Why I Detest Stereotypes

I abhor stereotyping people. As a writer, I wanted to publish a schizophrenia memoir where the illness was in a way almost secondary. I wanted to craft original characters that had real lives.

Long-term research indicates that about 15 percent of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia have a refractory form of this illness: unremitting symptoms. And 10 to 15 percent commit suicide according to the long-term studies.

This causes doctors and family members to extrapolate from the minority of patients and loved ones that NO ONE with schizophrenia can have a normal life or a better life.

I understand how a person can feel when their loved one has a refractory illness. I make the case for better research and better treatment for schizophrenia for individuals who have a severe form. I make the case for seeing who the person is as a human being not a mental patient.

My contention is that stereotypes are lies. Viewing everyone the same way because you interacted with one person who behaved that way is stereotyping.

And often it’s the mothers and fathers who stereotype their loved ones by saying: “My son’s a schizophrenic.”

Stop that. Right now.

Jill Bolte Taylor in her brilliant memoir My Stroke of Insight wrote that she needed everyone to believe she would recover when she had a stroke that paralyzed her.

Believe that your son or daughter can recover. Believe that individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia can recover.

Know that you don’t have, I don’t have, no one has the right to judge another person. We don’t have the right to write the end of their story before it begins. Neither do we have the right to think: “You were supposed to become a brain surgeon and now that you work at Rite Aid I’m disappointed in you.”

I abhor stereotypes of any kind. I’m writing a novel with an African American character so I’m set to read books written by and about African Americans.

My point I’m getting at is that no one’s a cardboard character. To quote Jodi Picoult from a radio interview: “People are more than the sum total of their disability.”

It’s a choice: we can focus on illness or we can focus on the beauty inside as well as outside of a person. And I think sometimes only seeing the symptoms and focusing on the hell blinds others to that beauty.

What I’m saying is two-fold: we can’t view recovery as the total absence of illness. Yet we can’t view the illness as the person’s identity in life.

I’m a writer: I’m interested in the contradictions inherent in everyone’s personality.

I’m a person in recovery: I’m interested in destroying stereotypes by writing about real people not about pathology.

And yes, I salute cashiers who work in Rite Aid just like I salute people who have other careers.

I’ll quote the title of an earlier blog entry that quoted the X song title:

“See who we are.”

See possibility in our pain. Break bread with us. Get to know us as people first.

There’s a word for this.

It’s called dignity.

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Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She owns a resume writing and career help business. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and a fitness buff.

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