I remember a conversation I had with a girl from school as if it were yesterday.
“F*** off. I hate you” she began. I was puzzled by this.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you’re a b****.”
Those were the first words she ever spoke to me. I hadn’t had any classes with her before this lesson so the only way she could know I was the person she thought I was would have been from the rumours that floated around school. I can assure you though, I wasn’t the person she thought I was and I never have been.
Most of the people I went to school with hated me. I was a stereotypical ‘geek’ in school. Frizzy hair, glasses and very quiet. As I always got good grades in school, kept myself out of trouble and worked hard in class, I was hated by many. None of them ever bothered to read the book inside the geeky cover.
If they had, they would have seen the real me. Yes, I had frizzy hair and wore glasses but I was only quiet around people I didn’t know very well. My friends knew that I was the noisiest one in the room when I was around them and I was always laughing and joking. So where had this idea come from that I was a terrible person that should be hated?
Once the bullying really got going, a lot of me changed. I spent most lessons trying to make sure people weren’t aiming projectiles at my head. This meant that I did very little work which in turn meant that I would get in trouble and my grades would drop. In my teachers eyes, I went from a ‘good’ student to a ‘poor’ student in the space of a year but this was again just my external cover. If any of my teachers had bothered to ask why I had changed, they would have known that I was struggling with depression and could maybe have helped me. The help never came.
The bullying at school led to me developing frequent migraines and I had to leave school at 16. I started an apprenticeship but was bullied here too. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to finish the apprenticeship, the damage had been done. Despite joining a college course at 18 where I wasn’t bullied, I began hearing a destructive voice that led to me being sectioned twice. I was eventually diagnosed with Schizophrenia at 21.
I keep my identity private now because of this diagnosis. The way the media portray schizophrenics is frankly shocking and I’ve yet to meet a schizophrenic who is violent towards anyone but themselves. Schizophrenia is probably the most misunderstood mental illness and I would really love to be a part of changing society’s opinion of this illness. Unfortunately however, society tends to look at the ‘cover’ of schizophrenia i.e. the portrayal of schizophrenics in the media.
I volunteered in a cafe for a few months last year and when I realised that I was getting too stressed to stay I sadly informed the manager that I would have to leave. He asked me why I was leaving and as I had built up a great amount of trust and respect for him, I told him my diagnosis. He was genuinely shocked and asked me if I was being serious! I don’t blame him for his shock as his only information about schizophrenia came from things he saw on the news. As I volunteered there, I don’t think he would have refused to let me volunteer on the basis of my diagnosis (and because he is a very understanding man!) but I often wonder, if I am open with my diagnosis with a potential employer, will they offer me a job?
Unfortunately, I believe the answer would be ‘no’ with the vast majority of employers. All but one of my jobs has required a satisfactory medical form to be filled out before employment is guaranteed and mental health questions have been on all of these forms. If an employer sees schizophrenia on my cover, will they want to get to know the person inside?
I developed depression at 13 and more than a decade later, it is still a part of me. I have had ‘happy’ periods in this time thankfully, but the black cloud has always kept me within its sights. Since joining Twitter recently, I have felt empowered by the brave ones who reveal their identity alongside their diagnosis and now I would dearly love to reveal my identity. I will do this when the time is right though, and not a second sooner.
As I have been diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia, you may be wondering why I have such a bizarre name as ‘Freakshow’. Surely, if I was trying to normalise schizophrenia, then I wouldn’t be calling myself that? Well, that name that means a lot to me and if you choose to get to know the person behind the Freakshow cover, you’ll soon see why!