In light of certain recent events involving a deranged man shooting at and killing moviegoers in an Aurora, Colorado theater, I feel like this is an issue I need to bring to bear right away. It is not cool to be crazy. Or insane. Becuase people who are insane do terrible things. These aren’t people with real mental illness who can seek treatment and improve their lives. These are sociopaths. The man with the orange hair who sits in the courtroom making bug-eyed faces and looking all strange is just plain deranged. He’s not mentally ill, he’s a sociopath.
A lot of people these days think it’s cool to be a little “crazy”. Mental illness isn’t cool, just like cancer isn’t cool. Just like Crohn’s disease isn’t cool. Just like diabetes and anemia aren’t cool. They are illnesses, as their name implies. Malignancies. It doesn’t make you outside the mainstream to be bipolar or have schizophrenia. It doesn’t make you a hipster if you get depressed frequently and cry for no reason. Because if you do cry for no reason and feel a total lack of motivation to perform daily activities and lack the capacity to enjoy anything, you’re probably clinically depressed. And if you’re clinically depressed, you don’t care about being different. You just want to feel better. It seems to me that through the media attention on certain mental illnesses, combined with totally careless diagnosis, those of us with mental illness have become very misunderstood. We are genuinely sick and deserve compassion and understanding. Would you laugh at someone who’s lost their hair because of chemotherapy or radiation? Would you poke fun at a diabetic when they inject their insulin? Of course not. And for the rest of the sad, lonely, inactive people out there who don’t feel like their life is going somewhere or need an excuse why they can’t make something of themselves, there’s counseling. That’s right, talking out your problems can get a lot of that balled-up anger, anxiety, and frustration out from under the sheets and into the open. Anyone you talk to who is sincerely mentally ill will tell you that talk therapy is the bread-and-butter of learning to cope with symptoms and adjust to a more productive or pleasant lifestyle. Medication, on the other hand, will not get you to that happy place. It will take away roadblocks to enjoying a full and fulfilling life. And for those of us who suffer from psychotic symptoms, it allows us to see the real more clearly. Medication is great, don’t get me wrong, but there are a lot of people who don’t need medication, they need a life change. And that change starts with talking. I know what you’re probably thinking right now. She’s just saying that because she thinks schizophrenia is real and depression is just laziness or weakness. Wrong. Depression and bipolar disorder are truly caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. But it takes a trained eye to determine whether someone actually suffers from that sort of imbalance. I am not trained to do that. You probably aren’t either. But for god’s sake, I hope somebody who reads this is and can understand the frustration I feel when I meet people who think they have an illness, who’ve been told they have an illness, and really just have a shitty life situation that makes them feel down.
But schizophrenia, that’s obvious. Wrong again. If you ask the average person on the street or even some of my dear friends, they would never guess that I am a schizophrenic (To be correct, I have schizoaffective disorder, a sort of downgrade effected this year from my previous diagnosis in 2004). I do not seem psychotic at first glance, and hardly more so once you get to know me. I go about my business in the public eye day after day and rarely does a person notice I’m not completely on my game. If you’re out there doing what I’m doing, please let me know. I feel very alone sometimes when I see the people like this joker jackass on TV making a parody of mental illness. I wonder, “Does anyone really understand what my life is like? Does anyone hear the people who are genuinely sick?” My answer is that people don’t. I know it’s true of a lot of medical conditions that there are stereotypes surrounding those illnesses. For schizophrenics, it’s either John Nash or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Truth be told, there are a lot of people in between those black and white regions. There’s a lot of grey going on in the world. Not every schizophrenic is coherent and conversational. Not every schizophrenic can be identified based on appearances. Not every schizophrenic imagines that they are part of a cold war-style intelligence coverup. Not ever schizophrenic sees things that aren’t actually seen by everyone else. Not every schizophrenic thinks they’re god, or Jesus, or the devil, or Gandhi. Not every schizophrenic is paranoid. But we’re all sick, uniquely so. We all need medication to regulate our neurotransmitter function. We were all predisposed to this from birth (although that’s debatable, in some people’s eyes). We all need support and understanding from our families and the rest of the world. We all need to be protected if our safety is in question. We are not our illness, we just have an illness. And when people exploit those who have suffered and struggled under the weight of mental illness to make a joke, to feel cool, or even to avoid the death penalty, we all suffer. I feel like the whole population of mentally ill people is crying out for understanding and the effort of those who do not suffer this injustice to make light of, to ridicule, to scorn, to imitate for personal gain, or to ignore these diseases is overwhelming and in many cases, unintentional.
If you take nothing more away from this post than this, I will still be satisfied. I’m not cool or uncool because I’m sick. My illness does not define me any more than your eye color or height defines you. I may hear voices and see strange things, but I’m just me, not a stereotype derived from the media or from literature, just a human being. I am, however, a fervent crusader for my fellow sufferers of mental illness who lack the capacity to have their voices heard. Please stand with me as I try to stem the tide of ignorance and misinformation surrounding me and the mentally ill people I hold dear. See us as we are. Judge us as you may. But please, treat us with compassion and understanding. That’s all I ask.
Thank you for listening.