Allie Burke

Paper Souls

Hand me that Cape; I am Schizophrenia Girl

How we are defined by our mental illnesses

Posted Jul 27, 2015

Gratisography
Source: Gratisography

Any good author takes grand strides to brand themselves, and I do try my best to be a good author, even if the "powers at be" (supposed) don't always (ever) agree with my methods. It wasn't as if I was like hey, schizophrenia is my brand, please go buy my books, because at the time that I decided to come out of the mental health closet, I hadn't even written anything on mental health yet, but it did in fact open a world to me that supported me in finishing Paper Souls—a novel about a woman with schizophrenia, which was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I said I had schizophrenia and two years later I was with a publisher, I was acting VP of a non-profit dedicated to eradicating the stigma of mental illness, writing for Psychology Today, involved in another non-profit dedicated to people with disabilities, all while working my full time day job that pays the bills. If, when I left my ex-husband and told the world I had schizophrenia, you told me this is where life would take me, I’d probably laugh in your face and then tell you that you are crazier than me.

But, such is life. Life is fucking crazy, and when we think about how crazy it is, it only gets crazier. We can only hope that it is crazy in a good way, which mine is.

If there was ever a time when I stopped and thought, people are going to forget who you are, I don’t know if I would have done it. With all the people in my real world who tell me how amazing it is that I have helped so many people, that’s a hard pill to swallow, but I don’t want to be Schizophrenia Girl. I never wanted that. If I thought for a second that all of the connections I’ve made would only want to talk to me if schizophrenia is being discussed; if they only cared what I had to say when they were in an argument with someone about mental health; if they only felt the need to ask me how I’m doing day in and day out because I’m on meds and not because they saw that new mod I got or because they are reading the same book as me; if I knew that was what I would become to who knows how many people—Schizophrenia Girl—I don’t know that I’d have ever even said that I was schizophrenic. I mean, it’s more than that, right? I’m more than that? I have a soft spot in my soul for YA romance, I’m not DC or Marvel, I love vaping, my Infrared Air Max 90s are my favorite shoes to wear, there exists a man who secretly holds my heart in his hands, I have a passion for street art—specifically Banksy, my favorite movie is Perks of Being a Wallflower, sometimes I watch Vogue fashion shows in Paris over an entire pint of ice cream, and I think that both Shepard Fairey and John Green are the great brilliant minds of our time.

I am willing to bet that no one reading this knows all of it already. Why? Because no one ever asks. They ask me how I’m doing, which is very nice, but they never really want to talk about anything but schizophrenia. The latest article about how cats or coffee causes schizophrenia or Allie, can you please shut this person down on their beliefs about mental illness because you can do it better than I can.

My work with Stigma Fighters and everything else mental health related means one very important thing to me, and that is eradicating the stigma associated with mental illness so that we can be undefined by our diagnosis, but I find this very difficult when all anyone—most of all, the advocates—wants to talk to me about is schizophrenia. Yes, I am schizophrenic, but I am not Schizophrenia Girl. I have wants and dreams and desires and if I had my way, I’d probably just sit at home and read all day and not talk to anyone. Not because I’m schizophrenic but because I’m tired of being labeled as schizophrenic and I don't want to talk to anyone about it anymore. I would really like people to look past the mold to try to see that there is a person behind there. That goes for everyone with a mental illness. Choose to see them. There is a person behind there, and I’m willing to bet that if you ask the friends I keep in my real world life about my schizophrenia, they would laugh in your face, like I might have if you told me this would be my life.

She’s not anti-social or crazy. She just loves to read.

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