Thursday, October 06, 2005

Mental Health

Were you... um, aware that it's Mental Health Awareness Week? Well, 'tis. About 20% of Americans experience mental health problems in a year, and strangely enough, there's still a widespread stigma around the issue of mental illness. I'd say the most common misconceptions about the mentally ill are:
1) They can "get over it",
2) They're inherently dangerous,
3) They're not really ill
4) They are distinctly "other".

I am a bit (pedantically) annoyed that the US Dept. of Health and Human Services can't correct the grammatical mistakes on their own webpage. Nevertheless, the page is a good place to start.

Did I ever mention that my wife is bipolar? Well, she is, and it's a part of our life, I suppose. I know she would change her brain in a minute, but I wouldn't. I feel it's as much a part of her as her constellation of freckles. I think the difference it makes is that our life has to be slower... a bit more mindful than other people's. Big changes are bad- they don't work well. Stress can immobilize her. At its worst, she has terrifying hallucinations. So, even a little bad is alarming. When things get bad, we rent DVDs and eat ice cream until we can get her to her doctor.

She takes more pills than I can keep up with. She fills out mood charts and meets with several doctors and keeps up on it all the time. She just keeps plugging along, long after I would have. I think the worst part to watch is that, when she gets upset about something, she has to wonder if she is correct or off-kilter. Every day has its maintenance. For the record, I have never seen her be upset about "nothing," although sometimes her responses are extreme.

She is ill, and it will never go away. Schizophrenia and bipolar are both lifelong afflictions. It's bizarre to me that people still expect the mentally ill to "get over it". I can't think of any other illness that is responded to in that way. "Dave, can you just knock off this cancer nonsense?"

But, she is also a lot stronger than most people. She's brash and gutsy in ways that I am not. She's also extremely intelligent, probably more so than she realizes, and I think that helps her keep on top of it. She's one of the people who I most admire in the world. Like most spouses, I often wonder if I'm worthy of her.


Anonymous said...

i have to post a few things in response to this, seeing as it's about me. thankyou darling, for writing something so sweet :) of course you know i wonder all the time how i landed you too.

for the record though, i don't think i'd change my brain. five years ago when i was in the thick of it i'd have done it immediately. now i realize that my experiences with it have helped shape who i am, and i like that person. also, i haven't hallucinated or had delusions in years (i.e. an episode), that all stopped when my regimen got figured out. that has helped me bunches.

what i'd like to happen is the following:

-one pill. once a day. no side effects. whee!
-i'd love to be able to disclose my disorder and not have people treat me differently thereafter; thus confining any talk of mental health to "crazy people safe zones", which are few and far between.
-the media can fuck off and go to hell for what they've done for us. people with a mental health issue are more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. and we don't wear tinfoil hats.

"normal" people love to revel in their "normalcy" without realizing how many of my own symptoms are reflected in their own lives, the only difference being i chose to get help and bear the burden of a label. maybe that's the way for them, but i'm so much better off for just accepting help.


Cherish said...

I have paranoid schizophrenia and I had a boyfriend once who broke up with me because I didnt' bounce right back. He handled it well for a while and then just couldn't any more. My current boyfriend is afraid of the whole schizophrenia thing, and I don't know where this will lead us. I would love to find a mate who could take me as I am. God Bless your marriage.

Rufus said...

Thank you so much! We feel blessed.

I'm sure you'll find someone who can accept your condition. They just have to get over all the things they've heard about the condition and their own anxiety first. They'll be glad they did!