We Deserve Respect

Did you see/hear the rant about mental health issues that John Oliver delivered on a recent segment of his show Last Week Tonight?  The outburst was prompted by the recent mass shooting in Oregon.  Oliver noted that the politicians have been blaming this mass shooting, and all others as well, on mental illness, which, he pointed out, seems to be the only time mental health issues get addressed.  But, other than his initial mention of the mass shooting in Oregon, which was the trigger for his tirade, his words primarily dealt with the weak condition of mental health services in our society.  It was terrific.  It was eleven minutes and fifty-four seconds of sheer genius verbiage about our mental health system’s failures, and how poorly we talk about the situation, if we talk about it at all.  In addition, he noted a number of prime people who are doing little if anything to encourage any significant changes.  Truly, it was an uplifting moment listening to and then processing his thoughts.  It was also amazing to hear the incredulity that Oliver emoted about the lack of understanding of, and lack of sensitivity to, mental health issues that is shown by politicians and the general public.  In fact, he highlighted two doctors who have television shows and appear to be clueless about their own insensitive treatment of mental health issues.  I was cheering John Oliver on.  I was dancing with excitement as I listened very carefully to all the points Oliver made in his “skit.”  I wanted to reach through my computer and hug him.  I wanted to scream and yell,  “Hey, here I am, let me help you tell the world.”  Unfortunately, the glass was in the way, and he was too busy saying important things.  He talked about the stigma of the disease.  He talked about the poor job we do of discussing this subject intelligently on the rare occasions when we allot time to talk about mental health diseases and their treatments.  He also spoke about the closing of institutions and the lack of help that is available to people who truly need it.  He talked about the squeamishness that people exhibit when they refer to mental health issues, and the strange “names” they attach to the condition.  So many topics touched.  So much to think about for the newly aware.

It was great to have someone who is so visible in today’s culture take such a strong stand on the lack of understanding of the mental health issue, and he did it through such a public medium – television.  We need more people to be vocal.  We need politicians, doctors, and other visible personalities to advocate for us. And the issue is certainly not helped by lumping us altogether and calling us “nuts” or “completely insane” or “not normal.” (I am very normal, I just have a tough challenge.)  It is important to remember, “us” covers a large community of people with mental health disorders, and within that community there are many different manifestations of the disease.  Some of “us” are burdened with difficult and complicated versions of a mental health disorder, and others have simpler, more straight forward forms of the disease.  Kind of like the difference between stage one breast cancer and stage four breast cancer.  They are linked to the same illness, but they have different treatments and often different results.  However, one thing all people who have mental health disorders share in common is that we share the same battle with the stigma of having a mental health disorder. Let “us” get rid of the stigma.  Let “us” all continue talking and sharing our stories.  Let others see that we are normal human beings with tough challenges.  We deserve respect.  We deserve understanding.  We deserve help.


Overpowered or Empowered?

As I have been writing posts for this blog, I have found myself gaining personal strength and spreading the word about mental health issues in discussions with friends, family, and acquaintances. Acknowledging to others that I have an anxiety disorder I have learned to manage, and that I live a productive, fulfilling, and happy life, has been an incredible source of strength for me. It is a gift I did not expect when I found the courage to share my thoughts.

Recently, I found myself having two different moments of sharing in the same evening.  When I think back on these discussions, I find myself with a smile on my face.  One discussion was extremely validating because the person with whom I spoke opened up about his own battles with a mental health condition.  We spoke for only a few minutes, but it was very clear to me that he was pleased to have found a fellow traveler who was willing to talk about the issues.  He walked away with a bit of a bounce in his step and a huge smile on his face.

The second conversation was also very validating, but for very different reasons.  Two friends overheard a bit of my first conversation, and asked what it was about.  When I explained that I had started a blog dealing with mental health issues, they quizzically asked why I had picked that subject.  I matter of factly explained that I have an anxiety disorder and I am hoping to help others by discussing my own journey.  The response was deafening silence.  They really had no idea what to say to me.  Later, when I mentioned this conversation to my husband, he asked me, “What would you have expected them to say?”  Well, they could have asked me how long I have had this condition.  They could have asked what kind of treatment is needed for an anxiety disorder.  They could have asked how an anxiety disorder manifests itself.  They could have asked what it is like to have a mental health issue.  They could have asked me when I started the blog or why I started the blog.  They could have said they never realized I had been suffering with this condition.  They could have asked what motivated me to begin to share this information.  But not one of these questions came from their mouths.  Just total quiet. And I remember the clandestine look that they passed between them.  You know that look.  The one that is kind of like one’s mouth dropping open in shock, but presumably more polite because no one is intended to see the “look.”   Inwardly, I smiled. I rather enjoyed the quiet. It proved the point that I have made over and over through this blog. Other people just don’t know what to say because they are embarrassed.  THEY think that having a mental illness is a source of shame.  But we know it shouldn’t be.  We know it is an illness just like any other illness.

We do not get to choose the items in our baggage. We just get to decide if we are going to be overpowered or empowered by the challenges.  I know which direction I have chosen. Which one are you choosing?

So I Asked Myself

The more I read other people’s stories about their mental health battles, the more I am struck by the number of people who are dealing with serious mental health illnesses.  As a result of my reading, I have also realized that the people who are waging battles against mental health diseases are a very diverse group.  The disease knows no boundaries based on education, race, age, national origin, financial circumstances, personal interests, personality, level of personal success, or professional choices.  We can easily produce a list of people that would include military personnel, politicians (including presidents and prime ministers), children, teenagers, mothers, fathers, the elderly, artists, the woman down the block, musicians, teachers, journalists, the man around the corner, firemen, policemen, doctors, lawyers, etc., etc.  Most of the writers try to end on a positive note of “keeping on keeping on,” or “fighting the good fight,” or “ taking it one day at a time.”  But sadly, some of the stories are not written by the sufferer, but rather by a close friend or family member because the person with the illness is no longer here to tell us his or her story.  The pain of their illness became intolerable for them.  Some choose pills. Some choose a gun.  Some choose wrist slashing.  Some choose hanging.  Some choose asphyxiation by monoxide poisoning.  Some choose a car crash.  Some choose jumping off a bridge.  And again, I say, etc., etc. Suicide is never pretty.  Occasionally, a person is discovered before succeeding in ending his or her life. Sometimes that person is grateful for the second chance, and sometimes not.

So I asked myself,  “With so many people, from so many backgrounds, suffering from and battling with mental health illnesses, why are there so many other people who still think it’s just a matter of dealing with a hang nail and not a real illness?”  Why do so many of those other people say,  “Just get on with it, you’ll be fine?”  Why do so many of those other people think that we imagine our symptoms, and that we make ourselves into victims? Honestly, I don’t know.  All I do know is that the naysayers are plentiful, and so are the sufferers of these diseases.