Mental Health Awareness Month

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May is ‘Mental Health Awareness Month’ …

Good people started it, for good reasons: many in grief and remembrance of a family member who committed suicide … they wanted to help, to do something, to prevent more suffering … the only real way to do that, short of directly contributing to the Medical understanding of these issues, is to contribute to the Societal understanding of these issues – because society at large just doesn’t get it.

No one would consider making fun of a cripple. In fact, the word ‘cripple’, itself, is considered to be in such poor taste that no one ever uses it anymore. A Racist makes derogatory comments regarding race, and there’s such a media firestorm, that he’s being forced to sell his NBA Basketball team – as it should be. Sexists make derogatory comments about women and lose their campaign bids, as do snobs making comments about the middle class, and this is as it should be …

The terms for mental illness continue to be bandied about, and remain fodder for humor at school, in sports, in the workplace, the entertainment industry, and politics. It’s not politically correct to make fun of someone who can’t walk – but it’s plenty acceptable to make fun of those who can’t think or control their emotions! They’re ‘sick’, ‘crazy’, ‘Not Right’, ‘Nuts’, ‘Insane’, ‘bonkers’, and the list goes on and on and on …

Throughout history such people have been treated with fear, loathing, laughter, and disrespect. For AGES the accepted treatments for the mentally ill was to lock them up, in one way or another … they’ve been locked in attics and cellars, walled up, tossed in dungeons, put in tiny cages just large enough to hold their bodies … they’ve been tortured to get the ‘devils’ out of them, starved when times were tight so that the ‘normal’ children would thrive, killed when politically inconvenient, lampooned in the papers, inveighed against from the pulpit, and always, always , always feared! Even now, in the oh-so-enlightened 21st century, having such an illness is considered a dirty little secret:  our families are embarrassed, we don’t speak of our illness, we seek care, if at all, under conditions of the utmost secrecy – which has given rise to HOARDS of quack “Mental Health Practitioners”, just as outlawed abortion gave rise to hoards of quack abortionists. We don’t want our bosses to know, or our clients, or our colleagues, or our competitors.  If someone in your office had an embarrassing but “normal” ailment – like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, of instance – they might not have it printed on their business cards, but it wouldn’t be a huge secret, either … on days when it flared-up, they’d be perfectly ok with asking for the day off, or telling the boss they couldn’t come in – and NO ONE would think ill of the person, because he has a physical ailment!

Now imagine you’re so depressed you can’t function: are you going to call your boss and tell him so? When you have a physical ailment, allowances are made, and compromises reached – but it’s just not that way with a mental illness:  call your boss and say you’re too depressed to come in and he’ll almost certainly think “Slacker”, “Goldbrick”, “Hypochondriac”, or worse … and how many times can you call in like that before he decides you aren’t worth keeping around?

When the words ‘crazy’, ‘nuts’, ‘whacko’, come to mind, what do you think of? Jack Nicholson hacking down a door with an axe? Evil-eyed teenagers moving methodically through a school with automatics? Ted Bundy? Gibbering Meth-heads? Norman Bates?

Do you ever think of a child afraid to sleep because of the nightmares? A young man so painfully shy, and so convinced of his short-comings that he can’t even learn the names of his class-mates, let alone ask any of them on a date? Ever think of someone sitting for hour after hour weeping in the dark because she simply can’t be happy?

And what do you say to such people when you do come across them? “Don’t be silly! Just go to sleep and everything will be fine!” or “Why don’t you just go out and make some friends?” or “Cheer up!”, or “People only want to be around happy people – sitting around feeling sorry for yourself won’t solve anything!” or “You should be more cheerful! Think of how blessed you are!”

Look, if you’ve said ANY of those things, I have some information for you: WE FUCKING CAN’T!!!

The child isn’t having nightmares because he’s got an over-active imagination: he’s having them because he’s being abused – by someone YOU consider to be “normal”! The insecure young man CAN’T just “go out and MAKE friends” – that’s sort of the fucking POINT! Someone YOU consider to be normal has taught him from earliest childhood that he’s worthless, stupid, ugly, you name it – ANYTHING derogatory! He’s supposed to reverse decades of programming by a simple act of will?  The weeping young woman PHYSICALLY CAN NOT BE HAPPY: her freaking BRAIN isn’t wired the way yours is! NOTHING feels good to her, NOTHING feels right – and she’s been taught all her life that this is something to be ashamed of, that she’s “just feeling sorry for herself”, that it’s all “in her head”, and that only weak people can’t deal with daily life …

Maybe the child will tell someone about his abuser – but the damage is done: sustained fear does actual damage to the brain – PTSD is NOT a “mental illness”, it’s a freaking PHYSICAL illness, no less than diabetes or hypertension – and it is FAR harder to treat!

Maybe the insecure boy will stumble upon an understanding person, and begin to revise his view of himself – but that view is built-in at the level of his guts, and to tear it free will be about as painful and messy as eviscerating himself. He’ll ALWAYS be crippled in his ability to deal with other people – and unlike a physical cripple, people will feel free to make fun of that.

As for the weeping woman, let me repeat myself:  she is NOT mentally ill – she has a PHYSICAL defect in her brain chemistry!  The way a diabetic needs help processing sugar, SHE needs help processing emotions:  without appropriate balance of your neurotransmitters, you simply CAN NOT be happy, cheerful, hopeful, or optimistic! Worse, if the imbalance is bad enough, she may feel PAIN – actual, physical, PAIN that doesn’t STOP, EVER! How long could YOU deal with it? A belly-ache that doesn’t ever end? The feeling that you weigh six tons and EVERYTHING is such an effort that you weep at even the thought of getting out of bed?

Then there’s suicide:  no one ever just decides they want to die – what they’ve decided is that they cannot continue to live with the pain! They can’t live with the loneliness. They can’t live with the exhaustion. They can’t live with being judged. They can’t live with being thought of as weak.  Think about Marilyn Monroe for a second … what adjectives come to mind? ‘Sexy’ will be in there, sure, along with ‘talented’ – but the next one will be ‘fragile’:  she’s always been looked at as a woman who simply was too ‘fragile’ to handle the stresses of life …

It’s not true. Depressives aren’t weaker than other people – the stresses of their lives are DRAMATICALLY greater than ‘normal’ people have to deal with!

Consider Heath Ledger for a moment: brilliant, well-loved, successful – but he couldn’t SLEEP! He couldn’t make his mind shut down! Everyone goes through this at some point, usually right before some hugely important event: a wedding, an exam, a meeting with the oncologist … imagine if that one night of restlessness NEVER ENDS!

You’ve just imagined being bipolar, during a runaway manic phase.

Most people have gone through a bad depression at least once in their lives – usually when someone close dies. Remember what it was like? Feeling leaden, like every action was swimming in molasses? Going through the same sad thoughts endlessly? You try to sleep, and can’t, or you can, but can’t wake up? You begin to weep at the least little thing, and your emotions feel like they’re going to strangle you … now imagine that NEVER ENDS!

You’ve just imagined what it’s like to have Major Depressive Disorder, or the Depressive Phase of  Bipolar Disorder.

Ever been in a car wreck? Suddenly everything seems to slow down … your perceptions become sharp as a razor … there’s a bitter taste in your mouth … you may not have realized it, but you were numb, all over:  it’s why you hear about cops and soldiers getting shot and not knowing it …  most likely, these symptoms lasted less than 20 minutes – actually, 10 is more likely. But imagine you feel this way and it NEVER ENDS!

People with PTSD go through this, as do people with Bipolar Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder, and some Panic Disorders … it’s the action of Adrenaline, or Epinephrine, and it’s canceled out by the neurotransmitter Norepinephrine – except some of us simply don’t make enough! So it doesn’t end. Worse, when it’s happening, it feels utterly unnatural! You KNOW people aren’t meant to be utterly numb … you begin to CRAVE sensation, ANY sensation! So THIS happens:

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Who deliberately takes a razor to his own flesh? Someone who is desperate to FEEL something, ANYTHING!  It’s a crappy solution, because it doesn’t last – the numbness comes back, and you’re left with wounds that will frighten and upset everyone around you – and scars that will always be there to proclaim you “Not Normal”:

 

Photo on 5-5-14 at 12.09 PM

That’s my left arm. My right is nearly as bad. I have a friend whose arms are COVERED with scars. Not long ago, I met a woman on a dating site … we talked, we had loads in common, she thought I was funny, sensitive, smart … we made plans to meet … all was laughter and light-heartedness – until she saw my arms. She developed a “head-ache” before we ever got to dinner, and I took her home.

I haven’t heard from her since.

I don’t blame her. It’s scary. And, in the eyes of society, if I’m willing to carve up my OWN arms, God only knows what I’ll do to someone ELSE … and THAT is the point of this article:  only a vanishingly small fraction of people with Mental Illnesses are any danger to anyone at all, and most of those are only of danger to themselves … the Mentally Ill need not be feared – but there are freaking TONS of “normal” people that you should be terrified of! Mafiosi, Gang-Bangers, the Klan, and every other self-centered son-of-a-bitch who thinks his needs are the only ones that matter … plenty of “normal” men beat their wives, terrorize their children, evade their taxes, steal from their employers, and abuse their dogs.  For every 100,000 people in the US, about 5 will be deliberately murdered – and by FAR the majority of those murders will be perpetrated by “normal” people, and against members of their own family!

Look, don’t take my word for it: read. Educate yourself. Challenge the stereotypes you’ve been taught all your life. LEARN.

I’m not asking for your pity. I’m not asking for your trust. Your compassion, on the other hand, would be most gratefully accepted.

If you or a loved one are suffering, there are resources:

http://www.patientslikeme.com   This site was started by relatives of someone suffering from ALS … it quickly became a place where those who suffer from ANY chronic illness could find others like themselves, sympathy, information about medications, treatments, side-effects, etc.  They have mood-mapping features, and are currently the ONLY free site gathering information regarding how medication ACTUALLY works:  once a med is past its FDA Trials, there is very little in the way of follow-up (unless it starts killing people) … that means there’s plenty of medicine out there that is only marginally effective, or which has such unacceptable side-effects that it might as well not be used.  This site gathers actual patient histories and experiences and makes that information freely available to the scientific world – including the major pharmaceutical companies.

If you are hurting badly enough that you are considering suicide, PLEASE seek assistance! Look, I’ve been there: cutting ISN’T a good answer, and neither is suicide!  The following web-sites may be of help, but better help can come from someone you love: people ARE afraid of mental illness – but they freaking get over it when it’s someone they care about! Think of someone you love, and LEVEL with that person: people SUCK at picking up on signals, and hardly EVER want to believe someone is hurting badly enough to be desperate – but if you TELL them flat out what’s in your mind, if you confide in them how you feel, what you’re going through, MOST will do their best to understand … they may say all the wrong stuff:  no one has ever trained them to deal with someone on the edge, but TRY to talk to them:  trust their love … give it a chance.

http://suicide.org (contains info about suicide hotlines, and how to get help.)

http://metanoia.org  (This is a freaking awesome site:  click the link and read what he has to say … it’s down to earth, it’s not burdened with religion, or judgement, just quiet common-sense – it’s saved my life more than once! Please, give it a chance!)

http://psychcentral.com  (A site for long-term assistance with dealing with depression, and other Mental/Emotional issues.)

 

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~ by dourscot on May 5, 2014.

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