My Response to a Schizophrenia Diagnosis: Advocacy, Awareness, and Education

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This article was written by Gillian Corsiatto

In the summer of 2017, I took the bus downtown to go to a regular appointment with my psychiatrist. It was a normal day; I remember it being very nice out. I remember wanting to ride my bike later.

I walked out of that appointment with a schizophrenia diagnosis.

The first person I told was my cousin. Then I told the internet. Then, my mom.

During the summer of 2017, I had a part-time job at a local library. I was very interested in animals and had a considerable interest in exotic pets. I wanted to go to school to be a zookeeper. I was a proficient musician on tuba. I had long, blonde hair and always put on mascara before going out. I could take public transit on my own to get where I needed to be. I lived with both of my parents and enjoyed going on solitary neighbourhood walks.

And I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

How could that be? I was so normal. I was just a regular teenager. 

A few days after the diagnosis, I was approached by a family member. They had spent the past few days doing some research on my diagnosis.

“I don’t think you have that.”

Was it because I could hold down a part-time job? Was it because I loved animals dearly? Was it because I could hear voices without anyone even being aware? Was it because I could be delusional yet silent?

She has grown to accept the diagnosis, as have I, as have all who know me. It is part of me. I can take meds, I can go to therapy, but I cannot rid myself of the diagnosis.

Community is so important. Solidarity can be part of this.

The first time I went to the group at the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta, I expressed interest to people I had never even met before in becoming part of their presentation team. Community Education Program, they called it.

I had an interview, and I was hired. I became part of the CEP team. I went out in the community and spoke about the most desolate parts of my personal schizophrenia story. I was intensely vulnerable. 

I was often met with applause. Sometimes laughter if I cracked a joke.

The community was supporting me.

I would go into school classrooms, and students would listen intently as I laid out how my life had been affected by illness. I would tell them of psych-ward stays, scary hallucinations, and medication side effects. They would take it all in and I could see on their faces that they were hanging on to every word.

I was met with compassion. 

No one was scared of me. No one was trying to tell me that I didn’t actually have schizophrenia. No one was avoiding me or ignoring me.

It was as if I was actually valued for having a psychotic illness.

These presentations still continue today. I feel great satisfaction after every presentation I do. The SSA has become a family to me. A home. A safe place where everyone is accepted.

In all honesty, completely throwing professionalism out the window, schizophrenia sucks. I don’t want it.

But when I go out into the community and let myself become completely vulnerable as I tell the most intimate details of dealing with the beast in my mind, the compassion and support I am given in return is undeniably rewarding. 

I always end my story by saying;

“Schizophrenia does not define me. I have schizophrenia. Schizophrenia doesn’t have me.”

CEP presentations are available across Alberta. There are several different branches of the SSA throughout our province. Each presenter brings something unique to the table. I am proud of all of them. I am proud to stand with them.

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