By: Cordelia Bloom
Before diving into the article, please experience a short insert piece from the harrowing and groundbreaking work Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl: The True Story of “Renee”. It was written by Marguerite Sechehaye, a Swiss psychotherapist and pioneer in the psychoanalytic treatment of schizophrenics, who tells the story of a young woman whose descent into schizophrenia began at the age of five:
“For me madness was definitely not a condition of illness; I did not believe that I was ill. It was rather a country, opposed to Reality, where reigned an implacable light, blinding, leaving no space for shadow; an immense space without bounds, limitless, flat; a mineral, lunar country, cold as the wastes of the North Pole. In this stretching emptiness, all is unchangeable, immobile, congealed, crystalized. Objects are stage trappings, placed here and there, geometric cubes without meaning.
People turn weirdly about, they make gestures, movements without sense; they are phantoms whirling on an infinite pain, crushed by the pitiless electric light. And I—I am lost in it, isolated, cold, stripped, purposeless under the light. A wall of brass separates me from everybody and everything. In the midst of desolation, in indescribable distress, in absolute solitude, I am terrifyingly alone; no one comes to help me. This was it; this was madness, the Enlightenment was the perception of Unreality. Madness was finding oneself permanently in an all-embracing Unreality.”
What is Mental Health?
Psychologist and mental health expert, Julie McIsaac, defines it as our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood (2019). If we combine our emotional, psychological, and social aspects, along with our daily perceptions and behaviors, then we hold all the components to our mental health.
Mental illness, on the other hand, involves changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior (or a combination of these). A serious mental illness though, is a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment; which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. Examples of serious mental illness include major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder (Njoku, 2022).
Stigma and Awareness
We’ll be lightly discussing schizophrenia. It’s a disease that attaches itself to the brain, which provokes an abnormal interpretation of reality. A person with this mental illness may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning and can be disabling. People with schizophrenia require lifelong treatment (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020).
Schizophrenia is a treatable brain disease and should be treated like any other neurological illness; it is often misconception to believe otherwise. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that is commonly written off by society. Stigma and the lack of awareness about the illness can hurt those with the disease and make it worse in other cases.
Common stigma for those with schizophrenia is the idea that they are naturally violent and chaotic, excluding them socially, or labeling them with harmful words. This is one of the reasons as to why those who suffer from the disease internalize themselves as flawed and eventually believe all negative-stereotypical things said about and to them. The stigma doesn’t just navigate in society, but it also exists in the medical field or workplace. Some doctors (may) hold low expectations for improvement and negative attitudes toward schizophrenic patients.
This harmful ideology can trigger relapses and can cause those with the illness to take a worse route than they were at before. However, to stop the stigma against schizophrenia, we must raise awareness for the mental illness. The community can step up through the use of pamphlets or other informative materials on the street, pushing mental health education in schools, and improving training for mental health professionals to pave a better attitude and empathy for those with schizophrenia and more (Shin, 2021).
Crossing the Bridge With Writing
A person with this disorder faces multiple difficulties or symptoms, like writing, for example; it can be quite challenging due to involuntary movements and limited ability to organize any way of thinking. However, this hasn’t stopped people from telling their stories.
Throughout history, there have been a few authors that experienced schizophrenia and were able to finish written pieces of art. For example, Zelda Fitzgerald (1900-1948) was a writer who had been diagnosed in 1930. Her book Save Me the Last Waltz was written during an inpatient treatment facility stay. Another writer diagnosed with the same mental health condition was Jack Kerouac (1926-1969). He was known for his classic On the Road.
Would you believe it possible for a person who suffers from this disorder to be able to keep a journal? Even though writing can be tough, there is indeed an out-of-the-box possibility of being able to ground the mind back into reality—via journaling.
Disclaimer: This would depend on the diagnosee.
A True Story
We’ll be quickly discussing an extraordinary case today to show proof it can be done: Lisa Guardiola, who decided to pursue journaling rigorously in 2013. Journaling has served as a coping mechanism on top of her prescribed medications and therapy sessions. In a way, she describes her journal entries as a health tracker—by keeping track of her feelings, thoughts, emotions, sleep patterns, stressors, and symptoms. It also allows her to reflect on improvements regarding medication management and healthy habits that work for her. It’s her own way to gather perspective as well as encourage self-care, which also helps bolster self-acceptance. Journaling helps her monitor her condition, essentially, by helping her to refocus her mind:
As my thoughts fester, my paranoia increases, causing me to lose my grip on reality. My auditory hallucinations become louder and my delusions increase. It’s at this point that I need to refocus my mind. While I use a wide variety of coping skills, one that has stood out for me is journaling. (Guardiola, 2023)
After living with the disease for most of her life, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 32. She is now vice president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) affiliate in the south suburbs of Chicago. She’s made it her life’s work to help break the stigma around mental illness. What an exceptional story!
Jumpstarting With Journal Prompts
Based on the story that we’ve uncovered, the following five journaling prompts were added to help (guide) those with this mental health disorder:
- What am I listening to? Describe the sounds.
- What things am I seeing?
- What am I feeling right now? Explain why.
- I am standing because feet are on the ground. Where did my mind take me to just now? Describe the place.
- Why am I isolating myself?
Many people who have a mental illness do not want to talk about it. The American Psychiatric Association states that they’re continually expanding our understanding of how the human brain works, and treatments are available to help people successfully manage mental health conditions.
Mental health conditions are treatable and improvement is possible. Many people with mental health conditions return to full functioning. Some mental illnesses are even preventable (Njoku, 2022). The diagnosis of a mental disorder is not the same as a need for treatment. Mental health treatment is based upon an individualized plan developed collaboratively with a mental health clinician and the individual. It may include psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication or other treatments; often a combination of therapy and medication is most effective.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness, and it should be taken seriously and treated urgently. My question to you is–do you know someone who might benefit from reading this article? Or perhaps you’d like to journal through your own thought process on the matter? There’s no better time than the present. Journal with The Love Story by clicking on the link below.
Guardiola, L. (2023, February 24). How keeping a journal helps me manage my schizophrenia. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Illinois. https://namiillinois.org/how-keeping-a-journal-helps-me-manage-my-schizophrenia/#:~:text=I%20would%20encourage%20anyone%20with,build%20from%20day%20to%20day
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, January 7). Schizophrenia – symptoms and causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354443#:~:text=Schizophrenia%20is%20a%20serious%20mental,with%20schizophrenia%20require%20lifelong%20treatment.https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/adaptability
McIsaac, J. (2019, November 14). Fellow parents, let’s talk about mental health. Exceptional Lives. https://www.exceptionallives.org/blog/fellow-parents-lets-talk-about-mental-health?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIneGYpKmi_gIVOdzjBx0sogmBEAAYAiAAEgJWt_D_BwE
Njoku, I. (2022, November 20). What is mental illness? American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-mental-illness#:~:text=Mental%20Illness…refers%20collectively,social%2C%20work%20or%20family%20activities.
Sechehaye, M. (Author), Rubin-Rabson, G. (Translator), Conroy, F. (Foreword). 1994, November 1. Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl: The True Story of “Renee”. Penguin Random House. .https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/325203/autobiography-of-a-schizophrenic-girl-by-marguerite-sechehaye/
Shin, E. (2021, January 27). The stigma of schizophrenia: The illness and its presence in society. Public Health Museum [via Outbreak!2020]. https://www.publichealthmuseum.org/outbreak-blogs-student-final-projects/the-stigma-of-schizophrenia-the-illness-and-its-presence-in-society
Pugel, M. (2022, September 29). Is there a link between schizophrenia and writing? PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/schizophrenia/schizophrenia-writing