Successful With Schizophrenia

A very good friend asked me whether I know any people who are successful who have schizophrenia. I said I do and named two: Elyn Saks and Ceclia McGough. Elyn Saks is, I believe, trying to track other successful people with schizophrenia.

I’m a person with schizophrenia who wants to question our whole idea of “success.” Many people with schizophrenia cannot live on their own due to not having enough money, not being able to care for themselves or both. The assumption within our society and increasingly around the world is that people with schizophrenia should be able to live alone and not rely on friends or family to help them. They are considered a “burden to society” and a “burden to their families” if they don’t.

The idea that each individual must move out, own their own home, raise a family, go to work, and so on, can be a toxic narrative. Already we have people questioning whether we should have one partner and whether we should have children. But the idea that we should each move out, own our own home and go to work are assumptions that are only just now being questioned.

In her well-read article, for example, Elyn Saks says her prognosis was “grave” and goes on to say that she would only be expected to perform “menial work,” if that. Saks has undoubtedly worked hard to get where she is and she is someone I admire. But I question the assumption that people with schizophrenia or people in general should aim to be “successful” as currently understood.

My ideas hinge partly on newer understandings in economics, particularly degrowth. Degrowth is an anti-capitalist theory that argues we should not rely on the produce and consume cycle.

But my understandings also point to a larger picture for human beings. Leisure time, playing the violin, being a good friend—these are all things we aim for in life but that current understandings of the market rarely allow for. There are 168 hours in a week and most people spend 40 of those at work and another 56 sleeping (assuming 8 hours of sleep). That means you only get around 72 hours to the things you’d actually like to do.

“Success” needs a new definition, if not a complete overhaul. For if we are not successful as friends, in hobbies and have no real down time, what is it we are successful at?

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