During the years of suffering bipolar disorder, I have had endless people tell me to “think happy thoughts,” or to “snap out of it,” “cheer up, other people have it worse,” and on and on and on. It is as though they thought that I didn’t know about these wonderful suggestions.
Today, a British periodical published a story that serves to underscore the stigma of mental illness. A pizza was delivered to the staff at a psychiatric hospital. On the ticket, the address was characterized as the “looney bin.”
It seems likely that this was unintentional, just a thoughtless attempt at humor. Nevertheless, it is a perfect example of how people with mental illness are often stigmatized.
People who wouldn’t dream of demeaning a person based on race, religion, nationality, etc. often have no qualms of calling someone a “head case,” “psycho,” “loony,” and worse. We are treated as though mental illness were a sin, rather than an illness.
It’s more than just a hurtful name. It’s one more reason why mentally ill people don’t seek treatment. They don’t want to be held up to ridicule. When mentally ill people don’t get the treatment they need, many of them die.
I don’t stand out in a crowd. On the bus I’m just another bored passenger trying to get somewhere. At the grocery store I get the usual food – bread and meat and potatoes – what we all buy. In nice weather I ride my bicycle; in the winter I slog through the snow like everyone else.
It’s two AM, three – I don’t know. I’m in agony. I want to scream. I’m crying, sobbing over a lonely life and now a lonely death. I cannot go on.
Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord… but You don’t answer. Maybe You’ve forsaken me; maybe You’re not there. For what do I bear this burden?
There are my pills – enough, more than enough. I wash them down, as many as I can. They make me dizzy and weak. I lie down. I fade out.
No one will note my passing. I’ll stop coming to work. Someone will shrug, remove my name from payroll, and move on as though I’d never been.
I waken in my bed. My body folds, convulsing, forcing the air from my lungs. I can’t breathe. I fade out.
I waken in a silent, dark room. Before me is a gently illuminated crucifix. Is this death? I fade out.
I waken to the soft sounds of machinery – a pump; a quiet beep keeps time with my twitching, feeble heart. I’m tied to the bed so that convulsions don’t throw me to the floor. I’m in intensive care. I fade out.
For a week I fade in and out, my survival in doubt. The doctors and machines fight to save my life, and damn them, they win. They save my worthless life.
I’m trapped in a burning building, desperate to escape the flames. I want to jump, but cannot break free of the merciless fire. God, the pain. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness…
But God is silent. He leaves me screaming amid the flames.
I’m doing it again – slowly, carefully cutting myself. I don’t know why I do it. I don’t like to. It hurts.
Every so often a tornado or other disaster strikes, killing several people, injuring many more. It’s heartbreaking to see images of these people, traumatized, homeless, some having lost loved ones, some having lost everything they had. You can’t see these images without being deeply moved by their pain.
For most of my life, I was diagnosed as having some sort of depression. There were several variations over the years, but the common thread of them all was depression. As it happens, this wasn’t correct. The diagnosis has changed to Bipolar Disorder II. This has made a world of difference.
One wild night, I was about to kill myself with a shotgun. I was interrupted and ran off into the night. The police found me in a park, where they surrounded me at a distance. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, so I surrendered peacefully and was taken into custody.
Near me is a sheltered care residence for the mentally ill. They don’t need to be confined, but they need help. My wanderings often take me past this melancholy place.
Whenever someone says that in a movie, you just know this is going to end badly. I’m not trying to claim that I don’t have mental illness. Unfortunately, I do. However, I am rephrasing it slightly to focus on the person rather than the illness.