Schizophrenia Is Not a Dirty Word

By Harlee JohnsonMay 17, 2021

This piece is part of our Mental Health Month blog series, where we highlight and explore lesser-known mental health challenges. Here’s Harlee’s experience with and perspective on schizophrenia. 

I remember the first day I heard my name and schizophrenia used in the same sentence. My world stopped turning that day. It felt like I had left my body and was watching as an outsider. “This can’t be happening to me,” I thought. I mean, just turn on the news and you’ll find people with schizophrenia depicted as unhinged humans who kill, harm, and wreak havoc. That was most certainly not me. But you see, I was buying into a lie. The lie society tells us through Halloween costumes and TV shows and movies where people diagnosed with schizophrenia are portrayed as monsters.

After being diagnosed, incessant worry and fear of the future followed. Would I graduate college? Would I be a good mom? Would I ever get married? Would I end up in a psych facility forever? The list went on and on. Why? Because schizophrenia was a “dirty word” and one I never wanted to associate with myself.

It took time in the form of years, lots of therapy, and support from friends and family for me to come to terms with this illness. Before, I couldn’t even say the word out loud. Accepting the illness was just as difficult as recovering from and managing it. And can I let you in on a little secret? I still struggle sometimes. Overcoming your mental illness isn’t a place you ever fully arrive at. It’s a journey, day by day, month by month, year by year. And there are a lot of things you’ll need throughout that journey: people to come alongside you on the days you’re so worn down you don’t even want to open your eyes; tons and tons of grace for yourself; music, coffee, and lots of chocolate.

But most importantly, you’ll need to keep showing up. And you are worth showing up for. You are worthy of love from others and love from yourself. Schizophrenia (or any other mental illness) doesn’t define you or disqualify you from life. Schizophrenia isn’t a monster or a dirty word; it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. One that is no fault of our own, nor is it something we choose or control.

The National Institute of Mental Health describes it as, “a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality, which causes significant distress for the individual, their family members, and friends. If left untreated, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be persistent and disabling. However, effective treatments are available. When delivered in a timely, coordinated, and sustained manner, treatment can help affected individuals to engage in school or work, achieve independence, and enjoy personal relationships.” 

Words like “however” and “effective treatment” are the keywords in that definition. So, with that being said, take your meds, go to your appointments, call that friend, and show up for your life. It is and can still be beautiful.

Your diagnosis is not the end of your story. Healing is still possible. Treatment exists. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Comments (5)

  1. M

    Thank you so very much for writing about schizophrenia. The illness destroyed my family and took a life, and left me with a fear of “inheriting” that will probably never leave me, but thanks to you and others like you who are willing to talk about what life is like with this illness, I’m not so scared anymore — 50 years since this illness took my family away. God bless you!

    Reply  |  
  2. Ruth Muyskens

    Again I have been diagnosed with the same terrifying thing and it does feel like your world stops and their is not any place to get off…

    Reply  |  
  3. Ruth Muyskens

    Isn’t their any way to get off…this Merry go round?

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      We are sorry what you are carrying is heavy and terrifying. Holding on to a ride you’d rather get off of or wish would stop takes so much out of you. We do believe there are things and people that can help manage and lighten the load. And we do hope that you remember that while the things we carry and endure can be burdensome, we ourselves are not burdens. You are not a burden.

      You can email us at [email protected] if you’d like a safe space to share, encouragement, or help with finding resources. We’re here.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  4. Taelor Nall

    When I received my schizophrenia diagnosis I remember promptly leaving the office and bawling in my car. Would I be a violent psychopath now? Would they lock me up forever? I didn’t know what to expect now that I had this new label on me. Anytime I was expected to share my diagnosis I cringed saying the word “schizophrenic” because I feared the judgement that would ensue after I said it. If I had an “episode” I felt like anyone around me would become fearful, unable to handle my symptoms and send me off to the hospital once again. I felt like I had been cursed now. I still struggle with the fear of judgement today, but I’m slowly learning to accept myself as I am and the funny thing is, I don’t need any sort of label to define myself. I am me and I am special, worthy, and unique. Sure there are times I may hear or see things that others may not, but that doesn’t make me any less of a person who is worthy of love and support. I am not a violent psychopath who needs to be locked up in a state hospital. I am a human being, I am me. I thank my doctor for helping me get on medications to assist my symptoms but I’m still allowed to have my moments. I’m still allowed to have bad days. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade my illness for anything in the world because my struggles make me who I am and give me strength. And they’re also going to help other people someday too. There is no such thing as “normal” and I’m okay embracing my diagnosis. It’s just a word to me, and it doesn’t mean that I have to let it hold me back from living my life anymore. I’m not violent and I don’t live in a hospital. I work, I have family, I go to classes and I do the best that I can do each day. And for that, I’m proud of myself. Don’t let anyone’s labels for you keep you from being yourself and living your best life. It’s still possible to achieve your dreams no matter what diagnosis you have. And no matter what, the right people in your life are going to love who you are no matter what and that’s all that really matters in the end.

    Reply  |  
Get Email Updates

Sign up for our newsletter to hear updates from our team and how you can help share the message of hope and help.