The Moxie of Caring

When it comes to mental illness, don’t tell me that people don’t care, because they do. They certainly do.

Are there people who may not understand this rare journey? Or, are they too busy in their own lives to give it some critical thought? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that they’re bad people. It’s just easy to fear or neglect the unknown. It doesn’t help that today’s life runs at a pace that hardly allows for reflection of such a dark subject.

I got deflated after someone told me that I “should stop writing.” I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out where that came from. What business is it of this person to tell me to stop writing in the hopes of spreading awareness about mental illness? Hey dude, here’s some golden advice — if you don’t like it — if it makes you uncomfortable because I’m being honest about a tough topic, because I’m sharing my story that I’ve kept bottled up for 20 years, tough. Don’t read it. But again, not bad people.

That’s just one example of the stigma that still plagues the mental health community to this day — and that’s an easy one. I have had the privilege of reading blogs from people who have been treated for wicked diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more. I find that courageous. But, can you imagine if someone were to tell them “hey, quit writing about that, nobody cares.” I can hear the engines of a thousand Harley Davidsons right now, revving up to go pay them a visit.

I’m not here on behalf of myself — I’m finding my new path and the worst of my illness has been in remission for over a year now. I gave up a lot to be where I am today, and it was anything but easy. It hasn’t been like a 9 to 5 job either — it’s a job that I never get to escape.

A few short years ago, my goal was, when the time was right, to find the right location and open a pub. After all, I’d been in the biz for close to twenty years, learning as much as I could. But then I got extremely ill. I had three manic episodes from bipolar disorder that severely derailed me, and I wound up in a crisis unit each time for extended stays. I’m going to write about those experiences one day, whenever I can piece it all back together.

That’s kind of how I landed into writing — I kind of failed my way into it — and even though I am very much a rookie in the craft, there’s a lot that I love about it. Writing is a way of life, someone wrote once. It serves as a great mental release, something that I can’t get enough of. It doesn’t make walking away from twenty years in the business any easier, but it helps. I loved entertaining and helping run a business as a bartender and a manager. When your customers are happy to see you and are happy when they leave, it makes your career choice feel worthwhile. Again, hard to walk away from.

As for writing, part of my goal is to do it for those that can’t find the words right now — especially veterans. We are all each other’s advocates, so the moment someone forgets that, or loses sight of it, that’s when they can relapse, and it’s our responsibility to take notice — you, me, everybody. It was George H. W. Bush who said, “Any definition of a successful life must include service to others.” When it comes to mental health, everyone can do something.

We watch each other’s backs in so many ways within our families, workplaces and communities — why aren’t the mentally ill included? Some are — the lucky ones, like me — but most aren’t, and the way things can end for people who live with MI, well, it’s hard to even put into print.

It’s imperative that we continue to stress that when a person with a MI becomes ill, it doesn’t mean violence is on the horizon — essentially fighting stigma. In fact, a very small percentage of people with mental illness actually commit violent acts, even a smaller percentage than those who are considered ‘normal.’ As recent studies continue to show, those with MI are more likely to be victims of crime, rather than perpetrators. You read that correctly.

In the wake of a mass shooting, our media and politicians are quick to use MI as a scapegoat. And you know what I’m going to say next — that’s bull. The Donald (Trump) got on national television and said “we don‘t have a gun problem, we have a mental illness problem..” Now, before I go off like a roman candle, I have to ask: what in the hell qualifies him to even make that statement? Mr. President — please leave that to the professionals in the field of psychology. Please.

The proper response should have been, “My deepest sympathies go out to the victims and their families. As far as trying to alleviate the problem, I think we would need to assemble a group of experts in the fields of safety, sociology, psychology, law enforcement and technology.” What he did say was both shortsighted and stigmatizing.

Show us that you’re planning. Talk about action. Pushing the root cause of a national crisis that involves our youth onto the mentally ill, like it’s a blanket, is disenfranchising. People who live with mental illness are already marginalized and face all kinds of stigma, even the ones that are hiding it. I should know, I was among them. I face stigma regularly. I have people who walk away from me, avoid me and even laugh at some of things that have happened to me. Tell me, would you ever talk about a cancer patient like that?

“It’s her own fault.”

“He got what he deserved.”

“It’s not contagious, is it?”

Using loose language and scapegoating tragedies onto the mentally ill is not acceptable. They are already fighting on a daily basis to live a somewhat normal life. When you couple that with discrimination and stigma, it’s more than some can bear. This isn’t about political correctness, it’s about something far greater than that — this is about freedom.

So, when I hear, read or see stigma from people regarding MI, I have to speak up. I owe it to the dead — to those who lost their battle. When someone gets a diagnosis of MI or they have a manic or depressive episode, the people around them don’t come running in pink socks with casseroles or raise money for them — they are more often than not marginalized or even abandoned.

It takes a strong will to go on living under those kinds of circumstances, but they keep fighting.

I haven’t written in a long while and it’s really frustrated me. The words are out there, I just need the wind to turn and I’ll catch them, then I can write them down — that’s kind of how writing works for me. Trying to wrap your head around the entire issue of mental health is all but impossible. Someone who took a good stab at it recently was the comedian John Oliver, who shared his thoughts on the matter in a 12 minute clip. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGY6DqB1HX8. It’s great to hear someone be able to use humor to describe the current situation of the mental health community, as broken as it is. Mr. Oliver nailed it. What’s even more important is that he showed that he has the moxie.

Thank you for reading.

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