Old Joke, And Sadly, True
Last night I was feeling kind of down. Quiet. Not exactly with it, not energetic, just plain blah. As the evening went on I got off the computer, turned on the television and was not amused. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt that vague sense of unhappiness and discomfort. I was disquieted.
But this morning I have been thinking about how very far I have come in my healing as compared to only six months ago, when I exited the PHP program and began to live with purpose again. I thought about how lucky I was to have had that remarkable assistance when I needed it most, and how the folks that intervened to get me that help were a godsend.
And my thoughts turned to all the other people who don’t understand what’s happening to them. Those people who can’t escape from the way they feel., those people who can’t find the entrance door to therapy. Most especially, I thought of the almost uncountable number of people who need to know how important they are, to me, to us, to society.
“I have had manic-depressive illness, also known as bipolar disorder, since I was 18 years old. It is an illness that ensures that those who have it will experience a frightening, chaotic and emotional ride. It is not a gentle or easy disease.”
– Kay Redfield Jamison
As a throw-away society, we are accustomed to discarding things once we’re done using them. And in the last few months I have become aware of a very painful truth as well: we don’t care about things — or people — unless we can use them.
You might say I’m just being pessimistic and yes, I sometimes am a pessimist, but this observation is by no means new. Whenever a society is burdened with the sick, the ill, the emotionally unwell, that society has two choices: help them or discard them. As Americans, we should do whatever we can to help them and by that I mean everything that we can do to help them.
“I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day. It’s like being a diabetic.”
– Carrie Fisher
A great many people do not understand the dangers of being bipolar or how mental illness can manifest itself in a person. Let’s review the one I’m most familiar with, bipolar disorder.
Let’s start with suicide.
Over 90% of people who commit suicide have been diagnosed with a mental illness. And there are many mental illnesses where this is common: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, panic disorders and even eating disorders. The list goes on. As to bipolar disorder, the percentage of suicides is upwards of 20%. That means 1 in 5 people with bipolar disorder will seriously consider, attempt or successfully commit suicide. And the estimated number of people with bipolar disorder in the United States is 5.7 million.
How many people aren’t diagnosed in time? How many more lives could be saved, how many suicides prevented if we had better and more effective ways to find and treat people who have mental illnesses?
Speaking from my own experience, I was very close to being a suicide, very close to being just another statistic. And it is only because I had a quick and correct diagnosis and was placed in an effective program that I was spared that pain.
I’m only one person who’s had that experience. There are hundreds of thousands that have been helped but sadly there are potentially millions who have not been diagnosed, and some of them may have no idea they’re even ill or if so, just how ill they are. In their minds they’re just ‘not normal’. They accept the pain as part of everyday life and if they can’t live with it they often see only one alternative. That unacceptable alternative is suicide.
If a society is measured by how it treats the ill and poor among them, what does the consistent underfunding and profound ignorance and lack of support on this issue say about our society?
Dangerous Symptoms in the Manic State
I’m going to share a list of symptoms taken from the PsychCentral site:
Heightened sense of self-importance. Exaggerated positive outlook. Decreased need for sleep. Poor appetite or weight loss. Racing speech and ideas. Impulsiveness. Moving from one subject to the next in very rapid succession. Poor concentration. Increased activity level. Excessive pleasure-seeking. Bad financial choices. Irritable or aggressive.
Now, that’s quite a list. Everything on that list is dangerous in one way or another. Imagine not sleeping for three days, believing you are a superman, that you have all the answers, that you can do everything all at once and on the inside you’re a dynamo. Who needs rational thinking? You’re the luckiest person alive and you know everything, and everything is wonderful.
Now, who among us believes that everything is wonderful?
A great many of these dangers go unrecognized by the bipolar folks that exhibit them. That is, until they hit the other side of the bi in bipolar. What goes up must come down and when it does, it’s among the worst emotional horrors that a person can experience.
Dangerous Symptoms in the Depressed State
Feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Loss of interest in pleasurable or usual activities. Difficulty sleeping or awakening earlier than usual. Loss of energy and constant lethargy. Sense of guilt and low self-esteem. Difficulty concentrating. Negative thinking about the future. Weight gain or loss. Suicidal ideation.
If you look at that list and say, Big deal, then you need to do a little work on your empathy. Imagine waking up every morning unable to feel pleasure, unable to have hope or desire, believing you are worthless or worse, believing you would be better off dead. How do you think you would feel? How do you think you should be treated when this happens? Do you think you should have help? Do you look for someone to reach out and understand you?
Many people see mental illness not only as a weakness but as an excuse. And that is totally lame, people. Sick is sick. Ill means ill. People that need our help aren’t needy in the sense that they want to use or abuse funds slated for social assistance. This isn’t a political party-of-your-choice issue. People who suffer with mental illnesses are citizens of this country, members of our society who deserve respect and our care.
Still don’t think so? It’s been my observation that the people who protest the use of public funds for mental illness assistance are the first to line up for that assistance when something in their own lives goes wrong.
This is hypocrisy in action. But perhaps we can hope that some of those whose outcry against funding is the loudest can instead become people who most vociferously defend the need for this assistance. Once they have experience with themselves or a loved one losing their home, family, friends, jobs, heart, hope and mind to a mental illness, I believe they’ll change their stance on the issue of funding mental health assistance. It’s a pity to wait until it happens. Better to have that epiphany before it happens.
I Completely Agree With This Sentence
Listen, I know that frustration and irritation are disagreeable. But I want you to stop for a moment and consider which is worse: living in constant mental pain or putting up with discrimination, misunderstanding and intolerance?
For many of us that have a mental illness,we live each and every day with no choice. We have to put up with both.
Or do we? Aren’t there choices to be made on both sides of mental illness?
I believe in education. It is the only thing that will help those with mental illness manage or overcome their disorder; you have to be educated and aware to understand the benefits of medication and therapy.
And to those who don’t understand mental illness, please, do everyone in our society a favor and get an education. You’re holding everyone else back from progressing as a society and as a species.
But tolerance must be cultivated from all sides. If we remain inflexible we break. If we allow for dialogue, we learn something about each other. People have concerns, fears, issues. They can’t help that. They’re people.
“I’m bipolar, but I’m not crazy, and I never was. I’m stark-raving sane.”
– Emilie Autumn
So, do me a big favor. If you’re suffering from a mental illness find out how you can help educate those who don’t understand it. If you’re someone who wants to learn more about how to help by all means do it now. There are a lot of people out there in the world that need your help. Right now.
At the top of my blog page there are links to National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Click on those links. There you can learn about mental illnesses and treatments. But perhaps more importantly you can learn how to help, be it through activism or by donating funds.
Now, go look in the mirror and imagine that you needed serious help for an illness, had nowhere to turn and no one that wanted to help you. Maybe that will help move you toward understanding.
If you don’t help, who will? If you don’t care about others will mental illness, then who will care for you when these disorders fall on your shoulders? If you don’t learn, how will you know what to do when it happens to you? To others?
Get busy. You need to help by saving people. People like your mother, sister, brother, uncle, father, people just like you. Promise you won’t discard people and I promise I won’t discard you.