Editor’s Note: Serene has been a avid supporter of The Tapestry Project and we are so honoured to finally feature her story on our platform! Living with schizoaffective disorder is not easy, and as with all mental illnesses, easily misunderstood. It is our hope that many would come to realise that illness has its roots in biology and is never our choice. Thank you Serene, for courageously sharing your story and for showing us that it is possible to live a full life in spite of a diagnosis. You are indeed extraordinary and beautiful. :)
We are all extraordinarily beautiful human beings.
My friend has depression. I learnt from him (which he learnt from his psychiatrist) that the frontal lobe of our brain plays a part in one’s sense of security. Frontal lobe development begins from the moment a baby is born, with the first 18 months being most crucial. If the frontal lobe doesn’t develop properly, the individual will grow up feeling insecure. This has nothing to do with external environmental factors like a history of repetitive abandonment, or unhealthy relationships; it is simply a matter of the brain being underdeveloped. No one blames the lame for not walking. Why then should anyone blame a depressed person for feeling insecure and being unable to find it within himself to feel emotional security? He is needy not because of a character flaw, but because he simply can’t help it.
I have schizoaffective disorder. Some people say it manifests itself as a “split personality disorder” because I appear to be two drastically different people when the illness is active and when it is dormant. I’d much rather like to describe it as an illness that causes delusions, and an inability to distinguish between what is real and what is not. This is not a case of someone with a warped sense of how important they are or self-delusion; this is a case of the release of either too much or too little brain chemicals, which in my circumstance, is too much serotonin. Just like how diabetic patients have to take medication to control their insulin levels, I too have to take medication to control my serotonin levels.
Despite our mental illnesses, we are normal human beings.
It hurts that we have to remind ourselves of this, because others tend to view us as somewhat strange or defective. In fact we are like anyone else who employs coping mechanisms to keep up with living life to the fullest. Some people wear figurative masks to protect themselves during social interactions. Others use money to win over affection. We are all human beings craving healthy relationships! It would do well for everyone to recognise that persons with mental illness are no different; they just have a harder time adjusting because of their brain make-up and chemistry.
If you take pains to understand one of us, you might find yourself discovering an extraordinarily beautiful human being. And you might begin to appreciate your own humanity more deeply too.
There is a saying that choices are illusions, but choosing in itself is very real. Your illness redirects your life. It is not necessarily a bad thing. It may be good or bad, depending on whether you let it break you, or not. The redirection may provide focus and purpose and freedom for your life, as I continue to experience.
This article is dedicated to our loved ones, especially to my friend’s wife and my fiancé, who have chosen us to love, care for and understand. Our lives have meaning because of you. Thank you.
Serene is an office worker whose hobbies include Chinese calligraphy and writing. She is blessed with a supportive family, and a husband who has chosen her despite her mild mental illness. She continues to struggle between keeping quiet, and doing her part to soften the mental illness stigma in society.