Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

by Jason Jepson

Do you remember the old saying heard on the playground, “Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words can never hurt me?” People often throw around words like “crazy” or “psychotic” to describe those with a mental health diagnosis. The word “psychotic” is not necessarily a stigmatizing word, but people sometimes use it as an insult. Most of the insults I have experienced are inside my head when my paranoia or delusions take over. Self-stigmatizing can also be a product of our experiences.

I experienced hazing in the military. If it were not for that event, it would likely have been some other traumatic event to bring out my schizophrenia. Yes, I said it: I have schizophrenia, specifically schizoaffective disorder. An urgent call by my parents to the police made me realize I needed help. Those events, as horrible as they were for everyone involved, helped me reach recovery today. I do not reject my past, but I have learned to accept my past and move on without shame. For me, medication, a doctor that I trust, and a good support system has helped me to move on, but I will never forget what those first years into my treatment plan were like. Time helps too. As time has gone on, I realize I have become a mental health advocate, and not a mental patient anymore.

How I use my words has become very important to me now. I use words to help educate people about my mental illness, about my schizophrenia. Honestly, I can be hesitant about sharing my story with other people, but I have had help from various sources. My parents have been a tremendous source of help me. The doctors and other veterans at the veteran’s hospital have given me emotional, as well as physical help. I have found purpose in sharing my mental health journey with the online organization called Students with Psychosis. I googled publications that publish mental health first person accounts. ADAA's website popped up and I thought it would be perfect for my story. By putting my story out there along with other ADAA authors we are helping to bust the stigma of mental illness. I also think when people with mental health challenges read other people first person accounts they feel less alone. Even though we each have our own advocacy going on, we do not compete with one another, and I am motivated by seeing what everybody else is doing in their advocacy efforts. 

I mention that time helped me to move on and developing a regular routine has helped me get to a place where my words can make a difference. I set a clock for 10am, but usually I wake up before it goes off and listen to a book on tape. I eat breakfast. Eating healthy has become important to me, and I enjoy planning and preparing my own meals. Twice weekly, I listen to a church service online, and I daily listen to music. Seeing what my schizophrenia community is doing on social media pushes me to be active. Exercise is crucial for my mental health, and I have realized that regular workouts make a difference in my mental health journey. Often, I spend time writing, and every day I call my parents, because it is important to me to have some social contact every day.

There are days when I do not feel motivated or even a little depressed. Sometimes just sitting on my balcony and breathing the fresh air helps me to clear my head and enjoy my quiet times of reflection.

Although it was life-altering, being diagnosed with schizophrenia was not the end of my life. I was diagnosed in 2004 and I am in recovery. It might have taken some time, but I am satisfied. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me because I am valuable, and I have purpose. 

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