Check your feelings

Cindy Tuttle is director of the Sacramento chapter of Stamp Out Stigma

When you think of mental illness, do you feel scared? Confused? Disgusted? Empathetic?

This experience of a person with schizophrenia is a composite of true stories from people whom I know:

“I went to school with you when I was a child. Around the time we started high school, I began to have feelings and thoughts that I didn’t understand. Voices would talk to me. The world became a very fearful place. I woke up one morning in a hospital.

“It was then that you and I parted ways.

“I found it very hard to explain what was going on with me. I didn’t understand why I was in the hospital. My family didn’t know what to do.

“I was discharged to a board-and-care and assigned a counselor at a mental-health program. He helped me with many things. I began to realize that when I took my medication, I could do things that I hadn’t done for a long time.

“I learned all over again how to communicate with people. But when I try to interact with you these days, you seem scared of me. You don’t seem to know me anymore or want me around.

“I eventually found people who seemed to understand and who gave me a part-time job. Now I’m back in the community, but it’s been a long, hard road. I still feel afraid at times, but I’m getting better at living in society. Perhaps someday I’ll be comfortable here. I dare to dream of having a car and living on my own. Then I can smile and say I did it!

Many who struggle to maintain mental health do experience this isolation. Some of it is caused by the lack of information in the community about mental-health issues.

We have a program called Stamp Out Stigma, in which a panel of consumers of mental-health services shares experiences and tries to provide hope and education. We present to any group or organization who would like to learn more. Contact us if you’d be interested in hearing about what it’s like to live with mental-health issues.