The One Percent
by E. Kirsten Peters
My disabilities are mental illness and arthritic knees. I former has shaped my whole life, from middle school onwards, while the latter developed in my late 40s. I carry the mental diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, meaning I sometimes experience delusions and hallucinations mixed with problems in mood, usually depression. Schizoaffective disorder is now termed part of the “spectrum” of schizophrenia.
I was pleased recently to see a large, front page story in The Spokesman Review that profiled local people with schizophrenia. One man written up in the Spokane paper is Nelson McAlister. Like me, he has been ill for over 40 years. But it seems the full impact of illness is worse for him, as he is living in a group home while I live independently. Both McAlister and I receive Social Security disability, but I also have a small pension from working for the state of Washington for 19 years.
Like what I call “the normal people,” those of us with some flavor of schizophrenia want to contribute to the world. McAlister does so through gardening, growing vegetables including pumpkins for kids to carve in the fall. For my part, I try to contribute by volunteering through my church on a couple of projects and working each Saturday for a food bank.
Some of the other schizophrenics profiled in the Spokane paper are much younger than McAlister and me. One woman is a six year army veteran, another woman was a nursing student when illness derailed her education. The profiles fit with what I have learned first-hand in psychiatric wards: mental disabilities affect people from all walks of life.
Humor is the defense Michelle Schlienger uses against hallucinations. When she hears voices telling her to harm herself, she responds wryly like this: “I tell my voices to go to daycare.” I wish I had thought of something along those lines. I don’t have auditory hallucinations often, but when I do my mundane mind doesn’t come up with retorts like those of Schlienger.
About 1% of Americans are schizophrenic. Here’s hoping more open discussion of what our lives are like can help the general population understand both the challenges we face and the contributions we can make.