Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mental Health Awareness Month: Taking Good Care Of Our Minds

               During most of my adult life,I've steadily noticed the human environment around me has changed. Much the same as I stated earlier this year regarding people living with autism, it is almost impossible for me to go into a grocery store even without seeing someone either talking to someone who is not there or gasping in terror at a wall display they see as something else. In this day and age, even I am aware there are a number of different and often very effective treatments for schizophrenia. Someone could help these people anywhere,anytime if an emphasis was put on it. And that makes me angry. One of the reasons for this comes from a personal experience I had during adolescence  One which I will rather anonymously share with you-the reader right now to help you understand my position on Mental Health Awareness.

               As with the majority of people I'd heard about mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder once and a great while. But it wasn't any sort of enormously discussed topic. Something that "nice" people weren't supposed to talk about,cruel as that was. Because I had trouble making friends, my family introduced me to this gentleman who was older than me. He shared a love of science fiction concepts,Star Trek in particular with me. He was 24 and I was barely 16. But it didn't matter. He was like a big brother I never had. He was somewhat quiet and reserved,and sometimes that puzzled me. But I admired his few but often rather wise words and ideas. And soon came to think of him as a non intimate type of soul mate.

               All of this changed one night when I received a call whilst visiting him from my family asking me to come home. Apparently while talking to a mutual acquaintance  some terrifying news was revealed to them-and now to me. This man whom I had written with,shared secrets with and opened up to enough to consider my best friend lived with schizophrenia as well as multiple personality disorder. Without any melodrama if someone asked me to pinpoint the moment my heart broke upon hearing that, I actually could. Schizophrenia? Multiple personalities? Weren't these supposed to be rare occurrences that I'd never encounter? And how could this have afflicted such a wonderful human being as my new friend?

              I went to sleep in tears that night. Not feeling sorry for myself. But sadder still that tears were being shed for a mental illness this man couldn't help. I was too afraid to talk to him so my family did while I tearfully visited my grandparents for the weekend. My friend called me up there-trying to explain his embarrassment for not telling me what had happened to him. The most difficult part of this conversation was me telling him how much I looked up to him as an adult friend to a teenager such as myself. How I'd be friends with someone with a mental illness, but not someone who hid important truths from me. As he tried calmly to explain, I didn't realize the societal stigma people living with schizophrenia faced. 

             He was definitely an aloof "guys guy" in the old fashioned sense. So it was doubly hard for him to talk about it openly to another man,especially one so much younger than himself. Further complications ensued when I decided to open up about my homosexuality to him. Oddly enough, that caused even more of a barrier between us than his schizophrenia and multiple personalities,apparently medically controlled the whole time I know him, ever had. In the late 90's a second attempt on my part to reconcile with him failed-with my sexuality again being the issue. Time passed,other friends came and went in my life. And by the time I myself was 24,the same age my friend was when I met him, that change in environment of which I spoke was well underway.

           Though I live myself with an emotional (rather than mental: I personally differentiate the two)  disorder myself that is in no way as severe as schizophrenia,more and more everyday people around me seemed to almost require something close to a psychiatric environment. Schizophrenia,bipolar and borderline personality were becoming a fact of life. And suddenly half of the people I knew had it. A year or so ago I ran into this friend again. I had before. But said nothing. This time I did. And to my surprise, he started to talk. Really talk! He had a wonderful disposition now and was a person who loved to laugh and be joyous. He had come to somehow live with schizophrenia, not live in fear of it. Lets face it. Everyone's sanity is tested heavily today with all the endless social and economic problems the world faces every day. But perhaps the more aware we become of mental illness,and not the hard way as I had to, the more empathy we'd be likely to have towards each other in general.

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