From the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
If people are your lifeboat then schizophrenia is not for you. As you may find out, the boats talk back and cannot be trusted. I was living in Hulme in 1988 when I first became seriously ill. It was after a holiday in Greece which turned sour due to my oncoming illness.
We all have a certain amount of paranoia. Generally it is fairly harmless. However when you slowly drift into illusions much like an unconscious dream or like you have taken LSD, then things can get very nasty. Voices and feelings of persecution take over and unlike a dream or an LSD trip you do not recover without drugs, hospital, etc to take the edge from the nightmare-like torment.
Schizophrenia can creep up on anyone ever so slowly. Perhaps if you like yourself, you will not succumb. However if you do like yourself you have further to fall. Presently genone7 is said to be the genetic reason, but whatever the cause schizophrenia can either ruin the rest of your life or if you are fortunate enough to recover it can stigmatize and label you. They reckon one third have only one attack and one third have more than one and one third do not get better even with the drugs.
To recover is often seen as temporary sanity. Many people see the sufferer always through the doors of the asylum. At the moment I am back in Hulme having made a reasonable recovery. I have a job and I feel fortunate considering just how ill I was.
There are many reasons why people end up in mental hospitals. The main one is that they disturb family and friends so much that these are unable to cope.
We all learn from our experiences and "going mad", as it is called by some people, certainly gives you plenty of experiences most of which you certainly would not choose. The way back from schizophrenia—and I can only give a personal viewpoint—is to aim to control things again. Often this is very difficult when you have spent months in hospital but the approach should be gradual; think about the level of support you need and work towards more independence.
The world is often not a very understanding place and there are day centres which can help take the edge off things and fill the time in. As to the drugs which most people are on when they get released from hospital, if you can, get the dose reduced gradually (if that works) as the drugs themselves have effects on your ability to think quickly and they have other side-effects which can usually be controlled.
You do not only lose things when you fall ill you also gain things when you come out of it. You lose things like self-confidence. Often people have this to a great degree which really is a form of acceptable insanity, yet to get a measure of self-confidence back is a good thing for self-preservation. What you gain when you come out of it is a perception about schizophrenia which most people do not understand. You also gain humility and understanding about what it is like to be mentally ill. You may develop a healthy dislike of mental hospitals and psychiatrists. Someone once said if you want to see a psychiatrist you must be mad!
The thing to remember is that you have a reasonable chance to rebuild your life and self-esteem, given favourable circumstances. Not everything is in anyone’s control. More understanding and more help is certainly needed where mental illness is concerned. In general the people who lived in Hulme were supportive when I was ill and after I began my recovery. That counts for a lot.
I am one of those strange people who advocate a democratic socialist revolution to sort out the worlds problems. While we still have present-day society we have to survive as best we can by giving people respect and understanding especially if they have or are having mental health problems.
Looking to the future I hope to stay well like most people, I also hope to enjoy life no differently from anyone else. Mental illness can strike anyone. Not everyone can survive the experience. With schizophrenia one in ten people kill themselves. Perhaps that’s a reflection on the nature of the illness but it is also a reflection on society. Recently a doctor writing in the Observer said if he could give one piece of advice on how to avoid illness he would advise you to be rich. He was not talking specifically about mental illness but illness in general, although I believe it to be sound advice. The only way we can all get rich is to establish a society where we all have free access to what society can produce. Then, perhaps, there will be fewer casualties of all types of illnesses and better treatment. Well it’s worth thinking about, I believe it’s worth working for—what do you think?