Whenever I tell people I have schizoaffective disorder, I always get the same look. Well, two looks. One look is a “what is that?” quizzical expression. That’s why I’ve taken to saying that I have schizophrenia – people know what it is, and they are under the same diagnosis. But the main look I get is a sort of confused smile, as if to say, “…but you seem fine?”
There are millions of articles about living with invisible disabilities, about that “but you don’t look sick?” reaction, and I won’t bother rehashing them here. I would, however, like to emphasize that with my particular condition, when people “don’t seem fine,” they don’t seem fine. They’re likely to display highly erratic behavior, liable to make them lose their job, get arrested or be carted to a facility somewhere. The fact that I am appearing fine to you is because it is literally my biggest priority.
My days revolve around how to seem higher-functioning. I put up with auditory hallucinations – the almost-a-cliché “voices in my head,” – because they’re hideable, unlike the side effects of an antipsychotic:
Spasms or twitching
Because those symptoms look like someone who’s “not fine.” As long as the symptoms are firmly inside; as long as no one else would ever have to approach me and ask what was wrong with me instead of me volunteering the information, as long as I am passing, that is fine.
I’m about to have to write my graduate school applications, and the agony of not knowing how much to disclose is driving me, well… you get the picture.
Do I present myself as an eager beaver, up at 6 every morn ready for the day’s tasks like a good little lab monkey, despite the fact that my medications prevent me from waking up early and despite the fact that my reliability is shaky at best? Or do I disclose, and give them some real talk, and scare them off of the potential waste of time and money that I will always represent?
This is living with severe mental illness in the 21st century – functioning enough to not be in a home somewhere but not functioning well enough to ever actually excel at anything.