Sexism's Effects on Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder
Tuesday, August 25 2015 Elizabeth Caudy
Developing schizoaffective disorder is not thought to be an effect of sexism. But for me, the depression that would turn into my bipolar disorder that would turn into my schizoaffective disorder was fueled by sexism. I felt ugly and alone--and some have said that loneliness is the seed that grows into mental illnesses like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
Sexism's Effects on My Early Life
The year was 1991. The "riot grrrl" movement (feminist punk rock) was at its inception, but unlike twelve-year-olds today, I did not have access to the Internet, where I could have learned about riot grrrl. Like most twelve-year-olds in any era, I wanted to branch out and become part of the larger culture, and the only vehicle I had into the culture of my era was television.
What was on television at the time was problematic for a lot of reasons, but specifically it was very sexist. From beer commercials to Guns'n'Roses videos, young girls were being taught that if they did not look "sexy" in a very specific way, they were worthless. I may have developed depression anyway, but inhabiting a female body with this form of pop culture being shoved down my throat certainly didn't help.
I've looked at pictures of myself from around this time, and I was a beautiful, young girl. But I still didn't look like Axl Rose's girlfriend. And--this was the clincher--I didn't have a boyfriend. I know all young girls get depressed about these things, but my depression over not having a boyfriend gave way to a cavern of loneliness that would haunt me well into my teens and early adulthood, long after I had declared myself a feminist.
Effects of Sexism Include a Girl-Damaging Culture
The book Reviving Ophelia by Dr. Mary Pipher looks into the phenomenon of girls getting depressed by culture-- even to the point of self-harm. She wrote it in the 1990s, when I was going through it. Okay, so maybe my--and other girls'--depression can be explained by what Pipher calls a "girl damaging" culture, but what about schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder? Surely those ailments have nothing whatsoever to do with sexism?
Nothing happens in a vacuum. Like I said, my depression was the foundation for my schizoaffective disorder. If I was achingly, obsessively depressed-- more so than most girls when I didn't have a boyfriend, and I was either blissfully happy or agitated when I did have a boyfriend, then sexism at least contributed to my schizoaffective disorder, which is schizophrenia combined with bipolar disorder. One time, I even heard my voices say about me, "She's cute enough."
Feminism Helps Me Deal with Sexism and Schizoaffective Disorder
It took a lot of feminism and a lot of time to deal with and ultimately accept the weight gain caused by my schizoaffective disorder medications. I kept trying different medications and my moods and my weight would yo-yo. I think finding a husband who loves me unconditionally made me accept being large. I know that sounds very unfeminist. But what could be more feminist than marrying someone who loves you for who you are, no matter what, even though you're fat and have a mental illness?
Even if you’re not convinced that sexism contributed much to my illness, feminism definitely helps me deal with the bad body image I continue to struggle with. If I ever do find myself feeling bad about my body, I pop in a Margaret Cho DVD. I'm just trying to say that in my life, these aren't two separate issues. They're definitely connected.
How Feminism Affects My Recovery
Photo "Feminism" by Elizabeth Caudy.