Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Lullaby For the Suicidal Cats...

"We're the kids who feel like dead ends...And the poets are just kids who didn't make it...and never had it at all..."

 If you bothered to read the back cover text for my upcoming novel "A Tragic Heart" then you are already aware that the novel touches heavily upon the topic of mental illness. Although the concept of self-mutilation and depression are becoming more and more mainstream in our culture, my fear is that it is not recognized enough and never will be. The opinions and stigmas that are held by many people in today's society toward those who suffer from a mental illness isn't so far from the 1950s where many thought it was okay to perform a lobotomy on anyone deemed as "crazy" or "mentally ill." As a society, our actions from a medical standpoint may have improved but our beliefs haven't really changed at all.
Even though recent studies have shown that people who are deemed as mentally ill tend to have some form of creative gift present within them, it's still not enough for society to change their viewpoint of those who are affected by the term. I've witnessed too many times, others being called "crazy" or "incompetent" because they were officially diagnosed as being bipolar, schizophrenic, depressed, or suffered from anxiety, OCD, or ADD/ADHD. Having a mental illness doesn't mean that you are incompetent or worth less than anyone else. It just means that you were given something extra that sets you apart from the crowd. Since when was standing out a bad thing?
Society has placed a standard for what is "normal" and what is "crazy" but who is to say that society is always right? I mean, society also deemed homosexuality as a mental illness at one time also, but let's not stray too far away from the topic here...
Over the past few days, after countless conversations about the topic of mental illness, I felt compelled to write about what it really means to be mentally ill and how we should approach those who are pained by a particular illness. What gets me angry is when people can boldly and honestly state that those who "act out" or suffer from a mental illness are only doing so for attention. I believe this is something we humans say when we can't fully understand something (kind of like saying something doesn't exist or can't be good because we can't figure it out). I am here to shout on behalf of all people who must endure the "curse" of a mental illness: THE LAST THING WE WANT IS ATTENTION. WE DIDN'T ASK FOR THIS;IT IS NOT A CHOICE! Contrary to popular belief, of course.
 Now, I would say that happiness is a choice but only to an extent. There are just simply times when it is impossible to smile or to hold back tears that so desperately want to fall. This is what it feels like everyday for someone who is suffering from depression. Keeping calm is not a simple option for the one who has anxiety. Doing what makes "sense" to others isn't a choice for schizos and the often ignored bipolar folks. Saying "just focus" doesn't help the ADD/ADHD or OCD students. How can you focus when there are so many other things to pay attention to? How can you smile when everyday is the new worst day of your life? Do you really think you can stay calm when your heart decides it wants to be speed racer on steroids?  How can you act like everyone else when your mind decides for you that it wants to be free and break all the rules? Now, take your time and answer these questions to yourself...
I remember (and I'm sure you do too) Britney's infamous meltdown during 2006-2008 and how everyone condemned her with their hateful words and opinions. "She's trash!" "Ugh, she's disgusting!" "That girl is crazy!" "It must be drugs!" "She just wants attention because she's not as famous as she used to be!" These were just a few things the world was saying about her but not one person stopped to ask her how she was doing or what she was feeling inside. No one ever stopped to think that maybe she needed guidance or professional help until things got really bad. Even today, her image is forever tainted because she had a mental illness that wasn't being treated. Maybe if the world took half the amount of time they used criticizing her to give her space or send positivity her way, she wouldn't have had to hit rock bottom to rise to the top again. Sadly, we give the same criticism to our friends and family who are a lot like Britney. Instead of helping them, we shake our heads and whisper with others about their behavior.
So, how do we approach those who are clearly not in their right state of mind? Should we yell at them? Bombard them with questions and demand that they get help? Tell them to get their act together or else? Pray for them and then condescendingly tell them that they need a closer relationship with God? From my experience and listening to others, all of the above are unacceptable and should be avoided! We're so quick to give advice especially when we want what's in that person's best interest but as the old saying goes: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
We may feel like we have the answers for them to get better and we know them best because they are our children, sisters, brothers, parents, or maybe even best friends, but the truth is, no one knows better than they do. No one knows the pain they feel and the confusion that goes on in their minds better than they do. For the most part, they know when they need to be left alone, they know what type of person they want to talk to, they know when they're ready...
Of course there are exceptions and some people may need assistance from others and be placed under a conservatorship for a little while but these people are not forever incompetent. They are not beneath you because they were once held under a psychiatric hold. The measurement of their future success cannot be determined because a doctor said that they are bipolar and you witnessed them take actions that seemed highly irrational in the past. A mental illness does not define a person; it is only a part of who they are. 
The self-mutilator isn't an attention seeker;they are simply frustrated and couldn't find a better way. A cry for help should never be confused or synonymous with attention seeking. The schizophrenic is not crazy, just temporarily confused. The bipolar boy is not a danger to everyone around him...besides I'm sure he buys his girlfriend flowers just because and he's a great creative writer. The kid with ADD/ADHD isn't useless...they turn out to be Adam Levine (lead singer of Maroon 5). The one with anxiety isn't a time bomb waiting to blow...they just haven't had the chance to show the world how great they are so it may make them a bit anxious. 
We've all heard celebrities endorse that "it gets better" and we've all seen the posters that says we're all irreplaceable, but a celebrity endorsement and a poster isn't enough. A textbook and a therapist can't give us all of the answers. We shouldn't only rely on these things as our only sources to gain a better understanding of mental illness. We should stop being ignorant for once and find the answers on our own. Maybe then we can destroy the 1950s mentality and start treating everyone as equals. Maybe then there would be less suicides and self-mutilators. Maybe then we will understand...


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