I am a broken leg. I am appendicitis. Sounds a little weird. What about she is pancreatitis or he is heart disease? Still sounds a little off. Let’s try she is bipolar or he is schizophrenic. Why does this sound acceptable or recognizable?
All of the afflictions I used have a biological basis. None of them are contagious. They all impact a life and those connected to it. All can be treated to varying degrees of recovery. The only thing that separates the mental illness is that it involves the brain. Mental illnesses are sometimes treated chemically. Why do we make a distinction when the brain is treated surgically. If a person has a brain tumor we do not say she is a brain tumor. A tumor makes an impact on a persons life and those around them. With treatment there are varying degrees of recovery for both the chemical and physical. Why is the tumor considered more physical? Do we not treat the tumor with chemicals at times? It all gets a little confusing why exactly our language is sometimes used differently for mental illness.
To flag an individual with a label seems natural on the tongue but what are we really saying? Why do we say Jimmy is bipolar? Why does Jimmy say I am bipolar? When we say it this way are we at least in language stripping Jimmy of all the other aspects of his life? Jimmy`s illness is not completely him. He has a reality and imagination that could be shared by many. He has a misfortune that could be also be shared by many but no matter where you place him he will always posses many of the same qualities as you.
No one asks for a mental illness any more than any other affliction. When individuals seek a diagnosis it is only so we can be helped. We don`t read through psychiatric magazines or tabloids to choose our symptoms. I have what I have. Please speak to me and about me in terms that we for some reason reserve for physical ailments.
The brain is located on top of our bodies but we hold mental illness below all else.
Your words might not reach me but they reach someone.
At one of my presentations a law professor asked me if I thought the Ontario Review Board treated me fairly. I smiled at him and said the last time they dealt with me it was indeed fair; I was granted an Absolute Discharge in December. There was applause which made me feel that finally even strangers were in support or at least were happy my struggles had ended.
It did make me think. To answer the question better I would say “yes”. They have a job to do and a real balancing act. To protect the public but at the same time to offer conditions which are the least onerous to me, the accused. I think the public won out on a few Dispositions as I never considered myself a threat to public safety. I often pictured myself as stable and I certainly had no plans that weren’t peaceful. I simply wanted to get on with my life. I wanted to reconnect with my children, live independently, find meaningful occupation and maybe even love. The Ontario Review Board essentially prevented most of this for years but I don’t look at it as an injustice. I merely paid the price for others who may have been similar in diagnosis and circumstance who needed the law to conform to, or who had provided reason to be overseen. My duty now is to prove to society that the decision of the Ontario Review Board was correct. My pursuit of life was more important and significant than any risk I posed. At the same time I hope to provide positive statistics and precedence to others who are in similar circumstances. I hope that by thriving and living peacefully despite my past and diagnosis that someone else may be granted the benefit of the doubt. In reality I wasn’t granted an Absolute Discharge; I am still connected to my actions and my past. What I was granted was the benefit of the doubt. Without a doubt it feels incredible.
In my late teens and early twenties I worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources. I spent several of my seasons in Kapuskasing. I was mainly involved with fisheries and wildlife but I had some knowledge of forestry imparted on me. I was once told how they obtain pine cones from the trees in their propagation plantations. I never saw it but they apparently had a machine that ran down the rows and cut into the trunks of the trees. The trees reacted to this injury as though they were dying. They immediately started the process of producing fruit (cones).
What do we make of the injuries we suffer from life?
I drove through a dust storm today. I can’t recall ever seeing one. It was less than a mile thick but it was quite dense. I somehow felt like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. My dog was in the back of the car. Would the Wicked Witch of the West appear and say “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too”? I made it through and returned to where I was earlier parked. I had dropped some family at an appointment and sat reading the paper. The car shook every so often with the stronger gusts and it felt as though I was not exactly stopped. The dog was sleeping as we sat alone in a graveled parking area. Every once in a while the car was pelted with grit. I thought about moving but I kept thinking about the people living in the dust storm and the person who was coming home to a large tree laying across their roof. There were worse places to be.
When I was eight or so I was hiking with a friend. On our way home we stopped at a shack on the outskirts of town. There was a couch and not much else inside. We had matches which any outdoors man would not be without. We started playing with them and started a small fire on the couch. We panicked and ran the few blocks to my friend’s home and informed his father of the fire. My recollection was that he was unconcerned so we headed back to our handiwork. In the meantime someone had called in the volunteer fire department to extinguish our couch. I remember talking to the firefighters and one of us said we saw some big kids run off into the bush. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed my father, the editor, with his camera around his neck. He had followed the sirens for a possible story. I don’t recall any reference to the episode at the family dinner table so I assume our story convinced even the media.
The episode always stayed as a memory and in my innocence as a psychiatric patient I disclosed the story to a doctor at some point. This reference became a permanent part of my history and when they compiled my list of behaviours and sins it was included for the Board of Review to see that I had been a fire setter as a child.
I really don’t see myself as such and I resented the sociopathic connotation it carried. I often wondered if my partner in crime was ever considered a fire setter. Was his involvement drawn out before people who determined his suitability for re-entry into the community or had he simply forgotten or kept quiet? I rather doubt the incident had any further impact on his life and I wonder if the same information fell on hands outside of the psychiatric profession it would have any meaning at all.
I do like fire, whether it is a pile of brush or leaves or a simple gathering of beach wood at the lake but I have my doubts that it is any more pathological than anyone else on a camping trip.
What makes it pathological is not the act, not the person, but simply the profession.
I went out to the mall yesterday to purchase a shirt. I haven’t been to a mall in well over a year. Things looked the same and I was lost as usual. Many of the stores were for fashion and I kept looking at the mannequins. They seemed more muscular and toned. For the first time I noticed the legs of the females mannequins had muscles and definition; in my memory they were shapely only. They looked great but I had to wonder if the change was a reflection of what is actually out there or is it the magazine ideal. Part of why the mannequins stood out was because they were displayed in groups. I have seen groups of women but I can’t recall ever seeing all of them with the same body type. There are individuals who could more colourfully take the place of the mannequins but I have seen and met more women with a body type that differs. I’m not sure why we advertise to the majority using the minority.
How do you explain depression to someone who has never experienced it? I recognize it and feel it but even I have a hard time making any sense of it. It can be numbing, like some sort of anesthesia that allows you to see and be very conscious of everything in your life but you don’t feel any of it. You see your children but can’t find that very small spark that would normally bring you out of yourself to engage with them without immense effort. The same could be said about any friends or relatives, you see them if you can manage it, but you can’t relate. This quicksand spreads throughout every aspect of your life. Hobbies lose their flavour as do movies, music and sunsets. Stress only weighs on you as you are sinking in your world of quicksand. Work and responsibilities are slowly plodded through at best.
Everything in your life can be good; money, family, friends, employment and status. You can have it all but it’s just something that happens to you, nothing sensational or pleasurable cuts through the anesthesia. If you have experienced it before you can remind yourself that “this too shall pass” but like a passenger on the Titanic you’re more apt to believe everything in your world is sinking.
Rather than flailing in the quicksand which only seems to further your descent, you start thinking about taking one last gulp of air and giving in to the inevitable. Like someone jumping from a high rise fire, it seems better to hit the ground and end it quickly than to stay and melt into nothing.