WARNING: Shameless self-promotion ahead!
It’s been a long time since I submitted an article to a newspaper. I’m not surprised to find out that I’d forgotten how. But I gave myself a crash course tonight as I wrote a piece that I wanted to reach a wider audience (sorry, Constant Reader) while sneaking in a reference to bpnurse.com. You guys know this story, but I thought I’d share the essay with you because it’s really, really professional and will likely never see print.
SCARED SICK: Being Mentally Ill in 21st-Century America
The scene from the day I became officially crazy still repeats itself in my mind on occasion, even though I’ve been stable for a while now. The skies outside the psychiatrist’s office window were gray and stormy, but it was warm and comfortable inside; nevertheless, I was perched nervously on the edge of a plush sofa, facing a man with kind eyes and a regretful tone as he pronounced what was to be a life sentence.
“I’m diagnosing you with bipolar disorder,” he said softly, obviously wishing he didn’t have to. “We need to talk about starting you on some medication.”
Thus began my journey as a person with mental illness…..someone I’d never dreamed of being, even though my fifty-four years on this planet had certainly been troubled. In the space of two hours, I’d been transformed from an anxious and somewhat depressed woman into a “mental case”. Loony-tunes. Certifiable. Psycho. What on earth was I supposed to do now?
It was difficult enough to accept the label, but there were insults to be added to injury. In May I lost my executive-level nursing job thanks to a manic episode during which I nearly had to be hospitalized. That was when I discovered that the Americans with Disabilities Act is basically an empty measure that does very little to force companies to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled worker. In my case, my former employer didn’t even have to try.
Then there are the mainstream media to contend with. They like to assume that everyone who kills is mentally ill, and that all mentally ill people are potential killers. I am a registered nurse, wife, mother, grandmother, and many other things…..none of which is a mass murderer or a would-be school shooter.
If you were to look at me and listen to me speak, you’d never guess that I’m on four different types of psychiatric medications. Most of the people I allow into my life are genuinely shocked to learn this, which is one of the reasons I take meds in the first place. But even when I’m experiencing symptoms, my basic temperament is non-violent, and indeed the vast majority of mentally ill Americans are peaceful and law-abiding; in fact, we’re much more apt to be the victims of violence than its perpetrators.
Yet the media persist in ginning up fear and loathing of people like me, which is intellectual laziness of epic proportions when you consider that untreated and under-treated mental illnesses cost this country billions every year in decreased productivity, high medical expenses, and lives lost to suicide.
I don’t have the answer to this dilemma. Maybe there really isn’t one. All I know is that a nation that calls itself civilized must not ignore sufferers in the hopes that they’ll just go away, any more than we who live with these conditions ought to pretend they don’t exist. Nor should the law of the land be used to marginalize us or restrict our rights and freedoms because of something a very small number of people—including so-called “normal” ones—might do.
The fear lies inside you, America. We didn’t create it, but we understand that these are uncertain times, when it seems that every week there’s a new tragedy and a new call for an end to the bloodshed. We know you’re scared. And, for what it’s worth…..so are we.