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  • Layla Mikel Vilanueva

IF LIFE IS A MOVIE- Understanding Schizophrenia

Growing up, I have always loved sitting by the window on our second floor. You could see a small ancestral house from a distance, slowly falling apart as its wooden bearings decay little by little. As the days pass by, I have thought that it is probably abandoned already since the damages would make it impossible for someone to live there. However, seeing a lady coming out of that house every now and then leaves me perplexed and confused. Her clothes are tattered and dirty, her slippers are worn out, and her hair is so stiff from weeks of not taking a shower. Sometimes, while I walk past her house, I would hear her rambling and talking to herself as if someone is there. She keeps on talking about her cats and the “spirits” that’s dictating her on what to do in life. “Crazy Winnie” is what our neighbors would call her.

Every kid in our street would be afraid of her while every adult would avoid her and would sometimes talk about her. It’s difficult for me to understand why she’s like that even though my mother already told me that she is schizophrenic. I have found out as well that she’s my grandmother’s sister-in-law, making us distant relatives somehow. Because of this, I have begun my journey of researching the Internet as to what this disorder means and how it affects the people who have it. The very first thing I looked for is the definition of the word. It is interesting to know that the etymology of the word “schizophrenia” comes from a modern Latin word that literally means “a splitting of the mind”. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes schizophrenia as “a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.”

According to the Criterion A of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013), symptoms of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behavior, and negative symptoms. A person should exhibit two of these five symptoms and at least one among delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized speech for them to be diagnosed. (APA, 2013). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are around 20 million people in the world who are affected by this disorder. Studies show that the international prevalence of schizophrenia among non-institutionalized persons is 0.33% to 0.75% (Saha et. al, 2005; Moreno-Küstner et. al, 2018). This shows how schizophrenia is not very common, which leads to misunderstandings about the disorder. It is not the same as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The DSM-5 describes DID as “a disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality states or an experience of possession” which is not one of the symptoms of schizophrenia as mentioned by DSM-5 as well.

Let's think of having schizophrenia as if being one of the main characters of a movie, and you are shooting this movie your entire life. Everyone else around you is the audience with special access to watch you shoot the film. They can see what you, the actor, is doing, but they cannot see the rest of the production team — the writers, the directors, even your co-actors. No one can hear the notes that the director is shouting at you: “you should do this! you should not do that!” The audience is not aware of every insult you receive, but they can observe the changes in your behavior — the way you lose emotions, laugh by yourself, or even lack facial expressions. It leaves everyone puzzled whenever they hear you talk back to the director or perform the lines of your scene. To them, you’re just talking to yourself. By the end of the day, the director decides to wrap things up for now, so you would go home and rest. You spend time with other people as usual, but the problem is that you are still in character. It becomes more difficult for you to distinguish between what should happen in the movie and in real life. It feels as if the director and the rest of the production team are still there even though they’re not.

Concurrently, there is a small percentage of people experiencing the same thing, but they have a different movie and a different role to perform. This just shows how everyone has a unique experience with schizophrenia. Luckily, actors get to have their days-off too; there are days where they are not disturbed by anyone in the production team. They can do anything they want freely... until the next day of shooting, of course. Putting things into this perspective, I have a better understanding now of what having schizophrenia must have felt like. My grandmother’s sister-in-law may have passed away a year ago, but her memories are still alive within the members of our family. She’s one of the smartest and kindest people my mom has ever met. I have realized how everyone in our neighborhood made fun of her and made her seem like a bad, dangerous person that should be avoided at all times. She’s not. It’s just that no one understands what she’s going through. Imagine millions of people going through the same thing — misunderstood, neglected, vilified. Having schizophrenia does not mean that there’s a monster inside of a person. The media has demonized schizophrenia so much that people have so many misconceptions about it. If we take our time understanding schizophrenia and its effects, it can be a key to compassion for people with the disorder. With this, we’ll be able to create a safer, better world for everyone.


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