Mental Illness

Carousel horse, from below the front of the horse
The Merry-Go-Round of Life

I am not going to name names, or put tags on the actual story that was in the news because frankly, I don’t want rubber-neckers to seek me out, but I do have some things I want to say… My brother is in prison for schizophrenia. Oh, he “earned” his place there by breaking the law, but was also diagnosed by more than one court doctor as having paranoid schizophrenia. He plead guilty to the charges against him, and was sentenced to fifteen years.

Here are some things I wish people knew:

  1. He is not a bad person. I grew up with him. I knew him his entire life. If someone invented a time machine, and visited my younger self in the past and said, “Hey, this guy is going to end up in prison for fifteen years” I would have been convinced that it was a practical joke. He was a sensitive kid, he was a sweet kid, and while he was known to throw the Monopoly board off the table and rage quit, I don’t remember him ever hitting or hurting anyone.
  2. He loved his children and his wife more than anything or anyone else in the world. He still does. I can’t imagine him ever doing anything to deliberately hurt them.
  3. Sometimes he seems to be okay. There are times that the things he says seem perfectly logical. There are other times when he starts to rant about how the government tried to kill him, his wife, and his children. And he believes it when he says it. He honestly believes that chem-trails are an attempt to poison people, that the AIDS virus is a hoax that was created to trick people into taking anti-HIV drugs, which really do kill people, that the Illuminati plan to destroy the earth, etc. He believes all this and more, and believes that he is perfectly sane, that anyone who doesn’t believe that stuff has just not had the revelation of what is to come.
  4. He is highly intelligent. He was smart enough to obtain a degree in mechanical engineering. He was a licensed Mechanical Engineer and there was no indication that he wasn’t good at his job.
  5. His childhood was relatively normal, and our parents were wonderful parents who did their best to raise us with every opportunity to succeed in life.

Why am I writing about this? Because I want people to understand that being mentally ill does not make someone inhuman. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experiences a mental condition every year. Twenty percent of the adult population. With over seven billion people living on the planet, that means there are quite a few human beings whose minds are experiencing technical difficulties.

Long before I knew of my brother’s illness, I used to joke around about being a “psycho magnet.” The truth is, I am the sort of person to whom people confide things. Maybe it’s because I have a tendency to share things in a casual manner myself, and they feel like we’re in the same boat without a paddle trying to float upstream, but I like to believe it’s because people realize that I do care about my fellow Earthlings. I joked around in college that if I didn’t go out and find people who were “off,” they would come knocking on my door. Trust me, I have plenty of stories to back up this assertion. Perhaps some of their characteristics, actions and words work into the people who populate my fictional worlds.

We laugh about it. Because laughing is safer than crying. And laughing makes it a little less scary.

Why do we fear the mentally ill? Because they behave in ways we can’t predict, and we tend to try to predict in worse case scenarios, then hope we’re wrong. Because we don’t understand why they are acting the way that they are. Because maybe, just a little bit, we’re worried that we’ll catch what they have, and find ourselves stockpiling industrial-sized canned goods, water filters, and cookbooks in case the Illuminati suddenly poison the food supply for all but the select few chosen to survive.

Flower growing from bark of tree

I believe the truth is that each and every one of us has a ground in our minds which, given the right seeds and conditions, can grow poisonous plants. The triggers are different for different people, but like cancer or a broken bone or the common cold, each and every one of us can “catch” mental illness, though it is not contagious.

For some, perhaps it is chemical. Maybe the hormones and chemicals in their bodies are off-balance, leading to depression or anxiety. Throw some environmental factors into the mix, like a death of a loved one or a stressful job, and it will exacerbate the problem.

For others, it may well be strictly the situation they are in. Everyone has a breaking point. Everyone. I don’t care if you’re religious or not, if you somehow believe that a sky God created each and every human in his (or her) image and is watching over you, that this life is a test or a perfecting ground… There is a point at which you will break, if too much weight is piled on your shoulders. You may break without even realizing you are broken.

All this is to say that we need, as human beings, to acknowledge that nobody is perfect, that mental health issues are just like any other health issues. While sometimes the problems are exacerbated by people’s choices, sometimes the choices are a symptom of a problem that already existed. Rather than punish people for being ill, we need to do everything in our power to treat those who are experiencing mental illness. Not everyone can be fixed, but remember that some day, it could be your parent, your sibling, your child, cousin, aunt or uncle who is suffering. Have a heart, and be good to one another. And if you or a loved one is experiencing mental health issues, realize there are plenty of people in the same boat. Reach out.

Black and white photo of boat on a trailer
Where’s the Beach?

9 thoughts on “Mental Illness

  1. So glad to read this. Mental illness runs in my family, and I’ve seen and experienced the heartbreak this sickness causes both in the sick person and in the people who love him or her. Thanks for sharing!


  2. This is amazing. Thank you for writing this, not only for your brother, but to all of us that suffer with mental illness. The stigma surrounding it is just as dangerous and toxic as the illness itself. I tip my hat to you. You are an amazing woman and fighter for those who can no longer fight the mental illness battle/stigma.

    Your brother is lucky to have you on his side. He couldn’t ask for a better sister.


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