When we talk about how “ mental health matters,” I feel like most people generally are referring to and depression . But I have found that people are less accepting when it comes to illnesses that have a higher chance of stigma following them, such as schizophrenia . Receiving a schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder diagnosis can be incredibly daunting because of this, and it can be difficult to learn how to embrace the diagnosis or at least feel neutral about it.
When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what schizoaffective disorder was. I had to do my own research to learn about the diagnosis, and when I found out it was connected to schizophrenia, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread. All I knew about schizophrenia was how I had seen it portrayed in the media, and I didn’t know how to connect myself to my diagnosis. I still experience feelings of shame when I tell people that I have schizoaffective disorder, and this is something that I wish I could change my feelings around. If you have just been diagnosed or have been diagnosed for a while and are feeling the same way, please know that you are not alone. These illnesses are so difficult to live with, and it is even harder when there is so much stigma that follows them in our culture.
The key to learning how to sit with a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis for me was to realize that this illness presents itself differently in every person, and my experience is my own. A second thing that helped me learn to sit with it was to disregard how this disorder, and schizophrenia, are portrayed in the media. Doing so taught me to disregard the negative way that some people treated me when learning about my diagnosis. However, this isn’t to say that receiving my diagnosis was easy. It took me a long time, and a significant amount of depression, before I came to the point where I felt neutral about my diagnosis. I still have a hard time with it some days, especially when I am really struggling with my symptoms, but it has gotten easier over time.
If you have just been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, I want to welcome you and to let you know that there is a significant community here waiting to love and accept you. Having this diagnosis is difficult but having support has significantly helped me to learn more about my illness while also learning how to manage flare-ups.
One thing to remember is that there might always be stigma surrounding schizophrenia and its subtypes, but there are others who have experienced this stigma as well who are there to love and support you. If you don’t find a support group in your area, there are groups on Facebook and The Mighty where I have found a lot of people who have become close to me and who have helped me learn to manage my illness while feeling more accepted myself.
No matter how you feel about your diagnosis, I want you to know that your feelings are valid. If you are struggling, I want to bring hope to you that it won’t always be this way. Having schizoaffective disorder — a severe mental illness — has most likely deeply affected your life and learning to manage it can be tricky. But if you take time now to give yourself grace, you can ease a lot of stress and tension that you may be experiencing. Your journey is your own, and however you experience your journey is valid. My hope for you is that you find others who you can share your experiences with and that you find your support group where you feel safe.
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