Hi there. May 24 is World Schizophrenia Awareness Day. To mark the occasion I wrote a letter to schizophrenia. You can find it on the Satellite Foundation website where it will be published today. (I’m an ambassador for them.)
It’s the time of year where you deposit some thought to the gentle complexity of one of existences most cryptic yet vulnerable conditions. Why don’t we talk about schizophrenia more? Ever wondered that? I do, quite a bit. It seems to go under the radar quite effectively. There’s a whole stack of destigmatising to be done – or – to conjure a more handsome phrase – rehumanising.
I mean, I’ve been up close to someone with schizophrenia and honestly, my heart still weeps. I reckon my Mum is brave as all fuck for withstanding the atomic martian wildness of her own mind warping itself to fit through the eye of the needle of life.
These are real people. On the ground. Suffering. Trying to be good parents. They are gobsmacked by confusion. Their personality has secret mirrors growing like gills. They are x-men and women, able to see through time. Heaven and hell are storybook wonders compared to the cheek scolding heartbreak of disappearing in plain sight from the very people who love you more than anything.
Anyway, big hugs and NDIS support to anyone who is experiencing hard times.
We can be superheroes, just for one day.
g r o u n d h o g __ d a y ?
AT A GLANCE (STAT!):
- Schizophrenia effects 1 in 100 people. The same ratio as autism.
- It comes from the Greek word meaning ‘split mind.’ It’s not multiple personality disorder, it’s about the schizophrenic person having a split view of reality. There is the real world and then there is their world. This results in them convincing themselves that they are not sick. Therein lies the paradox of trying to care for someone with this condition. You’re yelling via cup and string to a rogue astronaut on opposites day.
“I’ll be alright after a sleep tomorrow, I promise.”
In response to the comments beneath my Sky News soundbite. No, it’s NOTHING like Trump voters thinking their world view is right and everyone else’s is wrong. That is an extreme political ideology. At least Trump exists in our reality (I never thought I’d say that.) People with schizophrenia have psychosis. They experience auditory and visual hallucinations. This is why using ‘schizophrenic’ as an adjective is problematic. Voting for Trump isn’t a medical condition, it’s a personality trait – as much as the ‘hilarious’ jokes to be made would hint at the former.
- Statistically they are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. The cliché of the unhinged guy on the bus or whatever – it’s a worst case scenario or its comic book fiction mate. When we went to the bank Mum would be very composed, even at her worst. People with a mental illness generally work twice as hard as the rest of the community just to be themselves. Australians love a hard worker, don’t they?
- They are likely to be conduits of bizarre behaviour. Talking to themselves, nervous tics, agitated, scattered, paranoid thinking; things of the like. One friend said his Mum used to communicate with Jupiter. Another said his Mum would see a little man and woman walking around her flat, an inch tall, shining lights in her face and shapeshifting into animals. My Mum once told me she was ‘on the line’ to Mozart. This level of psychosis is creative at least and makes for a fascinating story.
Like a creature in captivity, schizophrenia is a lot less threatening when you spend some time up close. There is love in curiosity and I spent a lot of time observing my Mum. She would be laughing to herself as if having a tea party with her voices. I would have liked to have been invited. It’s a malfunction pantomime and who are we to judge the mind unknown and its methods to cope. There are worse contributions to the universe.
- Schizophrenia is not full-time. Mum was well half the time and sick the other. She was still a wonderful individual with autonomy, functioning as best she could and getting me breakfast while navigating the extremities of humanity. Mum used to be ‘Mother’s help’ and visit my primary school and help kids in my class type their stories up on the computer.
As a listener to my radio version of Get Up Mum wrote: “I remember a Mum who would take me to sporting activities, cook dinner, have afternoon tea ready for me after school, and take us for swimming lessons at the beach. I also remember a Mum who would sleep all day, yell and scream, and a Mum who spent months at a time locked up in a high security psychiatric hospital.”
It’s a split world for everyone.
- Caring is full-time. Two words: hyper-vigilance. Part of Schizophrenia Awareness Week can be devoted to carers who are most likely family members and in the most urgent cases – kids. If someone you know has a mental illness and they also have children – I’m telling you now – that child is a carer by default and most definitely in need of support. If you are unsure about resources, Satellite Foundation is a great place to start. Don’t be shy!
- Hearing voices is more common than you think. Apparently 10-25% of people will hear voices at some point in their lives. Amazingly, it’s not always linked to schizophrenia. This was news to me when I watched the SBS Insight episode.
(If you can track down the full You Can’t Ask That schizophrenia episode it’s also a terrific resource).
- Schizophrenia is devastating. Especially when used in Scrabble. You drop that thing on a triple word score and it’s WALK AWAY RENE!
A FEW LINKS TO PAST THINGS I HAVE CONTRIBUTED:
- I was interviewed on Sky News during Schizophrenia Awareness Week in 2018, days after releasing Get Up Mum. I don’t get to go on TV much. (Spicks & Specks in 2010 featuring myself and Marcia Hynes together at last and me dressed as a cat on Channel 31 in 2017).
- An interview (with fellow only child Elizabeth Flux) in the Guardian from 2018 which is all about my book and lived experience.
- I wrote a column about schizophrenia for The Big Issue in 2019.
- There aren’t that many movies about schizophrenia (I will not watch The Joker but can only imagine it has set the empathy cause back miles) but Sally Hawkins did a wonderful job in 2020’s Eternal Beauty where she portrays a colourful character. (Is it interesting how when Sia cast a non-autistic actor everyone went hyper-nuclear but the fact that an actor without schizophrenia represented this community didn’t ruffle a spacebar. It’s almost as if that particular aspect of the mental health spectrum is i n v i s i b l e .
Do-gooders be like – we’re championing this cause because it’s SO COOL right now, but that one over there is FAAAREAKING US OUT.)
There’s an article about how schizophrenia is represented in cinema here.
- Other fine movies about mental illness include Angel Baby (AU 1995), An Angel At My Table (NZ 1990), Sweetie (AU 1989), Benny & Joon (US 1993), Birdman (US 2014) & Donnie Darko (US 2001). I really enjoyed Girl, Interrupted (US 1999) the other day, even though the reviews are subpar – (who doesn’t love Winona?) I recommend The Sunnyboy (2013 Australian documentary about Jeremy Oxley, lead singer of The Sunnyboys who emerges from a 30 year battle with schizophrenia).
- I’m not sure if I enjoyed The Fischer King but as my counsellor pointed out it does do a good job of visualising the vivid dynamics of the schizophrenic persons worldview. You may be interested in The 5 Most Accurate Depictions of Schizophrenia in Hollywood.
- I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a way out film from the 1970s. The book was always sitting dramatically on the bookshelf at Nan & Pop’s. (The girl on the cover gave me my biggest ethereal crush since The Childlike Empress from Never Ending Story.) Anyway, I read it as an adult and it’s a most artistic deep-dive into the psychedelic secret world that I touched on previously. Greenberg writes in the voice of the ‘voices’ which I found thrilling.
I know you’ve got to be in the right headspace for these subjects. Or perhaps you don’t. Maybe there is never a convenient time. Goose step out of your comfort zone, throw some paint around in the studio of understanding and fan your aura to the experimental frequencies of the meek and neurologically diverse.
Schizophrenia is a cause that needs everyone to come together with education, patience and some emotional heavy lifting. Fire up lovely, I know you have it in you.
That’s about it. If you keep scrolling down this page you’ll see some of the soft hitting articles I’ve unpacked in the past six weeks about my own mental health philosophies. I know you’ve got a toasted sandwich on the go and about six kids and animals to pick up from the mall so I’ll save you time and let you jump straight into:
How Do You Talk To A Depressed Person
i Is The Loneliest Letter
Bonza. Take care. x
ps don’t forget to tag me on linkedin
pps if you are still feeling overwhelmed or frustrated that you simply have no tangible emotional construct of what the heck anyone is talking about when it comes to this specific topic with the word which is even complicated to spell… Well, there happens to be a real easy fix to that one (for a change):
📖 buy my book 📖
(It’s 32% off at the minute, much like my mood)
and i don’t cry for yesterday / there’s an ordinary world / somehow i have to find: duran duran, ordinary world
carers: empathy through determination
And now the Schizophrenia Awareness Week dancers 💃💃💃👻 … oh no they disappeared.