Stop Using the Name of My Illness in Vain

My husband took me to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to celebrate our thirty-ninth anniversary. All along the Malecon, the boardwalk, are sculptures and statues. They are all visually striking and thought-provoking which fits the definition of art. Isn’t the purpose of art to entertain, to take the viewer out of their everyday existence for a few minutes or an hour? If every artist in the world only painted pretty red roses and blue skies, the world would be missing out on so much. How about a brown sky or purple grass? That’s the power of imagination. God gave humans the gift of creativity, I believe.

The statues were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Twenty-foot tall beings made out of bronze with elephant tusks and wearing clown shoes; a bench with big ears; strange-looking children climbing up a ladder to the sky and aliens with laps to sit in had us staring and gawking. I couldn’t look away. Tourists lined up to sit on a butt-shaped seat to have their pictures snapped. My husband Tony posed with a statue that looked like an adult with a child’s face and on its head was a hat with wings just like that old television program The Flying Nun. Maybe that is what it  represented-the power of art to cause the viewer to “fly away.” Who knows? That’s my opinion and everyone has the privilege of interpreting art in their own way. I did notice a statue of a woman golfer. It was done with skill. The human form of a young female was nearly perfect in proportion. But nobody stood and talked about it. No admirers and art critics even paused. It was ordinary. Not really unique, it was simply a statue of a girl swinging a golf club.

What does art have to do with my illness? Schizophrenia. I said it. I’m out of the closet. A woman walked up to us that day and gave her critique about a certain statue. The one that was my favorite, the one of a Plague Doctor, when doctors wore animal masks out in public. During the Middle Ages, doctors believed that the masks would frighten Death away.

The woman walked right up to me almost out of nowhere. At least I hadn’t noticed her before she got in my face. “Isn’t this something? Obviously the guy who made this stuff was Schizophrenic!” Then she walked away.

Why is the word schizophrenic used to describe anything unusual such as art, politics, even the weather? An artist is not automatically supposed to have Schizophrenia just because they used their creativity to make art. The premise isn’t even logical. Only people who have Schizophrenia can be artists, or all artists have the illness; those statements are not always true. So according to the woman, the artist had to have an illness in order to create a sculpture. Who said it was a male artist? Maybe a woman was the sculptor. Maybe there was more than one sculptor.

No one says “Oh! The weather is cancerous today!” News commentators have never called a politician Luekemic or Diabetic or Hypertensive, unless they were actually reporting this as information, not as a description of someone’s personality. Some artists do have a mental illness, but not all of them. Some writers suffer from diseases of the brain, but not all. Some musicians, movie stars, and athletes have mental illnesses, but not all of them.

I wanted to run after the woman and give her a piece of my mind, but the tourists would have seen me yelling and screaming about a word. And it is just a word. It’s a form of discrimination and ignorance to use the name of an illness so casually for something that has no relation to the disease. I am sensitive enough and smart enough that I would never remark “Oh, the weather is absolutely schizophrenic today” just because the wind was blowing hard and the temperature suddenly dropped thirty degrees. Why can’t people be more aware of what they’re saying? Nobody calls the weather manic-depressive or it has associative identity disorder. The list of mental diseases and conditions is quite extensive. Why pick on Schizophrenia? Is it because some schizophrenics are violent? Most schizophrenics are not violent. Anytime a murderer is found to have Schizophrenia, people think it’s the disease that caused the murder. This is not true. A disease does not kill people or cause bad things to happen to another person. All murderers are not schizophrenic! All schizophrenics are not murderers! There are different varieties of Schizophrenia and each person has different symptoms. Of course, some symptoms are common to the disease, but again, not every person has the same symptoms.

I hope people can become more aware of this illness. I hope people can stop calling anything out of the ordinary schizophrenic. This disease has biological and genetic origins. It is permanent, incurable but manageable with the right medication and treatment. I will discuss this more in another blog post.


Photo: Kat Jayne




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