Shaun works hard, learning French and runs 10ks for charity, however he finds the stigma around schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder is still his biggest struggle. In this special blog for Rethink Schizophrenia, Shaun looks at how this stigma comes about and how it can affect his life and relationships.
I have experienced mental illness all my adult life. I remember having problems at University but I only started seeking treatment in 2010. It has been a long journey with setbacks and I am not cured, but despite all that has happened, I’m still here and making a difference.
I was given the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, which was not a nice label to carry when trying to recover from a mental health condition.
Each person with this diagnosis has different symptoms and as time progresses they can manifest rather differently as well. My biggest symptoms to begin with were continuous social anxiety, with very severe depressive episodes.
Sometimes I feel mistreated by people or organisations, which can be hard as I can't always tell straight away if that is because of the paranoia I experience or if I am really being treated unfairly. So I have learnt to give most people more benefit of the doubt than what comes naturally, but this has its costs at times too, as I can open myself more to being hurt. I remind myself that I am human too, not a diagnosis and have value.
My mood can also become highly elevated and I will be very productive. I feel euphoric and rarely tired. This can lead to burnout, and then a depressive episode. Over the years I have tried lots of medications prescribed to me, some of which have severe side effects. I have had therapy in CBT, DBT and learnt some ACT techniques from reading.
I still struggle with my mental illness, there are times when I believe that I can’t cope, but I am learning thanks to running, even when it’s high intensity, that it will eventually pass, somewhat like ‘runners wall’. I have run two 10km races and a half marathon this year in aid of Rethink Mental Illness, and the hospice that took care of my mum. I have been in my new job for over 9 months, completed a Level 3 course and also finished a beginners course in French.
There are lots of misrepresentation of schizo-affective disorder and schizophrenia, especially in the movies. I like superhero movies but they can be particularly bad culprits, I know people with schizophrenia aren't anything like the characters in The Dark Knight!
If you’ve never met someone with schizophrenia, I can see how you might imagine it's something scary like in the movies, but even if you were to judge someone on a diagnosis, even Batman said “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me”. People don't think some one down their road who works in Sainsbury has an illness like this.
The biggest challenge in my life is stigma when I talk to people about my condition, I always start with the symptoms, not the diagnosis.
I’ve spent a lot of time explaining what my illness is and isn't, to employers, friends and even family. Once people hear about my diagnosis I feel like they look at me and my behaviours differently. It’s sad really, and it can make the condition worse.
It’s just a word but ‘schizo’ can have really negative connotations. But I know that people have managed the reclaim negative words in the past and I want people to really rethink the word and what it actually means for the person who has been given this diagnosis.
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Read more about life with schizophrenia.