Twenty years ago I was admitted involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I remember the devastation I felt emotionally. I was embarrassed and worried I’d lose the intellectual credibility I had worked hard to gain. I was concerned people would treat me differently and look at me strangely. I felt helpless when relationship dynamics changed.
My concerns came true. People did treat me differently, at least for a period of time. For awhile I was able to regain ground and my social standing only to lose it all again with the next hospitalization and manic/psychotic episode.
My phone stopped ringing. I was no longer sought after. Life as I knew it would never be the same.
Much of what I experienced is familiar to many people who live with mental illness. It’s common to live in social isolation, be unemployed, struggle to complete daily activities and deal with managing the symptoms of an illness.
In short, those of us who live with mental illness have suffered to varying degrees, but nonetheless have suffered.
In my case, I’ve also been the family member helping loved ones deal with their mental illness. At this point in my life I simply accept these challenges as a part of my life. I’ve learned to adapt to the cards I’ve been dealt.
I chose to rebuild my life with a passionate purpose on educating others about mental illness. I do this because I love to teach and speak. But most of all I love to help others.
This past week when President Trump so boldly proclaimed mental illness is the cause of mass shootings. While also suggesting we should reopen mental institutions. His comments frustrated, disgusted and hurt. So I wrote a Facebook posts about it.
There is so much ignorance, fear and lack of knowledge when it comes to mental illness. And yet when I read the comments on my Facebook posts and saw the number of people who reacted, I realized the statistics about mental illness don’t lie. Millions of people are impacted by it. Family members struggle to help their loved ones. They “get” it is not helpful to blame people with mental illness for all the horrible things people do.
When my brain got sick I didn’t instantly turn into a dangerous, violent person. Neither did my family members. And neither did the many millions of people who live with mental illness.
I don’t know why some people buy guns and plan mass shootings. Some say they are loners and isolated. Some say they are mentally ill or temporarily insane.
What I do know is we have a public health crisis with mental illness and suicides. I do know people are very reluctant to seek help because of the very same stigma people perpetuated this past week. “Mental Illness is the problem not the guns.”
Believe me when I tell you it’s bad enough having a chronic illness, but the pain of the stigma can be worse than the illness itself.
I have this perspective because of my experiences. And I’m going to continue to share it every chance I get.
Being silent is not an option.