What’s In a Name?

This is our first blog post! Enjoy!

By Eric Sullivan

One morning, many years ago, I was eating breakfast while my dad was reading the paper across the table from me. Everything was quiet for several minutes, when all of a sudden my dad sighed heavily with disgust.

“Listen to this: ‘The schizophrenic man has been homeless for years,’” he said.

I paused for a moment and then asked, “So what’s the problem?”

“It should read, ‘The man with schizophrenia has been homeless for years’, or: ‘The man, who has schizophrenia, has been homeless for years.’”  he replied.

I said I didn’t get the distinction.  My father clarified, “When someone says “schizophrenic” it implies that that is a person’s defining characteristic and it’s negative, whereas ‘with schizophrenia’ or ‘who has schizophrenia’ imparts that the illness is just one aspect, maybe an incidental aspect, of many that make up a person.”

He said he was going to call the paper and explain the difference.

We are all multi-faceted people who defy one label.

Although I have schizophrenia, I didn’t much care whether I was described as “schizophrenic” or someone “with schizophrenia” or “who has schizophrenia” and couldn’t understand why my father was so bothered by this. Be that as it may, I filed my dad’s indignation away and continued to live my solitary existence for several more years.  Then one day I decided to join Club Nova to get out of the house, socialize and become a part of something.

I’ve now been a member of Club Nova for a little over a month, and what I’ve learned from being here this short time is that people are much more than a mental illness label. The members are incredibly kind, helpful, funny, expressive and capable.  We are given a lot of responsibility and rise to the challenge.  People don’t introduce themselves as, “Hello my name is ___________.  I’m schizophrenic (or bi-polar, etc.).”  Indeed one’s diagnosis rarely, if ever, comes up during daily tasks, conversations and social events.

I’ve now been a member of Club Nova for a little over a month, and what I’ve learned from being here this short time is that people are much more than a mental illness label. The members are incredibly kind, helpful, funny, expressive and capable. 

In this election year, when political correctness is front and center, I think it’s necessary to remember how powerful a label can be. Words matter.  Descriptions matter.  People who may not be knowledgeable about a certain condition take these labels to heart and repeat them to others who do the same, perpetuating the label endlessly and cementing opinions.

These days, I try to avoid using the word “schizophrenic” and other adjectival forms of mental illnesses whenever possible. We are all multi-faceted people who defy one label.  I am a brother, son, uncle, friend, musician, amateur astronomer, biologist, avid reader, Duke fan, Club Nova member, and oh, by the way, I happen to be living with schizophrenia too.

 

 

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