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Lauren: Living Well with Schizophrenia

Lauren is the creator of the Living Well with Schizophrenia YouTube channel where she speaks first hand about her experience with schizoaffective disorder. We had the chance to interview her about her life after diagnosis, the world of YouTube, self care and much more!

You were diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2015 at the age of 25. What was getting the diagnosis like for you?

It was scary to get what seemed like a more severe label, but the diagnosis also came as a bit of a relief. There was finally an explanation for the things that I had been going through, and all of the sudden the things I had been experiencing seemed a little less scary and a little more understandable. There was definitely a grieving period for me though too when I received the diagnosis. There are not a lot of success stories in broad circulation about people living with schizoaffective disorder. So much of what we hear of in the news or in popular media are the negative depictions of mental illness, and particularly of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. I was left with a lot of uncertainty and fear.

What does schizoaffective disorder look like/mean for you?

It really just means to me that I have a bit of a different challenge to face than the typical person. Everyone has their unique challenges and this is just one of mine. I choose to try to focus on the positives it has brought into my life, such as an increased capacity for empathy toward others, increased sensitivity when interacting with the world, and just a generally broader scope of life experiences than I would have otherwise had.

Now that you’ve had a few years of treatment and support what would you say to your past self, when she was first getting diagnosed?

I would want to tell her that it is going to be okay, and that it is okay to love herself. Self-compassion in the face of this illness has been a big challenge for me and so helping myself to learn more about how to be gentler with myself would have been helpful. Getting over this self-stigma was a big hurdle and is an ongoing effort.

What’s the biggest misconception about schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder?

There are so many! I think perhaps the biggest one and most socially permeating is that people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder are threats to society because they are dangerous or volatile. This is not the case at all. In fact, people with these diagnoses are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Popular culture and media has painted a rather unfortunate picture of what people living with schizophrenia are like, and it is so often really far from the truth. We are just like everyone else, and in general, are no more dangerous than the typical average person walking down the street.

Why do you think there is such a stigma against schizophrenia? Do you see this shifting?

I think schizophrenia is still a really misunderstood illness. This lack of knowledge and awareness around it creates fear in people, which leads to negative stigma. I think the more people hear about the actual experiences of people living with schizophrenia and the more openly we talk about it, the more these perceptions and the stigma around the illness will shift.

Last year you started a YouTube channel where you discussed your experiences with schizoaffective disorder. What made you want to start your channel?

I’ve always been a mental health advocate within my circles. It was my partner though who really encouraged me to share my story and experiences through the avenue of YouTube. Together, we felt that we could shed a more positive light around the illness and help to educate as well as connect people on the topic of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. The channel was created as a means of education and providing support to those living with the illness, their loved ones, and for people who just want to learn more.

You’re very public with your illness, recovery and life. Sharing details of your life with the world can be scary. How do you decide what to share and when? Do you ever experience vulnerability hangovers (a lingering fear after you put yourself out there

Absolutely! The nature of my channel and the project is very personal and requires a lot of vulnerability. I think I choose what to share by weighing out how uncomfortable it might make me feel with how much potential it holds to help others. I think there’s a tremendous amount of power in vulnerability, and the connection this vulnerability has brought me has far exceeded the discomfort it sometimes brings. Knowing I am helping others is what helps me to overcome those instances of “vulnerability hangovers”.

You focus on “living well”? What does living well mean to you?

“Living well” to me means simply accepting yourself for who you are and figuring out how to live your best and fullest life while being true to that. Living well looks different for every person, but for me it has included learning how to integrate every aspect of myself, including my illness, and using that to connect genuinely with the people and the world around me.

What’s next for you?

I’m not sure yet! But I would love to keep growing Living Well With Schizophrenia into an organization that fosters even more community and connection. It has been so wonderful reaching so many different people, and I would love to continue being able to do that. We are working on a few different new projects right now, and I can’t wait to continue to share with everyone!

Link: Youtube