Rebecca Chamaa

@rebecca-chamaa | contributor
I have anxiety and schizophrenia
Rebecca Chamaa

My Review of 'Words on Bathroom Walls' as Someone With Schizophrenia

Before I even saw the movie “Words on Bathroom Walls,” I had two conflicting thoughts. One was, “I love young adult coming-of-age movies.” The other: “I hope this film doesn’t do more harm than good for the community of those of us with schizophrenia.” The movie did not disappoint in regards to my first thought. I’m a sucker for the complications of the teenage years with a love story thrown in. The second thought about harming the community with schizophrenia? It didn’t prove to be a concern like I feared. Adam, the main character, partially narrates the movie as a teenager talking to his psychiatrist. Adam has his onset of schizophrenia at school. According to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, the onset of schizophrenia typically occurs between 16 to 30 years of age, and males tend to present the illness younger than their female counterparts. As someone with schizophrenia, I liked how the movie made Adam a complex character with other interests and goals instead of focusing 100 percent on defining him by the diagnosis. I won’t give away too much by saying that not being defined by the illness is directly woven into the storyline. I also appreciated that Adam’s self-esteem became battered by receiving a diagnosis of schizophrenia because, with the stigma and stereotypes that currently exist around the illness, a person often can feel shame, embarrassment and a sense of loss of who they were and their potential. Adam experiences three prominent hallucinations that are both audio and visual. As far as I know, I have never had visual hallucinations, but 16% to 72% of people with a psychotic disorder have them. The development of Adam’s hallucinations struck me as authentic and accurate, though. When I hear voices, it is often three distinct voices with very different personalities, much like Adam’s hallucinations, only I don’t see the people behind the voices. One of my favorite parts of the movie was when Adam was talking to his psychiatrist about the difference between kids with other conditions and kids with schizophrenia. He tells his psychiatrist that everyone wants to make sure kids with some illnesses get their last wish, but with kids with schizophrenia, people push them away, ending up with them living on the streets. It is a beautiful monologue, and it captures the isolation and lack of services and support many with the illness experience. It is a great public service announcement about an illness that is still wildly feared and misunderstood. My other favorite part of “Words on Bathroom Walls” was the support and acceptance Adam received (not from everyone). People with schizophrenia often need a wide range of services to live their best possible life. I know, for example, there is no way I would be writing this review without the people in my life who had stayed strong when my world was crumbling, and symptoms were at their worst. Adam struggles with taking his medication because of the effects, which is a common concern for most of us with schizophrenia. We try to find a balance between feeling numb, or overly tired, or a list of health problems weighed against the stability of a regular medication regime. Adam also has treatment-resistant schizophrenia (TRS). According to Nature Journal, 34% of people with schizophrenia have TRS. The persistence of symptoms characterizes it despite antipsychotic medication. That is why, in the movie, there is only a short period where Adam is symptom-free. I’m giving “Words on Bathroom Walls” five stars or two thumbs up for managing to avoid stereotypes, creating a hopeful representation of schizophrenia and an excellent coming of age story. You can find showtimes for “Words on Bathroom Walls” here.

Rebecca Chamaa

A Woman With Schizophrenia Reviews 'I Know This Much Is True'

This weekend I watched the first two episodes of HBO’s limited series, “I Know This Much Is True.” The series is based on the book by Wally Lamb of the same name. The story centers around the lives of identical twin brothers, Dominick and Thomas. Dominick is the caretaker of his brother Thomas, who has schizophrenia. I wanted to watch this series because I, too, have schizophrenia, and I need to see the illness I have lived with for over two decades portrayed in artwork and the media. The story is told through varying timelines. We see stories of when the boys were in grade school, and the timelines span to when they are in their 40s. The opening scene is a narration by Dominick about an incident with Thomas, one that happened in a public library when both men are approximately 40 years old. The event is one of self-mutilation. We also see an earlier time when Thomas was mad at Dominick, so he jumped out of the car and ran across several freeways in oncoming traffic. Thomas’s behavior in the first episode is childlike, with religiosity, slow speech and meltdowns. After their mother dies, and Dominick swears to her on her deathbed to take care of Thomas, we learn part of the reason Dominick feels so responsible for his brother. From an argument between Ray (the abusive stepfather) and Dominick, it is clear that Ray believes Thomas would be fine if their mother had allowed him to raise him the way he wanted to. We learn through this same argument that Dominick believes schizophrenia, the diagnosis that Thomas has, is a genetic disorder and involves an abnormality in the brain. Although we learn in the second episode that Thomas has lived in a psychiatric facility or group home-like setting for several years, Dominick is his caretaker in many ways. He is his brother’s advocate, involves him in family functions and stays involved with his treatment. The second episode focuses much more on what happens to Thomas after his act of self-mutilation in the library. Thomas is committed to a forensic hospital, and Dominick tries to intervene and get him back to the facility where he is familiar. Dominick meets the social worker and the psychologist at the new facility. As Dominick battles the system, we learn a great deal about his anger, his struggles and his conflicts about his brother. At this point, he calls Thomas “an anchor” and “his curse.” I found both episodes very difficult to watch for different reasons. As someone with a severe mental illness, I found the self-mutilation and running through traffic to be triggering for self-harm and intrusive thoughts. In scenes from when the twins are little, Ray could trigger those with the lasting trauma of an abusive parent. Also, the representation of schizophrenia in the first episode seemed off to me. It seemed like Thomas could have a multitude of disorders, and schizophrenia seemed unlikely. I say this because even during times when I was psychotic, I have been able to speak clearly. Also, there is no helping the audience understand that he may be hearing voices, which is common in schizophrenia and has been a part of almost every episode I have ever experienced. As the first episode wraps up, we see Thomas physically restrained and committed, and Dominick tackled by security guards. I didn’t think I was going to be able to continue with the series because of the intensity of the first episode. After a two day break for me, HBO put up the second episode, and I went back to watch it. In the second episode, I felt like it was clear that Thomas had schizophrenia because his symptoms mirrored my worst symptoms in many ways. In this episode, Thomas displays paranoia, delusions, persecution and conspiracy theories. The representation of schizophrenia in the show so far shows the illness on one of the more extreme sides of the spectrum, as Thomas is never stable or clear thinking. But I do think it is an accurate depiction of how schizophrenia looks in some people’s lives. I happen to weave in and out of symptoms in my daily life, but Thomas seems to have constant and persistent symptoms of the illness, which is just as accurate a depiction as someone who can go years or months or weeks without symptoms. The hardest part to watch in episode two is the collateral damage of the diagnosis of schizophrenia. It shows that the family can often try very hard and have little to no control over the treatment of their loved one, and it shows that a diagnosis of schizophrenia affects more than one person — families and loved ones are affected as well. In my case, my husband has been impacted the most by my illness, and the less than subtle reminder was heartbreaking. I plan to watch the rest of the series. Although it is difficult to see these issues brought up and acted out, so much of it is authentic for many families, and although I don’t like to think of the illness I have as this extreme or challenging for others, the truth is it can be and is. There are four more episodes, and they will be released one at a time on HBO on the following Sundays: May 24 , May 31 , June 7 and June 14. Content Warnings: self-harm, verbal abuse, restraints in a psychiatric setting Rating:

Rebecca Chamaa

Response to Dan Patrick: Lives Are More Important Than the Economy

On Monday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson interviewed Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick about the state of the economy due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The controversial interview went viral on social media because Patrick seemed to suggest senior citizens should sacrifice their health for the good of the economy. According to the CDC, people over age 65 are at a higher risk for severe illness if infected by COVID-19. “I am not living in fear of COVID-19. What I’m living in fear of is what’s happening to this country,” Patrick said, adding: You know, Tucker, no one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in. Texas Lt Gov Dan Patrick went on national tv & argued elderly people should die for the health of the market. Capitalism is a system that priorities profits over people. This fight is literally a matter of life or death. Battle lines are being drawn. Which side are you on? pic.twitter.com/GI3LQZG7uo— Chris Brooks (@chactivist) March 24, 2020 He went on to say that he’s not the only one, that countless grandparents in this country care about their grandchildren more than anything (implying these grandparents would risk exposure to COVID-19 if it would “save” America for their grandchildren). “We are having an economic collapse. So, my message is that, let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it,” Patrick said. “Those of us who are 70 plus, we will take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country. Don’t do that. Don’t ruin this great American dream.” As you might expect, people were not happy with his comments. I am fortunate, at 54, I still have both of my parents and both of their spouses. Every morning and every evening, my mother, who is 82 years old, sends me several videos on Snapchat. One day she might send me a picture of her with a mustache and beard, and another day she might use a filter that has her looking like a dog driving a car. I love these videos, and it may surprise people that my mother, who is inarguably a senior citizen, uses the kinds of social media that are mostly used by young adults, teens and children. The point here is my mom, although in her 80s, is far from done living. She still learns new technology to keep up with her adult children and adult grandchildren. My dad, who is 84, doesn’t keep up with technology, but he has helped raise two of his grandchildren (on his wife’s side). He was home for them when they got out of school, fixed them snacks, taught them games and watched as they rode their bikes up and down his street. Three years ago, a great-grandchild entered my dad’s life. Although he isn’t physically capable of taking care of this next generation, he loves to watch him grow, play and learn about the world around him, and my dad is an important figure in his great grandson’s life. Neither one of my parents has given up living, and to suggest that they should give up their lives to save the economy is not a price they should pay. My parents have paid their dues. Between my mom and dad and both of their spouses, they have raised 10 children. They gave their time, they worked at sometimes pitifully low-paying jobs, and they helped educate each of their children who wanted to go to college. All of my parents (biological and step) have sacrificed years for their country (serving in the military, raising kids that went into the military, paying taxes, doing manual labor that kept services running). They have owned small businesses, shopped for goods and services, owned homes and they all continue to help other people make money. They have helped other people make money for most of their long lives. My parents are not throwaway citizens. They are citizens that still support the economy and continue to help their children and grandchildren. If we were to lose millions of seniors to COVID-19 , it would take an emotional toll on generations of Americans from my age on down. It would wipe out industries that they pay for like retirement homes, physicians who specialize in geriatrics and all the other goods and services they support. I can’t even believe I have to point out that they are taxpayers, too, and deserve the protection of our government like every other citizen of the United States. I want my parents around for as long as I can have them. I’ll take the chance that my 401K will turn around eventually. I won’t put profit ahead of their lives. Concerned about coronavirus? Stay safe using the tips from these articles: Which Face Masks Prevent Against Coronavirus? How Is the New Coronavirus Treated? How to Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer What You Should Know About Social Distancing During COVID-19 8 Soaps You Can Use to Help Prevent the Spread of Illness 10 Face Masks People With Chronic Illness Recommend

Rebecca Chamaa

Burger King's 'Real Meals' Don't Do Enough for Mental Health

On the surface, it seems good for Burger King to partner with Mental Health America and sell “Real Meals” (as a poke at McDonald’s Happy Meal) in order to raise awareness that it is OK not to feel happy all the time. During Mental Health Awareness Month, the meals will be available at a handful of locations, however, the meals, with the names Yaaas Meal, DGAF (Don’t Give a F…), Salty Meal, Pissed Meal and Blue Meal, seemed aimed at the people having a bad day rather than at people who contend with a mental illness. As someone with a severe mental illness, I’m frustrated that once again, the people who are at the forefront of our discussion around mental health are those having a bad day or feeling a little sad or angry. The same thing happened with the self-care movement (according to Slate magazine self-care was originally a medical practice). When it first appeared, the term referred to treatments that many of us practice as adjuncts to our medications that help keep us stable, but now it has turned into a whole industry (9 to 11 billion dollars worth) for people who are well and now consider a soak in the bath or binge-watching Netflix as self-care. We seem to focus on raising awareness about people who, though tired, frustrated, overworked or stressed, are essentially healthy, rather than focusing on the vast numbers of people living with mental illness who are homeless and incarcerated. I don’t think all the news is bad, though. While I rarely mention my schizophrenia diagnosis, I do find it easier and more socially acceptable to talk about the times I have experienced depression and to discuss my generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety and depression are two conditions that are more commonly talked about because celebrities have publicly discussed having these disorders. And depictions of anxiety and depression in movies and magazines are more common, and average people are more willing to disclose these diagnoses. While this is great, I wish the same were true for severe mental illness. Sadly, it is not. When Burger King or any other corporation starts selling a product that has to do with hallucinations, paranoia, delusions or suicidal ideation, I will know that it is safe to talk about all of my symptoms and not just one or two of them. While mainstream mental health awareness campaigns like this put attention on those having a bad day or feeling negative emotions, stigma is fierce and stereotypes still rule the day for those with severe mental illness. This piece originally appeared on Medium. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Rebecca Chamaa

Making a Chronic Illness Advent Calendar

When I was growing up, we had a felt advent calendar in our living room to count down the days until Christmas. The first one to wake up in the morning removed the little piece of felt, and a picture as a star or poinsettia and the day’s date became visible. When my niece and nephew were little, I used to buy them the same type of calendar at Trader Joe’s, and each day they could open the tiny door on the box to eat a piece of chocolate hidden inside. Because December and the holidays can be tough on people, especially those with a physical or mental illness, I try to get myself and my husband through the season in the best state of mind possible. One way I do that is to create a twist on the advent calendar every year. Last year I put 25 clothespins on a string and hung it across a wall in the living room. I clipped a piece of paper to each pin. On the front of the paper was a number from 1 to 25, and when my husband opened each piece of paper, he found a random act of kindness to complete that day. One day his act was to open the door for a stranger. Another day it was saying “hi” to five people he passed on the street. Another day it was leaving $1.25 in quarters in the laundry room so someone could do a free load of washing. This year I am going to take 25 envelopes and 25 recipe cards and write an inspirational quote on each one. The same idea can be a self-care routine for someone with a chronic physical or mental illness, but instead of inspirational quotes, there can be a simple action for the person to complete that day. Some of my suggestions for a self-care calendar include: eat one of your favorite foods today, draw a picture or burn your favorite candle. Make yourself a cup of tea and stare out the window while you sip it, take a nap, read at least two articles from your favorite magazine or start a new book. Someone else might like things like call your best friend, take a social media break, watch an episode of your favorite show or one of your favorite movies. There are endless ideas you can use for this gift to your friend or loved one, and the better you know them, the easier it will be. If you want to make it even more elaborate, on some days you could include a small gift with the self-care suggestion, such as a candle, a book by their favorite author or the latest copy of their favorite magazine. I wouldn’t get carried away though; the beauty of creating this gift is in the thought and time spent putting it together. It’s the thought that counts — and with this gift, your thoughts will count every day.

Rebecca Chamaa

Lessons From Schizophrenia as a Married Couple

In my experience as a woman living with schizophrenia, each episode leaves a partner, spouse, parent or child praying to whichever higher power they believe in that their loved one will come back. In our relationship, my husband and I try not to think too much about the “what ifs.” What if I start hearing voices again? What if I lose touch with reality? What if I won’t talk because God or Jesus is having a very loud conversation with me? Dwelling too much on the what ifs make life sad, terrifying and full of a sense of loss and grief. Instead of what ifs, we focus on what we have today. Right after an episode, when healing is starting, the fear and devastation still darkening us like a shadow, we take time in small increments. For instance, breakfast. Was breakfast good? Yes, breakfast was good. Then after breakfast, we laughed at a video we made together. So, mid-morning was good? Yes, there was laughter; mid-morning was good. As we start to distance ourselves from an episode, and positive experience build up along with a sense of some normalcy, we start to gauge time by days instead of moments. We ask each other over dinner, “What are the best things that happened to you today?” As a couple, no one has ever asked us how we handle, manage and live a life with schizophrenia hanging over us. It is an illness. Like some others, it can break your heart time and time again. My husband is always thankful when I am aware he loves me unconditionally and I am always thankful when I recognize him as an ally and my biggest fan. We are aware that recognition can change and I might see him as an enemy, not a friend but a foe. When there is a shift or my world suddenly turns on its axis, my husband is left alone without a partner for days, weeks and even months. So far, I have always returned from that dark world of hallucinations and delusions and regained my role as partner, collaborator and friend. If nothing else, schizophrenia is a teacher, although a painful one, about the significance of being present for the ones you love and feeling gratitude for the mundane.

Rebecca Chamaa

7 Gift Ideas for Someone With Schizophrenia

In our busy world of smartphones and social media, giving people our time and undivided attention is often the most valuable and cherished gift we can give. The gift of time and companionship can mean even more to people with schizophrenia, who may isolate socially or have social anxiety. Both of these symptoms mean they can spend the majority of their time alone. Without breaking the bank, here are some gifts that can benefit the person on your list who has symptoms of schizophrenia. 1. Offer to take her/him to a museum. 2. Plan a lunch date. 3. Buy her/him a gift card to a coffee shop (a chance to spend time in public with other people). 4. Plan a hike and picnic. 5. Plan a fun night, popcorn, soda, candy and her/his favorite movie(s). 6. Plan to explore a new part of your town or city by bike or on foot. 7. Pay for her/him to take a class at a local community college or even online. People can be uncomfortable around a person with schizophrenia. Letting someone with schizophrenia know they are desired company and a valuable part of a larger community can be gift enough. It can be given with no money and no special plans. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Image via Thinkstock.

Rebecca Chamaa

Cupcakes and Humor: Ingredients in My Marriage With Anxiety

My husband deals with so much disappointment due to my illness, but he would never say that or even show it. I know and can see it is true though. When we first met, I would drive from Seattle to Los Angeles by myself to visit him. I haven’t driven a car in the last eight months. My husband and friends drive, or I take the bus or walk whenever I have to go out. Cupcakes and humor. When we first started dating, I would fly (even overseas) by myself. Now, when we travel we have to plan the trip around certain times of day (less anxiety), and we have to pack and prepare in ways to try to make the trip as pleasant and as smooth as possible. I almost always am overcome by anxiety at some point in every trip (usually at the airport and on the airplane). Cupcakes and humor. I was once so independent compared to how I am now. I was once so social and active. Now, we spend a lot of energy to make sure my life is as stress-free as possible to keep symptoms at a minimum. I stay at home and have minimal stress or interactions during the day. I even limit what I post on social media to avoid confrontation with others (stress). Cupcakes and humor. I know my husband would enjoy socializing more, but I will rarely agree to go with him. (Isolating socially is a real symptom of schizophrenia and one that has increased in me every year.) There is so much my husband enjoys that he has given up to help provide me with the kind of environment I need to give me the most symptom-free existence. Cupcakes and humor. For all the sacrifices my husband makes, I try to be a supportive partner when I can. Once a month, my husband asks me to make cupcakes because he has taken it upon himself to celebrate the birthdays of everyone in his office. My husband reminds me on the last Monday of every month, “If you feel up to it tomorrow, then can you please make cupcakes?” It wouldn’t matter if I were struggling with my worst symptoms. I would try not to let him down by having the kitchen counter free of the little cakes that help him lift the morale of his coworkers. It is so little to ask of me. In the past six years, I have never once let him down. Cupcakes and humor. When I am comfortable, I make up random songs and sing them constantly. I am a terrible dancer, but I love to shake a little booty with absolutely no sense of rhythm while walking from one room to the other in the house. I love to tell a lively story about anything and everything. To make this simple, I love to see my husband break into a belly laugh or at least a big smile, and no one can do that to him the way I can. So yes, it is the simple ingredients that hold even strained marriages together. May I suggest cupcakes and humor? Image via Thinkstock.

Rebecca Chamaa

What I Want to Tell Anyone Who Puts Their 'Mental Illness' Label First

When I was in my early 20s — before my diagnosis — I identified as a woman, as a social worker, as an aunt, sister, daughter, wife, liberal, etc. Then, with my original diagnosis of bipolar disorder, my entire view of myself changed. There was a shift inside of me. I had to make mental illness part of who I was because now I had a label. Was it the biggest part of who I was? Did it influence or outweigh the rest of my identity? I didn’t know the answers to these questions. I think the way the medical establishment gives out a diagnosis and then expects you to come up with a way of reorganizing your identity to include the new label is often cruel. I guess that’s where psychotherapy comes in. I adjusted without therapy, though. In fact, I haven’t been in psychotherapy since before my diagnosis (with the exception of a few sessions with a therapist while I was psychotic eight years ago). But if I had worked with a good and ethical therapist at the time of my diagnosis, I might have not lived for two 20 years in silence, ashamed of revealing my illness. I might have been able to see my diagnosis as it is — a disease like any other. I might have developed the confidence and self-esteem necessary to live openly as someone with a mental illness. Instead, I hobbled along with my husband in the dark for nearly 20 years, keeping my illness a secret from the majority of people in our lives. It’s possible that I over-identified with being mentally ill, and was ashamed of so much of myself because of it. I worry about people over-identifying with their illness, who see their illness as the biggest part of how they define themselves, living their lives through a lens of a diagnosis instead of thousands of other wonderful things. I try not to identify too much with my illness now. I try to identify with things like being a woman, being a partner, being a writer, being a student. I put all of these things before having schizophrenia. I read blogs and articles written by people with a mental illness every day, and I see it all the time — the primary way that some people define themselves is as a mentally ill person. There is nothing wrong with living without shame, but I believe to tie yourself up in your struggles first instead of your strengths can hinder your happiness. I’m an old-timer where mental illness is concerned, and I’ve learned a thing or two. If I could give people a bit of advice to have the chance at the best life, I would say: search and find those things that make you happy and identify with them first. Be a painter. Be a writer. Be a poet. Be a musician. Be an accountant. Be a mother. Be a father. Be a mechanic. Be a teacher. Be a friend. Be a partner. I believe we should take a list of all the things we are, and at the very end tack on the label — schizophrenia or bipolar, or anxiety disorder, or depressed. Make your mental illness the very least of the ways you identify. You are so much more than a diagnosis, and you have to prove it to yourself before anyone else will believe you. A version of this post originally appeared on A Journey With You.

Rebecca Chamaa

How Having Schizophrenia Has Made Me a Better Person

Don’t get me wrong — I wish there was a cure for schizophrenia so people could say goodbye to this often debilitating and life-threatening illness. I try hard not to romanticize mental illness in any way, but I also want people to know the consequences of having a severe mental illness have not been all negative. Here are five ways that living with schizophrenia has made me a better person: 1. Having schizophrenia increased my compassion and empathy. I care about everyone who suffers from schizophrenia, not just me. I think about the homeless and the people in prison, and the people who are medication-resistant. I think of all those people who may have it worse than me, and I try to advocate for them. I write about their struggles and try to get others to pay attention. I frequently write to my representative in Congress. I not only care about people with schizophrenia, I care about all people who have, or have had to suffer. I know what it’s like to suffer and can sympathize with people who have lived through trauma or are dealing with a chronic or mental illness. 2. I don’t take anything for granted. Two strangers rescued me from two suicide attempts. My illness nearly killed me. I feel lucky to be alive. Knowing that I came so close to losing my life gives me a different perspective on almost everything that happens to me. I feel like every day is a gift that I almost didn’t get to experience. This knowledge makes being grateful and thankful almost second nature. 3. I work hard at relationships. I know there are times when dealing with my illness is difficult for the people who are closest to me. When I’m stable, I make every effort to be there (in any way possible) for the people who have supported me, because I know their care has contributed to my treatment. I actively appreciate friends and family. 4. I am stronger. Life has its ups and downs, disappointments and tragedies for those of us who have schizophrenia and those of us who don’t. Dealing with a severe mental illness has made me better at dealing with the tough stuff that comes up in life. 5. I am full of hope. I have spent up to six months in an active state of psychosis. My prognosis was bleak. I recovered from that long-lasting episode and went on to start a new career, make friends and enjoy life again. When the unlikely happens to you, you tend to believe that it can happen to anyone. I would be the first to get in line if there was a way to cure schizophrenia, but since that day hasn’t come yet, right now you’ll find me looking for something worth keeping in a pile of mud. And there is something worth keeping — it’s me and all the ways I’ve grown from having to live with a severe mental illness. It has knocked me out and knocked me down, but I keep getting up better than the last time. Schizophrenia is not going to win. I’ve got some awesome tools and can put up a good fight. All rights reserved. A version of this article originally appeared on PsychCentral.com as “5 Ways Schizophrenia Made Me a Better Person.” Reprinted here with permission. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.