Stigma Against Schizophrenia Prevented Me from Being Honest

Thursday, October 4 2018 Elizabeth Caudy

The stigma against schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder prevented me from being honest about why I left my first college. Learn how this affected me.

The stigma against schizophrenia caused me to be dishonest ("What Is Stigma?"). When I transferred from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), everyone wanted to know why. This puzzled me because it was obvious that SAIC is a top art school by global standards. Still, I wouldn’t have transferred if I hadn’t had a schizoaffective psychotic episode, but I couldn’t tell people that because of the stigma against schizophrenia.

Dealing with Stigma Against Schizophrenia

Being Newly Schizoaffective and Dealing with Antipsychiatry

I remember riding in a car with one of my high school friends who still lived in Chicago after I returned from RISD. We both grew up there. One of the reasons I transferred to SAIC was to be closer to home because of my diagnosis. My friend and I were talking about my decision to leave RISD, and I was giving him the soundbite I gave everyone—I had a bad experience with roommates in Rhode Island. This was true. What I left out of the soundbite was that the “bad experience” triggered paranoid delusions and I began hearing voices. I did this because of the stigma against schizophrenia and, since I was giving my friend an incomplete picture, he asked why I couldn’t just move in with other people. I don’t remember where the conversation went after that.

A lot of my friends considered themselves to be “free thinkers.” Because of that, they didn’t believe in psychiatric medications. They didn’t need them—and I didn’t need uninformed advice. Psychiatric medications saved my life. At first, I tried being honest about the medications. And one of my very close friends from high school dropped our friendship because of it. I got a lot of people telling me I shouldn’t be on psychiatric medication.

One fellow student at SAIC suggested I use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) instead of medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy is very helpful, and I use it along with medication. I told the SAIC student I wouldn’t trust my mental state without supportive medication. He replied, “You don’t trust yourself?”

I wanted to slap him. I didn’t know what to say. 

“How dare you?” would have been a good start.

Schizoaffective Disorder Stinks, But I Ended Up at a Better School

As I got to know SAIC better, I thought of other things to say. I wanted to communicate about my schizoaffective disorder and treatment, not fight about it. And communicating got easier because I was so much happier at SAIC. The school was more in tune with new developments in the contemporary art world than RISD was. Also, it had a performance art department, an art therapy department, and a writing department. The dorms and facilities were better. The liberal arts classes were much better.

Still, I’m angry I couldn’t be honest with people about the real reason I switched schools because of stigma against schizophrenia. Granted, this was 20 years ago. I’m not sure how much has changed, but now I can fill in the omissions I once made with confidence.

Author: Elizabeth Caudy

Elizabeth Caudy was born in 1979 to a writer and a photographer. She has been writing since she was five years old. She has a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, Tom. Find Elizabeth on Google+ and on her personal blog.

View all posts by Elizabeth Caudy.

Stigma Against Schizophrenia Prevented Me from Being Honest

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