To My Social Media Friends, From a Woman With Schizophrenia

Dear social media friends,

When I was in fifth grade, there was a boy named Kenny who sat behind me. Kenny had been diagnosed as hyperactive. He was constantly drumming on this desk, kicked the seat in front of him and occasionally started talking in the middle of class.

One day the school psychologist called me out of class and asked me to help Kenny settle down so his behavior wasn’t so disruptive. Apparently Kenny had told the psychologist I was a person he trusted. As an 11-year-old girl, this felt like a huge responsibility. On one hand, I had compassion and empathy and didn’t want to see Kenny hurt or mistreated. On the other, if I showed him too much attention I would be the object of cruel jokes by my classmates.

After that day, I occasionally told Kenny to settle down in class, but I didn’t show him too much kindness. If I could go back in time, I would hold his hands to keep them still, sit with him in the lunch room and try my best to be a calming presence and friend.

The thought of Kenny struggling with his illness so publicly, but all alone, makes my heart hurt.

It’s with the knowledge of this experience that I write to you about my own illness, paranoid schizophrenia. I’ve noticed any time a close friend of mine or family member posts the words paranoid schizophrenia on one of my social media sites, many of you unfriend or block me.

I realize there’s a great deal of misinformation and stereotypes that surround paranoid schizophrenia. I realize it may seem scary or weird to have a “friend” with that diagnosis. But I ask you to please give me a chance to dispel the myths surrounding my illness rather than shut me out altogether. 

The world of social media is frequently painful for me. I see people with breast cancer, heart disease and other illnesses receive so much support, good will and even fundraisers to offset their treatment. I can’t help but feel a little lost and hurt by a “community” that rallies around a person with one illness while completely locking out someone with another.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. I’m asking you for a small opening. I’m asking for the opportunity to show you the truth about someone living with paranoid schizophrenia. There are not too many times when we get the chance to make a choice that has a lasting impact on someone else’s life and well-being. You have that chance with me. If you decide to unfriend or block me, I can only hope someday you’ll come around. You might see me as I see Kenny now.  

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