Person First Language: But Who Am I Without Schizophrenia?

The thing with mental illness is that it’s all in your head and it’s not who you are. And, well, yes, it is all in your head, but your head is a pretty important place, and if we scientifically consider the brain the center of who you are, then isn’t any long term major mental illness, you know, a part of who you are?

Person first language comes up a lot, the idea that you should say, as an example, a person with schizophrenia, not a schizophrenic (person), because they are first and foremost a person, not their disorder, disability, so on. I don’t like person first language for myself, because I think it misses the point for me. I am a schizophrenic, just as much as I am a daughter, a wife, a writer, so on. You wouldn’t use person first language to say I am a person who writes or a person who is a writer, would you? You’d just say a writer

So then you have to ask the question: when do you use first person language, and what does it imply? Separation of the descriptor and identity? I am a person who writes because I pick up a pen now and then, but I am a writer because I identify as one, spend a significant amount of time on it, care about it that much. Okay, but I identify as a schizophrenic, too. It’s a part of who I am just as much, if not more. So what does the assumption of using person first language for it really imply to me? That it’s something I shouldn’t identify with, that you assume I don’t want to identify with it. It’s just as much an assumption as saying a schizophrenic, and it tries to decide for me what my identity should be. 

I don’t speak for all schizophrenic people here, only for myself. I know some others do consider it solely a negative (and I still endorse seeking treatment to achieve your desired balance in any case), and it’s had much more devastating effects on their lives than it’s had on mine. Though, I will throw out there: so have a lot of identities. Should I stop saying I am a daughter because others might be the victims of child abuse? 

So if I identify as a schizophrenic, there’s the question of if there is a difference between my self and my schizophrenia. I don’t think there’s any more of a separation point there than between my self and my writing, and ultimately I believe that what deserves a place as part of one’s true identity (rather than a list of traits or roles they’ve ever exhibited) is something that’s up to the individual. There’s the whole keep your identity small concept. 

But let’s examine it for a minute. Who am I, without schizophrenia?

My personality definitely would change based on a lack of paranoia (being a paranoid schizophrenic). Even in periods between more complete delusion, there’s… traits. Without assuming negative intentions from others, I’d probably be more open minded and perhaps make more friends, and make fewer snap judgments (though, largely, my snap judgments are pretty good, so I don’t know if that part actually turns out any better for me). I’d probably then exhibit traits of the different pool of people I’d associate with over time, the whole you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with concept.

If I was less on edge, if I didn’t have the constant there’s someone behind me feeling and obsession with death, I’d presumably be more relaxed, but perhaps less productive. Quirks of mine around security might slip away, with or without consequence. 

If I didn’t have negative, insulting voices floating around my head now and then, I might develop higher self esteem and self sabotage less (though this isn’t too much of an issue currently).

If psychosis didn’t—shall we say enhance—my PTSD symptoms (flashbacks that are really hallucinations, hypervigilance plus paranoia) among others (the autism, the anxiety, and yes, those are part of my identity, too), those would probably drastically change, be less gripping. 

Without negative symptoms (loss of interest in everyday activities, social withdrawal), I would probably be less hyperfocused on the things that never lose my obsessive interest (say, writing), and more interested in the little dopamine boosts of playing a game or watching a movie together, which I usually lightly resist or at least don’t usually truly care for. This might be less productive, but a big mood changer, and, while I’m still an extrovert, it would have a huge impact on my ability to maintain acquaintances and turn them into friends, and engage in normal buffer activities, rather than my “converse for twelve straight hours, maybe over food or alternatively parallel play/work and almost nothing in between” approach.

Having a firmer relationship with reality would probably bring my daydreaming out of the maladaptive/dissociative category, as I believe those are highly connected for me, daydreams no longer taking over my reality and replacing it, just being something that still feels inside my head, or at least picture in picture style visualization. This would completely change my writing process as I know it, as it’s been observed that most of it is my characters running wild in my daydreams—controlling me far more than I control them, both in demanding my attention, and in the way I absorb their traits—until something coherent and gripping happens to emerge (largely beyond my conscious control). Then, it’s just a matter of getting paper and making some last minute adjustments. Removing schizophrenia also removes writing as I know it. 

Gee… does that all sound like a major personality/identity change to you guys, too? Even more than removing, say, my identity as a writer? 

So, yes, schizophrenia is also a part of my identity, I get to decide that, and I’ll also talk about it as such. 

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