April 28, 2014
AUSTIN MARDON
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

My disability is invisible. When we see a person in a wheelchair or walking with a Seeing Eye dog, we immediately know they have special needs or challenges. Those of us with mental illnesses or mental disabilities don't carry visible clues to our challenges.

With the stigma that mental illnesses carry, I suppose that I should be grateful that my schizophrenia isn't visible. Still, it can be hard for people to understand the kinds of accommodations my disability requires.

If you asked the average person on the street what a person with schizophrenia looks like, they might describe someone standing on a street corner talking to themselves, someone dishevelled.

PRECONCEPTIONS

When people see me at a meeting in a nice suit, they assume that I can't possibly still have this horrible illness. I definitely do. My medication isn't a cure. I'm not in remission. I am someone who has made the conscious decision to take my medication as prescribed. I am not cured; I am stable.

Stability isn't a magic word. It's like taking honourable mention in a contest, not the winner, not a loser, but someone who made a good showing. No one enters a contest to win Miss Congeniality. We want to win. We want to be the best.

Sometimes though, that isn't possible. I'm never going to set a world record. I'm never going to make it to the top of Mount Everest. I'm just going to live an ordinary, boring life. Yet, for someone with my illness, that's incredible.

Being stable on this medicine is the brass ring for me. The anti-psychotics that have made my life endurable have only been on the market for 20 years now. They aren't available in some parts of the world. I certainly hope for an eventual cure, but in the meantime, I'm grateful for stability.

GETTING BY

We aren't normally content with just getting by. When we get one, we want two. If we get two, we yearn for four. Our society is always leaning towards more. We want bigger houses and better-paying jobs. Being content with just getting by is not the Western way.

Pope Francis has reminded us that it is okay to be content with "enough." I sometimes wish for the life I had planned before becoming ill. It's hard at times not to feel disappointed in the life I lost, but I gained so much more. I gained an appreciation for the small things in life.

When I see someone with my illness who is obviously homeless, I realize how blessed I am. I am blessed by an awareness that I have an illness and will need to take medication for the rest of my life. I'm blessed to live in a place and time where that medication is available to me. I'm blessed with a wife who understands my illness and supports me in everything I do.

Most people would think this illness is a curse. I did ask "why me?" for a long time. Finally I realized, why not me? God has a purpose for everyone. I hope that I have found that purpose for myself.

VOICE FOR VOICELESS

I try to speak for those who can't speak for themselves. Those who are too sick or too afraid to speak out. I know it would be easier to sit back and be invisible, pretend that this illness hasn't touched me. If I did that though, the illness would win. Hiding wouldn't make it go away.

God doesn't want us to hide. He doesn't make mistakes. I might not have turned out the way I expected to, but I turned out the way I was supposed to. We all have.

(Austin Mardon received the Order of Canada for his advocacy on behalf of the mentally ill. Email: aamardon@yahoo.ca; austinmardon.org.)