Mental Illness as a Lifestyle

Found a very thought-provoking post over at Ordinary Madness. Here’s the bit that really got me to thinking:

Identifying as “depressed” or “mentally ill” can be a good way of creating meaning in life, not only in finding a place in the world, but also to join a community of others and be able to be involved in something bigger than ourselves. When work and hobbies and home life are all severely impacted by mental distress it can become all-consuming, there can be a sense of “what would be left of me without my illness?”

One understanding crucial to weathering the suffering of mental illness is this: I am not my diagnosis. That said, I find the paragraph above to make great sense. Since being diagnosed, I have been embraced by a very supportive online community of fellow-sufferers. It is a chat room on IRC, and I have become a moderator there.

The mental illness support chat room where I am an ‘op’ is called The IRC Village, or just The Village. It is easily accessed through a website which pops up at the top of search results regarding mental illness. People come and go, some in crisis and reaching out, some friends or family of sufferers, some ‘normies’ who are just curious, some trolls… but there is a surprisingly large core group of long-term chatters, and it’s a truly great community of which to be a part. I don’t know where I’d be without The Village.

We give each other reality checks when the symptoms creep up on us. We share our stories, good and bad and wild almost beyond believing. We talk meds and side effects and treatment, reminding and encouraging each other to take the nasty drugs and to keep the trying appointments; remaining treatment compliant is critical to functioning in the world. Functionality is the bottom line. It comes with stability.

There are also those of us who are not treatment compliant, who need support too, maybe most of all. Drawing from our own experiences with psychosis we empathize with the delusions and hallucinations, depressions and manias and mixed episodes of both (oh, those are the worst!) “Manic Depression’s a frustrating mess.” – Jimi Hendrix.

In The Village, day to day, we keep each other company… chatting about the weather in our various parts of the world, what we’ve eaten or are fixing to eat, how fat we are and how many cigarettes we smoke (like 80% of people with schizophrenia are whales who smoke like chimneys), our loves, our lack of loves, our families – be they supportive, unsupportive, in denial, or downright abusive – and our friends.

As the passage from the post on Ordinary Madness asserts, mental illness can become all-consuming – not just the symptoms and side-effects and the endless drama of therapy, but also the camaraderie of and commiseration with fellow-sufferers. Often the clinics for the mentally ill house tight-knit little groups of patients. These clinics are sometimes called Clubhouses, and it’s a fitting term, because it’s a lot like a club. People in the same boat, you know, tossed by the same tempests…

In The Village, those of us with schizophrenia are the cool kids. Sz is kind of the ace in the deck of mental illnesses, it seems. It’s a one-in-a-hundred diagnosis, and entails the most terrifying and bizarre syndrome of symptoms. We who have Sz have been through the psychological wringer more excruciatingly than sufferers of mere garden-variety depression or anxiety, especially because both of those are also symptoms of Sz. Borderline? Bi-polar? Come and talk to me when you’ve seen aliens with your own two eyes, felt electric slugs crawling all over your body, and heard the voice of God. Or have known in your heart that you ARE God, or the antichrist, or an alien.

Yeah, so the suffering of symptoms and the trials of treatment are pretty much a lifestyle; plus, there’s this weird effect of being sort of ‘in’ in The Village or a Clubhouse because you have Sz or some other diagnosis, and it feels good to be ‘in’. So when the post on Ordinary Madness says, “there can be a sense of ‘what would be left of me without my illness?’,” I say, “amen.”

I’m a firm believer in the old saying “Pride goes before a fall.” That ‘in’ feeling is dangerous, as is allowing the lifestyle of mental illness to become the sum total of how you identify. I’ll close by repeating myself. One understanding crucial to weathering the suffering of mental illness is this: I am not my diagnosis.



    • True, AL – and my Sz was late-onset, so I lived a lot before it hit. In some folks, it starts so young, before they can get through college and start a career and know romance and such.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. It’s so important that we come to understand psychosis from a personal perspective. I have just published an article about schizophrenia – perhaps you’d like to have a read 🙂


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