Dear Ireland, I am willing to make a deal with you
A letter to Ireland from someone with schizophrenia – A reflection on engagement with, judgment and perception of those who experience health mental difficulties. This is particularly poignant with it being Green Ribbon month, the month that aims to reduce stigma of mental illness.
Apparently, we haven’t had much to say to each other over the years and this letter is supposed to help open a dialogue between us. Some fancy yet cost effective therapeutic method that can help people like me. First question: who are people like me and who decides what the categories are and who goes into them?
Second question: what does dialogue mean anyway? Why can’t we just have a good old-fashioned screaming match and see if we feel better afterwards? At least we don’t have to pretend to listen to each other and can just concentrate on letting off steam for a few minutes. Dialogue is too measured and reasoned for something that requires the full force of my memories and emotions. I am twenty years away from dialogue but always just a few sentences away from a rant about how poorly you treat people with schizophrenia.
I want to shout about how much I resent how I was treated as a child and young adult by you. I want to let you know with every word I can muster how I still feel resentful. I have learned to manage my relationship with you, but it is exhausting. I want to own my feelings again and not fear that my anger will be judged by society as reduced mental capacity or an acute episode. I want my frustration and sadness to be a human characteristic not a diagnostic tool. Most of all, I want to trust you again.
Third question: what crime did I commit to deserve such fear and suspicion from you? I tried to kill myself, not anyone else. Your response wasn’t kind or protective. It was cold and damaging. I have tried to mend the scars left behind. The worst part about it is this – it was an insidious type of cruelty, a force of justice dispensed via medication, degradation and isolation but called care. That is a cruel twist of reality that any adult would find difficult to comprehend, let alone a child in modern Ireland.
Forth question: how can anyone in my position defend their right to speak freely and frankly about these issues when the risk of dismissal is so readily and cheaply available? A nudge of the elbow, a subtle glance of acknowledgement to the person next to you, an utterly misinformed yet comforting step sideways away from people like me. Normal is this side of the room please and remember ‘good fences make good neighbours.’
It is not always so subtle. At times the dismissal is expressed overtly and unapologetically. Assumptions regarding my level of intelligence, ability to do a job, even read have been questioned by people who know only one thing about me, the name of an illness.
Ireland, if you were one person with all the qualities and behaviours above, I would not like you. You would bring out the worst in me. But, you are not one person and that is your saving grace. You are a lot of people with lots of different qualities and behaviours. I seek out the people that can bring out the best in me and am grateful that you are friendly enough to make that choice possible.
There is nothing more enjoyable than meeting a person who embraces change and progress, who is not threatened by difference, who sees equality and community in a range of concepts and contexts. There is something special when a small country can produce a population with such diversity and life experience. That is what makes our relationship worthwhile.
So, in both our interests, I am willing to make a deal with you. I will focus only on the good people on this island and avoid the road-block personalities. In return, I promise to do my best to build a legacy worthy of both of us, one that embraces progress, integrity, equality and, most of all, difference.