In my last post I mentioned that I have been and am mentally ill. For those of you who haven’t read this blog from the beginning – let me clarify for you.
In 1998 my life caught up to me and I had a complete mental breakdown and was hospitalized for nine months. For the first number of months I didn’t know who I was or anyone else for that matter. I thought I was waiting for a cruise ship – in my pyjamas – that was parked just outside the window of the lunch room. I live on the dry prairies of Alberta. The nearest port is a 15 hour drive from here. Nevertheless – I waited. And I survived.
I survived suicide attempts and longings. I survived psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses as well as psychiatric patients. I survived a threat to move me to a psychiatric hospital where there would have been little chance of getting out.
Yes – I survived. And when I started to see the light of day for what it was, I vowed to help others who were suffering or who had suffered any form of mental illness. I wanted to help. To at least be someone who would listen and understand and hold out a hand. To be someone who wouldn’t judge because a person had faltered or been struck down by whatever it is that affects our brains. I wanted others to know that there was a chance to feel better about ourselves and that someone had been there and come out the other side – so there was hope – some kind of hope – no matter how small.
When I look back to my childhood I am ashamed to say that I joined in with the other children and called someone a ‘retard’. Nowadays I wouldn’t let that happen. Not only because I now see things differently but also because I hope I’ve matured.
Yet being judged follows us – especially the mentally ill – wherever we go. It’s just not the mentally ill in New Orleans – it’s everyone around the world who has suffered anything from depression to mental incapacity in some way. Not only are we judged but we are shunned because of it. In most countries mental illness is treated like leprosy – shoved away into institutions – the key thrown away. Some countries have incredible support for this illness – yet most fail and in fact don’t want to talk about it. The words ‘mentally ill’ are often whispered – like the C word or like when our mothers talked about a single pregnant woman. It’s shameful. It’s something we don’t want to acknowledge.
Yet people will call it out in the streets quite easily. ‘Retard'!’ People will leave comments about the mentally ill as being losers and wasters and they think we want to be this way.
Here – on the other side – I look into the mirror and wonder if my mental capacity (or perhaps lack thereof) can be seen by others. Would someone be able to yell that at me if I got up the courage to actually walk down a street? I wonder.
Let’s get back to the judging bit. Remember the famous judgement made by Tom Cruise about Brooke Shields because she took some medication to help with her post-partum depression? What a judgement that was on someone who was trying to tell it like it is so that she could help other women who suffer from this. But Tom ‘knew psychiatry’. He had read about it.
That judgement ricocheted around the world and caused an incredible amount of talk about psychiatry and depression. There are those who would have marched along with Tom proclaiming us as losers – but there would have been those who benefited from Brooke telling it like it is. I can only be thankful for that and I imagine there are a number of woman who are grateful as well.
A couple of years ago I saw a job advertised that I thought I might be able to do. My boss would be a ‘friend’ of mine. I was feeling pretty good those days and had hardly had any setbacks, but in the end I didn’t apply. I am on a disability pension which will change to an old-age pension in the future. Yet, when I casually mentioned to my ‘friend’ that I thought I might have applied for that position – he said “Doesn’t matter – I know your mental history and I would never hire you’.
Ah! I’ve been branded for life! Apparently I have a big L tattooed right in the middle of my forehead – ‘Loser!’ And if you can’t see that you can probably see the big sign on my back that says - ‘Mentally Ill – Kick Here’.
I am not alone. Every single one of us who has had any kind of mental disease must now run the gamut of boots and sneers and derogatory remarks. We must be braver than ‘normal people’ when we venture past the front door because of how the ‘normal people’ are going to treat us. We must have tougher skin. We must be partially deaf. We must smile and take it or duck our heads and run.
And if some people get their way – our mental history and drugs we have been (forced) asked to take will be on display for the government, insurance companies and future employers (because they need to know if they are hiring a loony or not).
It doesn’t matter if we are ‘cured’. Does it? We’ve still been mentally ill. It’s like cancer – once you’ve had it (and I have) then you are a ‘cancer survivor’. Perhaps we need to start a movement that says we are a ‘mental illness survivor’. Come on – walk for us. It’s a good cause and you never know if you are going to be struck down with it.
I want to label this ‘End of Part One’ because I have a feeling I’ve got more to say about this.