On my way home from work, I heard the news. Another shooting, unknown numbers dead.
My first thought was a prayer for those whose hearts are breaking tonight, and I think most of you probably responded in a similar way.
Hot on the heels of this rapidly evolving news story was the comment by one politician: “we’ve got to get serious about mental health.” A statement made before anything is known about the shooter’s state of mind, his motive, facts we can seek our teeth into. The assumption was this eighteen-year-old was mentally ill. Maybe. I don’t have the story, and neither did that nitwit congressman.
I’ll agree, we’ve got to get serious about mental health. And here’s where you start: know the facts.
Mental illness does NOT make you violent.
The majority of violent crimes are committed by people with NO mental illness. NONE.
People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime.
Drug and alcohol abuse is far more likely to lead to violent crime than the most severe mental illness.
One of the strongest indicators of potential violent behavior is being a young male with a troubled childhood.
So let’s get serious about child abuse, domestic violence, and drug & alcohol abuse. I’m not saying don’t pour money into caring for the mentally ill. I’m saying, when you do, know what your money can accomplish. A better life for a highly stigmatized population, but probably not a serious reduction in the kinds of horrible events that flood the news.
In the next few days, countless reporters and politicians are going to contribute to the ignorance of the American people by going in front of the camera with trite words and misleading information. Take it upon yourself to dig deep for the truth. Write to those who spread the lies. Post, tweet, and cry out for fairness.
At work, at school, at church, you may be sitting next to someone with mental illness and never know it. They aren’t crazy, and there are a lot of options for those who seek treatment.
So let’s get serious. Let’s tell the truth.
And peace to those who suffer tonight — and all the nights to follow.
Do people with chronic illness, loss of the precious, or injustice in their lives get a break elsewhere?
We all face good times and bad times in life. Some have chronic problems, others have temporary, albeit serious, challenges. It’s hard to view the latter as temporary, however, when the consequences can stay with you for years, decades, a lifetime.
Life isn’t always fair, and you may be faced with more dark times than others around you. The balance, as I see it, is in part how those times change you and make you a better person.
Yes, I’ll say it, the people who have been refined by fire are better people. More compassionate, more accepting, wiser and perhaps, if they’re lucky, more content, regardless of circumstances.
But in the middle of the storm, it can be difficult to face the day when you know it will be a challenge. The choice to escape, in whatever way is available to you, becomes an overwhelming temptation.
Those escapes sometimes bring their own problems. Watching television instead of taking action might drag out the time you will be facing difficulties. Drugs or alcohol, well, I don’t have to detail what they can do to you, robbing you of everything you hold dear.
Motivation becomes its own challenge. The chipper platitudes don’t always work when times are tough. It takes experience to know there will be an end to the loneliness, fear and sadness. For me, the quotes that acknowledge my pain, yet hint (at the very least) at hope are the most meaningful.
It’s darkest before dawn.
Maybe it looks like you got more than your fair share of bad times. I can’t promise there will be enough good times to offset those days, but I do believe there are better things ahead.
We are told “life is good,” “make lemonade” and “don’t worry–be happy,” but sometimes we have to acknowledge a sorrowful time in life. If you don’t do so, you likely are compounding the problem.
But once you do, you are free to do two things: address the pain, and truly believe the sun will rise.
It may rise slowly, but one day you will look up and there it will be, high in the sky.
Dealing with mental illness…tricky. And let me say here, I’m no expert. All of the information I’ve gathered below comes from my own research, both print and interviews of professionals. It is for general information only, is a bit simplistic, and should not be considered absolute.
Hopefully, however, it can lay a foundation of understanding.
It helps to understand just what mental health is, and how it differs from emotional health. Mental health is how your brain functions; processing information, forming opinions, making decisions, and using logic are all a part of mental health.
Emotional health is expressing your emotions in a manner appropriate to your age and other factors. Your mental health affects your emotional health when, for example, you’re too tired or stressed to properly assess a situation.
Now we get to mental illness. A mental illness is a recognized, medically diagnosable illness that affects one’s mental health. These illnesses can result from biological, developmental and/or psychosocial factors and can be managed in a manner similar to physical diseases (e.g. medications).
There is a fuzzy area of poor mental well-being (this is not a medical term, just a convenient one) that perhaps is not medically a mental illness, but may still be treated with medication or other methods used for mental illness. This does not necessarily have an identified biological or physiological foundation, but is disruptive to one’s life.
Now someone with a mental illness can have good mental health. Why? Because some mental illnesses are episodic, or because they are under control with proper treatment. The people with the best mental health, in fact, arguably could be those who’ve faced serious issues with it and overcome them.
Not that the battle is ever fully won, as many mental illnesses are chronic. Treatment may need to be adjusted periodically for a number of reasons, for example, the effectiveness of medication is lessened with use, the medication develops undesirable side effects, or other factors not yet fully understood.
In all likelihood you know people dealing with mental illness, whether you can identify them or not.
If you think you might have a mental illness, see a professional for thorough testing. If you think you may be having problems such as depression or anxiety that are not the result of mental illness, but are affecting your job, relationships and sense of self, again, see a professional. Help is available. Don’t give up.
If anyone reading this has professional information to add, please do so in the comment section and I will note it in the post. Comments from the heart are welcome, too, of course.
I’ve spent some time, not a lot, but some, imagining what my life would be like now if I’d made different decisions.
It happens most often at night, when I’m alone and not much is on TV, none of the books I have appeal to me and I simply cannot play one more game of solitaire on my phone. I sit and ponder. What makes me who I am? My experience, my heart, my intentions, my choices? I suppose all of it.
Some of my worst decisions have led to the greatest breakthroughs in personal growth. Would I be a better person if I had not done such a foolish thing?
Or would I be making the same mistakes, leaving myself with a level of immaturity I can’t get past? Or is it those mistakes that led to the unwise behavior in the first place? How do our thoughts, actions, beliefs and fate all play together?
The consequences we face are sometimes unknown, unforeseeable. There are those seemingly small errors in our ways that lead to lifelong reminders of that one errant deed, and potentially catastrophic actions that pass by almost unnoticed…and we forget…until there is a gentle reminder, and we breathe a sigh of relief that it didn’t happen the way it could have.
There are those who face mental illness, and they sometimes make what seem to them like logical decisions based on misperception because of the way their brain functions. I’m not talking criminal behavior here, although that certainly does apply, but day to day actions that have an impact on happiness and quality of life.
I could overanalyze this, because here’s the bottom line: as much fun as it is to watch a movie where someone is given a chance to go back in time and change the path of their life, that would be a huge gamble. What if I hadn’t married the man who betrayed me and married the one who got away instead? You probably don’t know the second man any better than you knew the first when you married him. It could have been an entirely different sort of disaster.
I am who I am. If it hadn’t been this mistake, it would have been another. I still would be me. And I’m okay with that.
Today at work the owner’s dog, Thelma Lou, wasn’t there to greet me in her usual overly-exuberant manner. We’d known there had been problems. They’d been going on for days, but weren’t clearly identifiable symptoms.
It started when she began running away from me and my colleagues instead of bowling us over with affection. She was fearful and timid, and we puzzled over the change in her demeanor. Perhaps one of us had scared her inadvertently? Or had something frightening happened on one of those days when she ran away while being walked? (Her mom agonized over those escapades, but her dad was pretty nonchalant about them, much to the chagrin of the entire staff.)
Then, yesterday, she refused her treats after her morning walk. She was lethargic and clingy, and we all knew something was wrong. Her dad took her to the vet, who diagnosed a pulled muscle or tendon in the right hind leg. When she came back, she was clearly better. We were relieved.
But overnight she lost movement in her hindquarters. Paralyzed in her hips and back legs, she struggled to move and understand what was happening to her. After a race back to the vet, a more experienced doctor determined she had a slipped disc. Emergency surgery was required, but he wasn’t qualified to do it. The best “pup surgeon” for the job was an hour and a half away. So Thelma Lou was loaded in the Jeep, and rushed down the Interstate to helping hands.
I got a call a few hours after I left work that her prognosis was surprisingly good. The veterinary surgeon, who wouldn’t operate unless there was reasonable hope, estimated she had a 70 percent chance of full recovery. The fact that they were able to get her in for surgery within 24 hours of becoming paralyzed was critical to the success of his work.
So now we wait, and her mom and dad have their work cut out for them. But it’s a labor of love, and they don’t mind doing it.
Thelma Lou came into her dad’s life when she was a puppy and he was severely suffering from the effects of PTSD, a result of his time as a Marine photographer in Vietnam. He’d left his wife and was living in a storefront in a nearby town, struggling day to day to survive his nightmares and the cumulative effects of the trauma. He had this energetic, simple soul to keep him company and give him love. Yes, his wife was always there for him, but he was suffering in a world he couldn’t escape and hadn’t yet gotten help to deal with properly. So Thelma Lou was his salvation.
I understand that bond. Twenty years ago I was alone and living in Nashville, dealing with the memories of sexual abuse. The pain at times was so overwhelming I wanted to die, just to escape it. I wasn’t suicidal in that I didn’t truly want death, I simply wanted to escape the burden that was weighing me down, physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Enter Paco. He’d had his own share of pain in his short life, having been abandoned three times that I know of by the time I took him in. He came with troubles, some of which never went away, although I learned how to manage them. He bit everyone. He wanted love, but would become overwhelmed when he received it.
We quickly became dependent on each other. When I came home from work, he was at the window, waiting for me. He’d turn and run to the door, and when I opened it, he’d dash outside and run upstairs, where he’d be trapped, so to speak. He couldn’t get past me once he was up there, and he didn’t try. Instead I would pick him up and hold him close, carrying him back to our apartment, while he purred and buried his face in my shoulder.
When I wanted to die, I would reach out to him. I couldn’t leave this needy little soul. He saved my life just by being there, and I saved his by taking him in and giving him the love he so desperately needed.
As he got older I began to have dreams I’d be outside, perhaps with some friends, somewhere near my car but not right next to it. I’d look up and there would be Paco, waiting for me. He sat close to my Toyota, patient and loyal, knowing I would return. I’d wake up from those dreams and call his name, and he’d come running. As if he knew what had been playing out in my mind moments before, he’d stay by my side until I fell asleep again. When I woke up, he’d be a little distance away on the bed, as was his preference, but near enough to reach out and scratch behind the ears.
He died at the age of 16, just four years ago. Until the day he died, when I was driving home I would anticipate seeing him. I was twenty, ten, three minutes away from Paco. I miss him terribly, even though today I have the love of two wonderful kitties.
I pray Thelma Lou recovers completely. It isn’t time for her to leave us yet.
Update: I’m happy to report Thelma Lou came through her surgery as well as could be expected, and she’s now home. She has months — up to a year — before she is fully recovered, if in fact that ever happens. She may never run again, certainly not like she used to do on a regular basis. But she is loved, and love is healing.
Today I met a couple who are celebrating their 49th anniversary. That’s a long time of loving another person. Bill, the husband, is a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD. He and Joy were married before he left to serve in that war, and she’s watched the symptoms grow over the years since he got back. Like so many, it’s gotten worse as time has gone by.
It started with anger, a constant rage. Now it manifests itself primarily in nightmares, and a fear of going to sleep and facing them once again.
Hopefully his discussions with another veteran of the same war, another man named Bill, will encourage him to get the help he needs.
If you haven’t been there, you don’t know, I’m told, and of course that’s true. I wasn’t there, but I’ve seen the war played out in the faces of the men and women who served those many years ago. They are haunted, just as servicemen and women returning home today from the Middle East no doubt are or will be in the coming years.
My friend Beverly told me of a man she and her husband knew, who had also served in Vietnam. He seemed fine; no one, not even his wife, knew of any problems. Yet one day he shot and killed himself.
“I can’t take the nightmares anymore,” his note read.
Post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t limited to veterans. Victims of sexual assault make up the largest number of its victims in the United States, and like so many, they are reluctant to get help. Yet it can be treated, quite effectively.
Another woman visiting the bed and breakfast I work at is a retired psychologist, and she spoke of some treatments that seem a bit off-beat, yet they’ve had tremendous results in even the most jaded of individuals. I don’t know enough about them to speak effectively here, but they relate to eye movements.
There is help. There is hope. Local Veteran’s Administration hospitals have experts on hand, and rape crisis centers can also refer victims to someone who can change your life for the better. A friend of mine who’s a social worker for the VA tells me she sees even the most reluctant veterans improve dramatically once they’ve gotten some basic treatment.
If you are suffering from PTSD or any other mental disorder, let the nightmare end.
This year, like the last several, I’ll be spending Christmas day alone. Well, I’ll be working in the morning, but by choice, once the work is done, I’ll go home and spend the rest of the day by myself.
Last year I spent part of Christmas starting this blog. You wouldn’t know it to look at my archives; that’s largely in part because anything worth reading that I posted early on I’ve since re-posted, or rather, moved to a more recent date.
But here’s the post that started it all. It was written after a brief moment of despair, and I’ve re-read it numerous times to remind myself of the strength I have within:
“December 25, 2014
“I’m not motivated by New Year’s Resolutions. No surprise there, most people aren’t. No surprise what does motivate me either: trying to impress someone important to me is always a big one. Problem is, that comes and goes. Here’s the reason that actually works: finally realizing my life is truly better and I’m going to attract better things when I do things the right way. And typically it has taken failure in my life, and some humiliation, to get to that realization.
“My friends say, oh, we each worry about those things a lot more than others do. After all, we have to live with our own failings, our stupidity, our repeated efforts to resolve what’s gone wrong with yet one more foolish gesture.
“Right now I’m faced with what seems to me to be huge failure brought on by circumstances I had no control over. Wisdom from others tells me to learn to control what I can and live with what I can’t, but what I can’t control has taken over and felled me. Now I need to stand up and return to where I was only a short time ago. But will I fall again? Probably. That which I do not control will always be with me, and I fear that those I care about will leave me.
“So I must do what I can to perhaps ward off the beast that follows me everywhere for longer than before. I must learn from this and pray I have another chance that will allow me to succeed. I weep at the thought I won’t, and realize I now have little control over that, but in and of itself there could stand a truth I need to learn. Truth that belies what I have held so dear for so long.
“I face difficult yet not insurmountable odds. I tell myself I can take advantage with hard work and fierce resolve, with fortitude and purpose. No trite quotes for me, but strength of mind and character prevail. This year was better than last. I can’t guarantee next year will be better than this, but I’m hopeful it will be.”
Happy Holidays, all my blogging friends, followers and those who I’ll get to know in this next year of blogging.
Most people with mental illness, or their loved ones, want to have a well-rounded understanding of what’s happening. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to come by accurate information, or at least to know where to look.
There’s a tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding out there about mental illnesses, and many, even those diagnosed with one disorder or another, don’t know that what they believe may be wrong.
Knowing the individual is not knowing the disorder.
Our best resource sometimes becomes the individuals we know who’ve been diagnosed, and that can be a double-edged sword. While first-hand understanding of how a person with mental illness reacts and responds is invaluable, it’s important to be clear that knowing the individual is not knowing the disorder.
Mental illness will affect how you handle your emotions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean every emotional response is due to one’s diagnosis. It’s best not to conclude any action or reaction is a result of mental illness until you have the facts. That thinking is no more fair than assuming any time a woman is angry it’s hormonal.
That’s particularly true once someone has begun taking medication, since that will have a significant impact on one’s mental health. However, everyone’s response to treatment is different.
When it isn’t possible to have complete information, fill in the blanks with questions and educational material
It’s important, whenever possible, to know the actual diagnosis, and the symptoms and behaviors associated with that level of the mental illness. People with these illnesses often are happy, even eager, to share their own diagnosis. When it isn’t possible to have complete information, and at times it isn’t, fill in the blanks with questions and educational material instead of assumptions and anecdotal information from others.
In fact, that’s a good idea regardless of how much information you already have obtained. At the very least, verify what non-professionals tell you. It isn’t always easy to know.
There are resources on the Internet and in your library, to start, and your doctor may have some information as well. Avoid forums on the Internet, however, as these frequently have no expert oversight.
On behalf of those who must learn how to live with their illness,
just as anyone with any disease or disability must do, listen, learn, seek answers, and especially, ignore anything you see or hear on your favorite television drama or sitcom. TV writers are first and foremost concerned about the story line, not the truth, and they’ll mix & match the real with the perceived to suit their purposes.
Love requires an open mind and open heart, qualities treasured by those who deal with one or more often misunderstood disorders. Those qualities bring us close. A heartfelt thank you for all you do for your loved ones with mental illness.
For information about mental illnesses, explore these web sites: