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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