am proud to be a part of SARDAA.
I take my meds – faithfully. I have my own apartment. I drive my own car – a ten-year-old Subaru Forester. I teach piano. I have written six books. They’re not bestsellers – yet – but they do make a statement. I travel in the US and abroad whenever I can. I have been a co-leader of the SA group in Denver, Colorado for eight years.
If you met me on the street, you probably wouldn’t know that I was any different from yourself. But I am. My brain is wired just a bit differently. I have an over or under-abundance of certain neurotransmitters which cause my illness. That’s about all there is to it.
Don’t feel sorry for me because I have schizophrenia. It has been a challenge for me, but it has also been a blessing in a way. It has left me a more compassionate person. And for that I am grateful.