Many people have had an event in their life that has driven them towards a specific goal, given them a “Joan of Arc” complex with a fiery passion to complete their mission, no matter what obstacles fall in their path. The battles that lie ahead are almost always grueling, and the cost of martyrdom too often drains the energy, the very life from ones soul. The loss of hope and redemption make the will to keep on fighting that much harder; harder still when the fight runs parallel to your own adversity.
Last night I watched “I am Legend” for the first time and it was a grim reminder of my own mission, but more so of the constant distractions and my inability to consistently fight for what I believe to be a serious concern in the U.S. and beyond. It’s an issue that is inappropriately taboo, an issue that’s retained a negative stigma throughout the years, and an issue that has caused society (a self-absorbed breed) to fail to see the tragedy behind one of the most devastating diseases around today.
In case you’re wondering what disease I’m speaking of, it’s a fairly obvious answer- but what is less obvious, is how ridiculously shocked most of you will be by the answer. The severely neglected disease I’m talking about, is mental illness.
In 1989 I was diagnosed for the first time with O.C.D. and Panic Disorder, a disorder that often accompanies O.C.D.(This disorder in itself is a type of anxiety disorder.) The disorder was triggered earlier than it should have been by a common childhood trauma. (Common is used in this context, as unfortunate.) I was only nine years old, my childhood was not, by any means, normal. I couldn’t do the things normal children did, sleepovers and such, for fear of having a panic attack. I couldn’t allow my friends to find out how “abnormal” I was. I knew this at nine, ten, and eleven.
Children shouldn’t have to think about such things; children should only be thinking about their next big crush, whose house they’re going to sleepover at, what they’re going to do for the weekend, and what toys they want for Christmas. This wasn’t me, my thoughts were always the same. Whats wrong with me? Am I dying? When is the next panic attack going to happen? Am I really going to die this time? I would almost rather die than to have no control over the switchboard in my head. Mental illness is like a killer virus that attacks the hard drive of your computer. First it attacks the programs you’ve worked so hard to maintain, and then it starts to confuse you, because your “top rated” virus protection program is detecting no virus. Little by little it starts to pick apart and destroy all of your programs, eventually crashing the hard drive.
By 1995 (I was 15) I had become so careless and destructive I found myself face down in my own pile of shit. I had gotten myself thrown into a temporary group home for three months, wondering how in the hell this all happened so fast. It was then that I was diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder, and later more specifically, bi-polar II or NOS. (Not otherwise specified.)
The NOS diagnosis is given when there are persuasive symptoms of bi-polar disorder, but the clinician cannot pin down a specific diagnosis based on the diagnostic guidelines.
Around 1997-98, the bi-polar diagnosis was thrown out the window and I was re-diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s funny, because, the popular movie “Girl Interrupted” was unveiled around the same time as my diagnosis. That movie was a savior. Finally, a mainstream movie about mental disorders! It was quite an accurate account of behaviors, emotions, and relationships between those afflicted by mental illness. My “birds of a feather” friends/lovers soon learned every word of the movie by heart.
Now, over ten years later, I’m back too seeing a shrink once a week (and a “the-rapist” every two weeks) Thanks in part to my finally waving the white flag, knowing that something still isn’t quite right. Of course, recent events in my life also took part in my decision to surrender. I feel my control slipping away for the second time in two years; thats two times too many.
My current shrink sees “no traces of borderline personality disorder”, and is leaning more towards the original diagnosis of bi-polar II or NOS. After re-examining myself and each respective disorder, along with having observed loved ones suffering from various mental illnesses, I’m inclined to agree. The problem with that is, B.P.D. and bi-polar II often exhibit similar symptoms, and are annoyingly hard to diagnose.
I am only one of over 57.7 million U.S. adults suffering from a mental illness, and I am sick to the core of the neglect shown to the mental health community by society. I have made it my mission to advocate for all those who are mentally ill and are unable to speak for themselves- the homeless, the imprisoned, the hospitalized, and the dead; all of them who suffer, or who suffered from a likely genetically predisposed disease that is seriously misunderstood and underrated.
It’s hard though, to consistently “light up the darkness” when you’re a part of the darkness. Help stop the 32,000+ suicides a year, the violence, the addictions, and the homeless by educating yourself and demanding that attention be called to mental illness. “Light up the darkness.”