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Mentally Ill Or Just Plain Nuts?

In 2010, Bell Canada announced it was launching a campaign and would donate $50 million over five years in support of mental health initiatives. The program is called Bell Let’s Talk and has four main pillars: workplace mental health, research, community care and access and anti-stigma.

I’m not a big fan of Bell Canada and especially not its customer service but I am a huge supporter of this initiative for a very simple reason, I struggled with mental illness for almost forty years.

I had two illnesses that combined to create a third. In that regard, mental illness is the gift that keeps on giving.

I was a borderline psychotic which means that while I never suffered from psychotic episodes I had all of the other characteristics and symptoms of the illness including hearing voices that whispered strange and often terrible things in my head. They sometimes influenced my ability to think rationally which sometimes had a significant influence on my behaviour. At times, it was like I had no control and  was trapped;  forced to watch someone or something else live my life.

My primary illness was Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which prior to the 1990s was called Multiple Personality Syndrome. Many people associate this illness with how it has been portrayed in movies; a person with more than one person living within them. It isn’t an accurate representation of the illness.

Think of your personality as being like an orange made up of many different segments (facets). When the segments are together, the orange is whole, when they are separate; the orange no longer exists in its original form. The personalities of people with DID are like a segmented orange and they move randomly back and forth randomly between each segment of their personality. This means that they seldom have the balance that is necessary to live life rationally as a complete person.

In my case, I could be happy, almost manic  one moment and the next, out of control angry. Some people saw me as strong and others knew me to be timid and afraid of the most trivial and unrealistic things. There was no rhyme or reason for it and if something triggered it moving from one segment of my personality to another, I was seldom aware of what it might be.

I knew a significant number of people in my life but very few of them knew me as the same person as others did. What they knew of me was dictated by which segment of my personality was in control at the time. It was life lived at its most random.

Together, these two illnesses contributed to the development of a third illness; an acute clinical depression that resulted in a serious chemical imbalance in the brain which caused highly disruptive, often irrational thinking. That in turn sometimes caused behaviour that was sometimes dangerously self-destructive.

It sometimes caused me to hurt people in my life for whom I cared very deeply.

People tend to think of depression as simply meaning over-indulgent sadness. They are poorly informed. Depression is a serious illness that is the number one mental disorder in the western world. More than one million people in North America commit suicide every year because of their depression and even more die from other illnesses that are impacted by depression.

In the young, depression attacks the immune system. It has a direct negative impact on the thymus and contributes to fatalities in patients suffering from heart disease.

Depression has two major causes; physical disorders and cognitive issues. My illness was caused by both a physical disorder that may have included genetics inherited from my grandmother who was institutionalized more than once but was also due to a serious sleeping disorder.  My depression was also built by cognitive issues that dated back to abuse in my childhood and the other illnesses with which I struggled.

Physical causes can include things like a serious accident, repeated physical abuse, serious illness including other mental illnesses and even genetic inheritance. Cognitive causes include things like war, child abuse, rape, death of a loved one, child birth or any one of dozens of other difficult things many of us face in our lives at some point.

Cognitive depression is the result of unresolved emotional trauma in the brain. The conscious mind forgets, the subconscious never does.

Each of my illnesses fed the others and overr the years they grew until they eventually overwhelmed me and I finally crashed.

It was one of the best things that ever happened to me although at the time I didn’t recognize that.

I was fortunate. My illnesses were treatable and thanks to the breakdown, I was finally diagnosed and treatment began. I was in treatment four days a week for two harsh and painful years during which I swallowed a buffet of expensive meds that I remain convinced must have helped to put more than one pharmacist’s son or daughter through university.

But I got through it. As dark and endless as the road seemed at the time, I didn’t just survive. I reemerged and I found my way back to the person I was before I became ill and that set me free. I now live a life even better than the one I always intended to live but was never  able to achieve.

I am married to a remarkable woman that I adore. We have two successful and beautiful daughters and two amazing grandchildren. I have, every day through my blog, the opportunity to annoy progressives and challenge stupid people (who are not always progressives by the way).  I now do the things I wanted to do without having to fight my way through the dark forests that surrounded my mind and the only voice I hear now is mine when I’m cursing the instructions on how to assemble a new barbeque.

I’m free now and as ugly as it was, I would travel that dark road again to arrive here because I’m one of the lucky ones. Not everyone who suffers from mental illness is as fortunate as I have been.

Mental illness isn’t an illness in and of itself, it is a big tent of separate illnesses that include: bi-polar disorder,schizophrenia,  psychosis, clinical depression, dissociative identity disorder (which includes things like post traumatic stress disorder), psychopathic illnesses, dementia, anxiety attacks and autism among others.

Too many dismiss mental illness as little more than an unwillingness to deal with life’s problems. When it becomes known that suffer from a mental illness many will treat them differently than they did. Some will be disappointed in the person for not being stronger, as if  they had a choice. Some will blame them, some judge them unfairly and many will simply turn away. Even those who think they are helping often react in less than than empathetic ways.

They trivialize mental illness as we have seen with the military refusing to accept the reality and severity of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder while others think of post-partum depression as nothing more than self-indulgence by a new mother.

Along with the challenges of the disease, mental illness comes with a serious stigma as I learned quickly. I lost most of my friends and a good deal of my life. I don’t blame anyone for it. I understand that it wasn’t the illness they deplored, it was the strange, sometimes frightening attitudes and behaviour it caused. We, as a society, still have a considerable difficulty dealing with that behaviour.

Legally, sanity is understanding the difference between right and wrong when it really should be whether or not you have enough control over your mind to do make the right choice. You don’t have to be delusional to struggle and fail in trying to prevent yourself from doing what you know is wrong but are powerless to stop.

Jeffrey Dalmer was proof of that. He raped, murdered and ate young men and there is no sanity to be found anywhere in that behaviour. He kept pieces of their dismembered bodies in a freezer in his living room and yet, the courts found him legally sane because he knew that what he was doing was wrong.. What the courts don’t recognize is that people like Jeffrey Dalmer are powerless to stop what the illness drives them to do.

We dismiss his explanation as excuse making because we are horrified by his behaviour but consider this.

Our computers function because they contain software that combined have millions of lines of programming code. We know from experience that it only takes a small few lines of malicious code in a virus, a worm or a Trojan to disrupt the functionality of our desktop or laptop. It’s why we install anti-virus, anti-malware and firewall software. We want to protect our computer from those things that will make it behave erratically or which might even erase or destroy data.

The human brain is an organic computer which is far more powerful and robust than a desktop, laptop or even a mainframe computer; and yet, it is also incredibly fragile. It doesn’t take much to create a virus in the form of a mental illness to change the way that organic computer functions and there is no anti-malware or firewall software to prevent it.

The mentally ill are often victimized twice; once by their illness and once by the society around them. It’s why I support Bell Let’s Talk; it is a campaign that brings mental illness out of the shadows where it can be seen for what it is rather than for what we are afraid it might be.

Mental illnesses like clinical depression disrupt the chemical balance of the brain’s neurotransmitters. Those neurotransmitters are responsible for things like rational thought and good decision making. When they’re out of balance, it has much the same effect as a virus on a computer.

Any mental illness is an illness no different than heart disease or cancer but equally as serious. One in five suffers from some form of mental illness including people you know, you work with and in your family. It is often invisible but no less serious because of its lack of visibility..

Some confuse mental illness with intellectual capability and label the mentally ill as being nuts. They’re wrong.

There is a real difference between being mentally ill and simply being nuts. Mental illness is any one of a series of different diseases that can be treated and in some cases even cured. Being nuts is simply an over abundance of stupidity and you can’t fix stupid.

And that, my friends, is simply the real difference between being mentally ill and simply being nuts. One is treatable; the other is a hopeless lost cause.

Support Bell Let’s Talk and bring mental illness out into the light where it belongs and dispel the myths and irrational fears hiding it in the shadows has caused for too long.


© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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  • http://bgulk0.wix.com/raspberry-h-venue gramma Barb

    Thankyou Bear, for helping to shed some of the stigma about this disease. Each of us need to help take the scary away. I lived with a family member with manic depression for over half of my life, not realizing what I was trying to understand, and believe me, I do not like to revisit those memories too often. Today it seems like it was a nightmare but it actually ‘happened’. To You I say, welcome to the sunshine!

  • Pingback: A Bears Rant | Grumpy Opinions()

  • http://www.commonplacecrazy.com Cynthia Meents

    Thank you, Bear.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      No thanks needed Cynthia, I should have spoken up a long time ago.

  • http://www.nottheberwickshireadvertiser.com Chastity Flyte

    Dear Bear

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. As someone who doesn’t suffer from mental illness (at the moment, but who knows later in life?), I appreciate hearing about experiences of mental dis-ease.

    People attribute the label ‘mental’ or ‘nuts’ to someone who perpetrates terrible deeds because it’s easier than accepting the dark side of human nature. It’s a way of distancing ourselves from our less appealing instincts. However, it is so SO important not to excuse every terrible incident as an act of diminished responsibility due to mental illness. Just because society doesn’t wish to believe that a sane person can carry out acts of unimaginable horror, doesn’t mean to say that every terrible act should be excused as mental illness and go unpunished.

    There is a duty of care to ensure that the mentally ill do not get stigmatised by the actions of the criminally sane, and equally there is a duty of care to ensure that the criminally sane do not go unpunished. Otherwise we are faced with a society that abdicates all notion of self-control and responsibility for its actions.

    Chastity x

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Once I went into treatment, my doctors (and I had a slew of them) demanded a certain level of personal responsibility from me. There were no excuses made for my illness, just explanations. It is how it should be. The mentally ill aren’t to be pitied or given a free pass on being responsible; that comes from the politically correct who think they’re helping by ‘setting them free’ to make decisions they aren’t always qualified or capable of making.

      My daughter used to work for the the Public Trustee of the Attorney General of Ontario. It was her responsibility to help the mentally ill manage their money. Schizophrenics, for example, usually have a compulsion of some type and one her clients had a compulsion to buy perfume. She didn’t wear, she just bought it and if left to her own devices, she would have spent her entire monthly funds buying perfume the first day she bought it. Another, used to show up for his weekly allotment in a wedding dress. She loved them, not for their illness or despite it, she loved them for being themselves and it she liked the fact that she was helping them live independent lives to the best of their ability.

      By contrast, a previous government had simply overturned the old rules, let patients decide for themselves whether or not they should stay in the hospital or even take their meds. To my way of thinking that’s like a patient arguing with their heart surgeon. The result was a significant increase in the numbers of mentally ill homeless people living in their own lonely and unproductive hell.

      Mental Illness is not a scourge, it is a class of different illnesses and we need to stop treating it as something separate and apart and start treating it as an illness that can affect any of us. People with mental illness are sick and that is no different than having HIV, cancer or heart disease.

      • http://www.nottheberwickshireadvertiser.com Chastity Flyte

        I quite agree. In the UK we have ‘Care in the Community’, a misnomer if ever there was. It’s just an excuse for the Government to abdicate responsibility of caring for the mentally ill.

  • Cheryl R.

    There are so many things I want to say about what you’ve written today. But you said everything I’d like to and did it so much better than I could have. Instead, I will just say, THANK YOU.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      There is no need to thank me. What I have shared is neither heroic or unusual but I shared it to give encouragement to those who feel alone in their illness and to help those who are not mentally ill understand those of us who have or still suffer from mentally illness are not to be feared or pitied; just recognized as fellow human beings working our way through an illness beyond our control If it helps to bring mental illness down to size, then I am satisfied. Thank you for reading it.

  • http://wyrdpooka.blogspot.com/ adrienne warren

    In America we have as a society decided that ignored people should quietly just disappear. Our streets are littered with the lost the broken and the wounded. Now with the mass shootings, there is talk from our right of registering mad people, (Guns have the NRA to protect them, but mad people, well ). I wonder if one day I’ll be tagged like a polar bear. Any way there was a time I gave a speech in San Francisco regarding the closing of a public residential hospital. They were going to close the facility and send the residents to either halfway houses (which most would not have been able to deal with. Or shuffle them off hundreds of miles aways from all family support. The speech has not lost it’s meaning.
    Even a Lunatic deserves respect

    When most people think about severe mental illness they tend to think of it in the context of movies they have seen: ‘one flew over the coo coos nest’, ‘Girl Interrupted, ‘K-pax, ‘ Rain man, People walk away from those movies with the feeling the the severely mentally  ill are , quirky but kinda cute and sweet with a childlike innocence.
    Reality is a far cry from such sentimental portraiture.
    The severely mentally ill are
    Extremely Annoying People.
    (This is the point when every single person on the board including the perfectly groomed Mr. Newsom sit up in their seats expressions of polite boredom replaced with shock.  Like I had just reached up and slapped them all in the face.  Nothing is more shocking to a politician than someone speaking the truth.)
    Many fo the residents of the MHFR are not able to master the minimum skill sets necessary to function independently in society.  Skills such as bathing, laundry, dressing themselves, some are completely illiterate, can not add 2 and 2 without extreme mental gymnastics.  Some even have difficulty speaking their own name.
    On top of all those difficulties, the mentally ill have an inability to understand or to conform to societies norms of behavior.  The laugh for no reason, scream with no warning, they stumble, they drool.
    In short, it’s hard to want to help these people.  We want to draw away, to avoid to step around them.
    Think for a moment how many you stepped around as you came to work this morning.  How many grubby outstretched hands you pretended not to see.
    We feel angry with those laying on the street in their filthy rags.  Angry at them for so nakedly displaying their helpless misery.
    Issues are nearly always complex, but choices nearly always simple.
    What is to be done with the mentally ill?  Will we as a society do the hard thing and extend to them care and safety?  Or will we ignore their outstretched hands, close our eyes to their pain and need?  Shall we step over the ragged man with a wrinkle of disgust and a sanctimoniously intoned
    “Why doesn’t somebody do something?”

    The Cost of Care

    A few years back when the Soviet Empire broke apart signaling the official end of an unofficial war, the US Military looked into the idea of closing a number of its smaller military bases in order to save money.  What they found was that in most cases closing the base would in the long run cost more than keeping the bases open.  We have only to look at the money pit the Presidio has become to remind us of that.
    (And the board sat up straighter in their seats.  The Presidio was a poke in a tender place.  The former Army base sitting on some of the most valued real estate in the world and no one could figure out what to do with it.  So it sits mostly empty paying no taxes and sucking up money for maintenance while the lawyers argue over competing claims and costs)
    Closing the MHRF will likewise cost San Francisco more than it will save.
    There are over one hundred forty patients at the MHRF where shall they go in the event of closure?
    Psychiatry patients do not ‘get better’ just because there is no funding for their care.
    Some will no doupt end up in acute care facilities.  Such facilities are all ready over burdened and under funded.  Acute care is also more expensive per patient than comparable care done at the MHRF.
    Some will go to board and care, even though some are unable to care for themselves in even the most basic aspects of independent living.
    Some will no doubt end up wandering the streets, homeless and confused.
    Some will routinely be seen in overwhelmed emergency rooms.
    Some will fail to take their meds that hold their demons in check and end up acting out violently to a world gone mad.  For those, a jail cell may well be their future fate.
    The MHRF is currently the most cost effective answer to a difficult problem.  How do we as a society care for those who can not care for themselves.

    The MHRF was saved from the chopping block in the end, I did have to make a bit of a public Nuisance of myself http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Mentally-ill-woman-can-t-go-home-Treatment-2650689.php

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      One of the reasons I have criticized the gun control debate is not because I am pro gun, it is because it focuses on the wrong things. Mental illness is one of the things the discussion should be about. Very few of the mentally ill are homicidal but clearly it takes some sort of diseased mind to commit the kind of rampage we saw at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We’re not addressing that.

      In Ontario, the mentally ill were set free by an NDP Premier who decided they were competent enough to decide for themselves whether or not they should be institutionalized or take their medication. They were given rights advisors and many ended up living on the streets in their own private hell.

      Because we treat mental illness differently than other illnesses, we don’t do a very good job of dealing with it. Hopefully, as more becomes known about it and society learns to understand and accept it, we will turn our attention from being afraid of the mentally ill to proper funding and support for treatment of their illnesses.

      Thank you for taking the time to read the post. I appreciate it.

  • Cheryl

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have personally known you for many years and would like you to know how much your story will mean to others who are trying to work their way through the jungle. By talking, sharing and supporting each other, we will hopefully bring understanding to others. Only by being open can there be an end to the stigma of mental illness. Thank you so much.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      I am not ashamed of having been mentally ill. I am blessed because it was diagnosed and treated. For me, it is like surviving any other illness, a liberation and I celebrate it every day of my life.

      • RunningWithTheWolves

        Bear, your column brought tears to my eyes today,
        because this must have been a very difficult thing for you to share and write those words. When I finished reading, it reminded me of a quote from Albert Camus.

        “In the depth of winter, I learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. ”

        Thank you Bear, for sharing with us this part of your life….

        • http://abearsrant.com thebear

          Camus was right. I learned that to get to the light, you have to walk through the darkness. When I was ill, I lived in darkness and was afraid of it. When I finally was forced to confront it, I discovered slowly that there was nothing in the darkness of which to fear and I began to walk into my own version of summer. It was a long walk but worth every step I took. I hope it encourages others who have yet to take that walk or who are in the middle of their walk through the night. Thank you for reading this.