Thursday, December 21, 2017

Here We Go Again: Mental Illness 101

Here we go again. Despite my own goals to make my writing, my life, my existence NOT be about having a Mental Illness, I want to take 15 minutes (tops!) and use my own privilege to be the accidental spokesperson for why we need to work on our own stigma against Mental Illness. 

I am not mad, but maybe a little annoyed. I am annoyed at me, You, my own family, and Americans for our refusal to get our minds out of the 1940s with regards to public discourse on Mental Illness. Speaking of the 1940s. 

Remember when there used to be this illness that was so terrible that people would not even say it aloud for fear they would catch it themselves? Remember? 
That illness was called, Cancer.

For some reason, we are stuck in the 1940s when it comes to talking openly about Mental Illness. We don't talk about it, we can't "admit" we have it, and, as someone who suffers from it, the whole thing fucking sucks.

When I went to Abbott Northwestern Hospital last month, it was not because I was "Manic" or even suffering from severe "Bipolar Depression" (which is very different in symptoms and treatment from "Clinical Depression" btw). I went to the hospital for three weeks to work on my own stigma, against my own illness, and tried hard to fight past trauma surrounding my life story with regards to my diagnosis.

So, being a woman of privilege (in this case I am referring to several things: I do not work for a corporation, I have my own health insurance that cannot drop me, I am a Writer, I am an Artist, and I am already "outed" for having a Mental Illness), I feel the need to take up the torch for the umpteenth time so that all my homies who are not as "privileged" as me can sit back and let me fight the good fight for them.

Couple of things:

  1. Mental Illness is treatable
  2. Mental Illness is ONLY treatable if a patient gets help
  3. Millions of people do not get help because they are afraid of that horrible 's' word - Stigma.
And why shouldn't they be? In the United States, Mental Illness accounts for tens of thousands of gun deaths, drug overdoses, job losses, divorces, custody battles, and more. It keeps me from getting properly covered by short term disability (as I am a working adult who happens to not be on Disability, which many people with Mental Illness do need to be on if they are unable to work), and it is the Media buzzword with regards to domestic terrorism, Global terrorism, and more.

Here's the problem: Ya can't work on the Mental Illness until you seek help. And I will tell you, getting help for Mental Illness is not easy. It is a long road of trying medications, therapists, treatment modalities, quitting substances (drugs & alcohol), and, here's the kicker, 

It is a commonly held belief in the United States (not true in some other countries), that people should endure this fight alone and in private, for their own good.

So, the odds are stacked against us. Oh! One other thing. Science is TOTALLY not there yet in terms of understanding the brain, discovering proper medications with minimal side effects (my own medication is for people with epilepsy and it makes me super tired, all the time), and, let's not forget that only a few short decades ago, the treatment was to simply drill a hole in the skull and scrape away chunks of brain (also known as a lobotomy).

So, here is my advice. Here is my plea, not just for me, but for the three close people I know who blew their own brains out in what is termed, "Successful Suicide," and for the many, many others who are considering just ending their own lives today as I write this:

  1. Lighten the fuck up on us, we who manage Mental Health conditions
  2. Think before you speak. Using words like, "Crazy", using 'ADD' as a verb (i.e. I am totally ADDing right now), describing yourself or a loved one as being "totally depressed" or "acting bipolar", or minimizing / joking about / and/or making fun of life-saving psychiatric medications (like Benzodiazepines (i.e. Xanax), Anti-Depressants, Mood Stabilizers, Anti-Psychotics), is about as cool as calling something "Retarded" or "Gay" to get a laugh.
  3. And, bonus round, learn a thing or three: I recommend the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) , and, for lighter one-the-ground stigma-free training, go to Make It OK dot Org.

If you start working on just YOU (because that is all you can control, really), maybe someday those of us who are working hard to Stay Alive for ourselves and Stay Alive FOR YOU; Maybe we will get the space to live our lives in the light inside of in darkness. Or if one day your own Mother, Brother, Child is diagnosed, you will be ready to react with the respect that we should have in fricking 2017. (It is NOT 1940, people.) 

And, maybe someday we will find within our hearts a deeper solidarity and more-stigma-free support that people like my own father received for having Cancer. 

Let's continue to work toward accepting Mental Illness, Together.

Thank you!

Susan M. Andersen
aka Susan B. Agony
December 21st, 2017

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