Recently, I taught for my first conference. In advance of the event, an organizer posted class highlights—the details of a particular class offered at the conference—regularly on social media. The comments section was usually quiet, maybe positive.
As it happened, one day I stumbled across a class highlight where the comments section wasn’t going so well. It took me a second to realize that the class highlighted was mine.
My qualification was questioned, despite being in the post. It was a class on being an ally to alternative sexuality practitioners with schizophrenia. My qualification was being an alternative sexuality practitioner with schizophrenia.
The organizers had stated in many places that the conference presenters were mostly not mental health professionals. Most of us taught from our own experience. More was explained in the comments section. I didn’t know the commenter, so it wasn’t personal.
So why was I the only one who had this issue?
Probably: I was teaching the only class at the conference about psychosis.
The commenter cited that one could do a lot of harm, responding to psychosis without knowing what one was doing. And that’s very true—that’s a main reason I teach that class. But that was true of almost any subject at the conference. What I saw implicitly referenced was the seriousness of psychosis, or rather, the stigma. Even within a class list for a conference on mental health and alternative sexuality.
The stigma particular to psychosis is real.
But, okay, let’s go with it for a second.
Does having schizophrenia make me qualified to write and teach about it (at this level)?
Yes. I think so.
Because, while it’s subjective, I can tell you what schizophrenia feels like from inside it. Because all medical literature and research on schizophrenia relies on people like me being studied. Because even the average mental health professional can’t give you first hand information on it.
Now, any diagnosis alone does not give me clear communication skills, or knowledge of the hard science, or so on. It just gives me experience to speak from—an experience that science studies and documents en masse, trying to figure out why, trying to figure out how to treat it, along with the physical tests and so on. I get other skills and knowledge from practice—teaching on many other subjects—and lots of research.
But I am qualified to talk about the first hand experience. Psychosis is in large part about your relationship with reality. Therefore, my perception of reality—versus others’ perception of reality—at any given time, is half the picture.
You might see someone standing in the middle of the street, yelling and beating themselves with a lint roller until they bruise, or someone curled up motionless on the floor, staring at nothing, or someone calling an invisible dog and holding nothing like it’s a leash, or someone vibrating in terror while fixated on an empty space in a bed, but I’m living something else.
I’m feeling the world crash down around me, I’m off in another world with my characters, I’m trying to get the whining dog to cooperate for once, I can see (and smell) the corpse in the bed. And that’s a lot of context, and only I can fill that half in for sure.
Any mental illness, really, is, by nature, hard to get the full picture of from an external perspective alone.
And many schizophrenics struggle to share their perspective—it comes with the territory. On my bad days, I can’t share mine. On other days, thankfully, I can.
But ultimately, if you want to know what schizophrenia is really like?
I’d ask a schizophrenic.