I’m Mentally Ill But Don’t Pity Me

I see you there trying not to stare at me. When I glance at you your eyes quickly dart away. You pass me by and are afraid to say “hello,” out of fear as if what I have may be contagious. When you do make eye contact you search my eyes to see if I am “sane.” You are one of those people who have seen me in my worst moments.

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse if I lived during the time when the mentally ill were institutionalized. I may have been placed in an ice bath or had a lobotomy. You may have left me restrained for days on end. I could have been deprived of my most basic human needs. In your effort to “treat” me I could have been sprayed with a hose.

You wonder why we fear the mental health system. You wonder why we mistrust and question everything they tell us is good for us. We are vulnerable because we need help, yet often don’t know where to turn.

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse. We hear the stories about psychiatric institutions closing and we see the remnants of old historic asylums turning into haunted houses. Is there any wonder why? Human suffering cries out from the lonely graves of those who came before us and weathered the storm of archaic psychiatric practices.

Yes the mentally ill have been a persecuted group for hundreds of years. But things have gotten better—haven’t they?

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse. It’s hard to look at me now that I am mentally ill. I’m not welcome in your group anymore. I don’t fit with your perfect lives for mine is rather messy. But with these words I write I have a voice, I have a chance to make a difference.

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse. Yet you look at me with such disgust and use my illness to make jokes. I am a human being who happened to inherit a mental illness. Yet I refuse to sit quietly in my chair.

I want you to stand up for me and fight for better treatment. I want you to hold my hand and walk with me in my journey for a good life. I want you to understand my pain and suffering, but take note of me as a survivor. I am not a mere shadow from the past; I am not someone you can just push aside.

Don’t pity me for life could be so much worse. If you don’t do anything just say a little prayer. I am here to fight for a better tomorrow and I am not going away.

Don’t pity me because I believe life can be so much better.

 

Mental Illness Makes You Tough!

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Living with a severe mental illness is not for the faint of heart. You really have to be tough “minded” to handle the many trials and tribulations we face. Consider being able to successfully utilize your mind to climb the corporate ladder only to have that same mind fail you by losing touch with reality.

Imagine having your sister make her way through college and graduate with honors. Then a few years later imagine getting a call from a social worker, four hundred miles away, telling you your sister was placed in the psychiatric ward for evaluation. Forty plus hospitalizations later and an immeasurable amount of heart ache for everyone involved just can’t be described with words.

Imagine being a freshman in college and learning your mother had a manic episode rolled into psychosis and jumped from a 30-foot balcony in her confusion.   Imagine the pain, despair, and confusion those emotions can be when you are living through it.

Some people would say they just “can’t imagine.” Besides who would want to put themselves in your shoes with such human tragedy. These are the stories that never make it to the vernacular of the general population. They have no reason or purpose for hearing or listening to some of the challenges those of us touched by mental illness have had to deal with. I’ve only briefly scratched the surface of my own personal examples. Sometimes they are too painful for even me to recall.

But this brings me to my point, you have to be pretty darn tough to pick up the pieces and move on from life’s disruptions mental illness causes. If you suffer from a mental illness, often a chronic disorder, you will have to learn how to live with it your entire life.  If someone you love gets diagnosed, you will have to learn how best to support him or her.   And the bottom-line is you learn how important it is for life to go on because it does with or without your active participation.

When I reflect back upon my numerous lived experiences with mental illness I think about how I managed to emotionally cope and deal with these major issues often without the help or support of other people. I was expected to accept the situation, cope with it, put on a happy face and move on.

It reminds me of a time when I was working as a sales representative for a Fortune 500 company.  I had just received a call in the morning that my mother had been taken to the psychiatric hospital and admitted. I was still relatively young and deeply affected by her hospitalizations. As a matter of fact when I picked up my manager at the airport I was holding back the tears.

We drove a little while in silence, until she finally asked me what was wrong. I debated for a moment but then I told her what had happened to my mother. She looked at me and said, “Well I guess you’ll just have to focus extra hard on selling your products today.” It was like someone had taken a knife and stabbed me in the heart.

I guess all the years of living with mental illness have made me a stronger person. It has also exposed me to the ugliness of stigma. The very idea that people can be so cold and callous about brain disorders and all the situations we have to deal with.

But as I write these words I truly believe the next several years are going to whiled a wealth of information about serious mental illness. I think we will see attitudes begin to change and people will start getting a clue about what we have to deal with on a daily basis.

I hope some people will finally realize how tough you have to be to live with mental illness. I can’t wait for that day to come and I can’t guarantee I won’t tell people “I told you so.”

From Olympic Athlete to Bipolar Patient, Who am I really?

I recently wrote my bipolar journey for Mental Health Talk.  Trish, the founder of the site has lots of opportunity for those people who are living with a Mental Illness to share their stories.

If you are interested in reading about my journey from being an Olympian to getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder here is the link to Mental Health Talk:

http://mentalhealthtalk.info/bipolar-olympic-athlete

I would also encourage people who want to share their stories get in contact with Trish.  The more people who share the better opportunity we all have to continue to knock down stigma and to let others know they are not alone in this battle.

Is Forced Treatment for Mental Illness Okay?

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There is a word for not knowing when you are sick and it is called “anosognosia.” Like everything in the world of mental illness there is controversy about it. Some people don’t believe it exists at all, while others have developed extensive research projects defending it as a term.

But let’s cut to the chase. Is there ever a time when someone with a mental illness may not know he or she is sick? The answer to that question is “yes.” I don’t know if people can deny that is true, but many people who are experiencing psychotic episodes do not know they are sick. Some people who experience full-blown manic episodes have lost insight and don’t know they are sick. When this happens family members are left to try and find a way to get their loved one treatment in the hopes of bringing them back to reality.

Forty years ago the Supreme Court ruled that in order to be committed involuntarily one must be found “a danger to himself or others.” Some states have added language to include “an immediate danger.” Sometimes this is interpreted to mean even if a person may become a possible danger to himself or others, unless it is happening in the moment the person cannot be forced into treatment.

The problem with this law is that it really discounts situations when people are unable to competently judge for themselves when help might be necessary. Although many who have mental illness may never become a danger to themselves or others they may still benefit from treatment intervention. The bottom-line is you cannot legally make someone take medications.

I have been on both sides of this issue. I have filled out papers in the court house to have a family member committed during a manic episode, only to watch the system fail and for her not to get treatment. It took about three months before I was able to get her much needed help. In the meantime, I lost a number of sleepless nights and had to deal with the danger of someone not in her right frame of mind.  Just standing by waiting for the “shoe to drop.” Something bad would have happened if I had not have finally gotten her treatment because she had some major physical health issues and needed hospitalization. Without a mental state she may not have been able to communicate those life threatening physical symptoms.

In my own situation I have been involuntarily committed. Each time this happened I did not know I was ill. No matter how much anyone reasoned with me I felt like I was “fine.” I could not understand why people wanted me to get “locked up” for treatment.

Did the fact I was taken against my will into treatment cause me trauma? You bet it did. But if I were to sign a psychiatric Advanced Directive I would give family members who I trust the ability to make decisions for me, if I am unable to make them myself. And as a person who has benefited from treatment I want that intervention to take place.  All this can be spelled out in an Advanced Directive.

I understand the arguments on both sides of the fence. One where people have been fighting for mental disability rights for years to remove the archaic treatment and/or abuse that took place in mental institutions. They have brought freedom of choice for the mentally ill population. The freedom to accept or refuse treatment based on patients rights.

What if you want treatment when you are well, but refuse it when you don’t know you are sick? What should happen to you? What if the treatment team recommends more high-risk treatment like electro convulsive therapy (ECT)? Do you have a right to deny specific treatment options or are you at the mercy of the providers who evaluate you?

So many questions and not one clear cut example that makes this issue any less charged. I think the best solution is to write an Advanced Directive while you are well and put that in a place where everyone can find it. This way at least some of your wishes have a chance at being carried out.

For those who can’t get a loved one treatment, my heart goes out to you. It’s just a tough position to be in all the way around. This definitely makes the case for more education, information and awareness for mental illness, so people can be in a better position to make informed choices. It’s not perfect but who wants to go back in time to the 1960’s where anyone could have someone committed into an institution. That’s not a just solution either.

For a heart-wrenching story from the Washington Post about the inability of a family to help a man in need of treatment read Behind the yellow door, a man’s mental illness worsens. It will make you think about whether or not forced treatment is humane.

To read more about Advance Directives click here Advanced Directives Information.

 

Mental Illness and Get Well Wishes!

Slide1I was recently talking with a friend of mine who has schizoaffective disorder and he told me a story about when he was in the hospital.  He said, “It was the most lonely time in my life.  I was sick and in the hospital with my mental illness at the same time my father had a heart attack and was in the hospital.”  He went on to say, “My father got all kinds of cards and gifts, I never got a single card much less a visitor.  It was like I didn’t exist.”

It wasn’t the first time I had heard the same theme to a story I too had experienced.  Hospitalized:   sick, scared, alone and not one word from a loved one.  It sure seems like when you have a psychiatric illness people all run for cover.  Another friend told me, “It’s like everyone just said, “she’s off the deep end again” and left me to fend for myself.”  To which I had no response other than to nod my head silently.

I wonder if we changed the name of mental illness and replaced it with brain disorders would we have more compassion and understanding?  Would people start to realize when a person has a psychotic episode his brain malfunctioned not his character?  How much has to change in order to receive a card or a get well message instead of a non-compassionate “she’s just crazy” comment?

I don’t claim to have all the answers but I do have strong opinions on the subject.  First of all, the last time I remember hearing a friend was in the hospital I immediately felt bad for her.  You see when I hear hospital I think sick.  I don’t start blaming someone for not taking her medicine-I try and understand what if anything I can do to help.

Second, no matter what the circumstances were for my friend who needed hospitalization I wanted to visit her to show my love and support.  She mattered enough to me to to find out about visiting hours and go sit and interact with her for a couple of hours.  It was the least I could do.  Maybe if I wasn’t as close to her I could have simply sent a card or email or Facebook message – just something to show her I cared.

Third, if someone wants to keep her mental illness a private matter I can still let her know I care.  Once again I can send a message and let her know I’m thinking about her.

How many times have you heard the same story about feeling all alone?  Isn’t it time for us to stand up and say, “having a friend who cares makes a difference in my recovery?”  Is it not time to question the rationale for why anyone would be left alone during a time when she needs the most support?  Maybe we simply need to let people know it is perfectly acceptable to send a card to someone in a psychiatric hospital or lying at home suffering in bed from depression.  It doesn’t have to be a social taboo.  The more we tell people it’s alright the more chances we have for change to occur.  Agree?