Need a shot in the arm of courage to finally speak your truth? Meet Rebecca
I first met Rebecca about six months ago. She told me she was going to reveal a secret to me. She explained that she had something that she had struggled with and that she hoped to write about it– but that she was afraid.
“Afraid of what?” I asked.
“Afraid of revealing myself, of being so vulnerable.”
Now I had heard this many times. Almost all memoirists face this dilemna. It’s damn scary to publish something that leaves you feeling exposed. And many (understandably) do not follow through when it comes time to truly reveal themselves.
This had been my experience for a few months. And then along came Rebecca. Rebecca was sweet. Rebecca was kind. Rebecca was honest and pure and real. She was talented, happily married and happy with her life. I wondered what it was that she was holding onto – that was keeping her quiet. Then she told me. Rebecca has schizophrenia.
What I have come to learn in my short few months of knowing Rebecca is that it’s a highly misunderstood mental illness. And those that struggle with it are often met with awful stereotypes and painful stigmas. And while I will let her tell you more of her story in her own words, I will tell how you how much her bravery has touched me, her courage to speak her truth has inspired me, in a way that is beyond words…. —Marni Freedman
Rebecca C, in her own words:
I have been keeping a secret from most of the people I know for over twenty years. Last year, I decided to write a memoir, and I have “come out” to everyone in both of my writing groups. In some ways, these fellow travelers of the word know me better than many friends and family. At least I am not keeping secrets from them. I am writing. I am sharing. I am exposing myself. I am acting vulnerable.
A month ago I got lucky and won a publishing package. Yes, I really won it. How? By answering a trivia question correctly. I’m not kidding. In order to receive the prize, I needed to have a manuscript to the publishers within a week. I pulled together some poems and many essays I have written over the last year. I hired an editor. I consulted my writing coach. I went to work and got busy. I met the deadline. The proof made it to my inbox.
With the proof in my inbox, something very big became a reality to my husband and me. We were no longer going to have a secret. People were going to find out about my mental illness. Anyone with access to Amazon and my name was going to be able to find out that I have paranoid schizophrenia.
We made plans to tell family members and our closest friends. We talked for hours about when and where to tell them, and exactly what to say. We went through all the possible responses in our heads, anger, fear, betrayal, disgust. There is such a stigma with paranoid schizophrenia and we were worried that our relationship to all of these people would change. We worried that they would begin to see everything that I did as a part of my illness instead of just a part of my personality or character. We were both anxious.
The day approached when we agreed to tell my husband’s parents. The night before our big confession I said, “I don’t care.” My husband looked at me. “I don’t care what anyone says. I am the same today as I was yesterday. I haven’t changed. If they want to treat me differently that is their issue. I’m the same person with or without the label of schizophrenia.”
We decided not to make any special arrangements to tell people. We decided to let people find out on their own, by word of mouth, or by seeing the title of my book. Maybe, some people will unfriend us. Maybe, some people will stop inviting us to monthly brunches or happy hours. Maybe, my husband’s family will feel betrayed. What everyone feels is their business. We are the ones that have had to live with schizophrenia. We are the ones that must face the consequences of a brain disease. It really is no one’s business but ours.
We are willing to share our experience with the world in order to help people better understand the illness, but we are not willing to feel badly for not sharing it with people sooner. We came around to being open and vulnerable and trusting in our own time. People need to understand that sharing is a gift not an expectation.
We are sharing now, because we choose to. Embrace us, or cast us out. The choice is yours, but we won’t make excuses for being silent for twenty years. We had our reasons and I am sure some people will show us by their actions that our reasons were sound. I’m sure others will surprise us, and we will wish we had let them in sooner. The reactions will vary. We aren’t prepared, because there really is no way to prepare, but I have schizophrenia so you can bet we will be fine, we have been in uncharted territory before. We have traveled dangerous and treacherous ground. We’ve got this. I’m sure of it.
You can see more of Rebecca’s story at the San Diego Writers Ink Memoir Showcase, coming in May.