I talk to the youngest of my brothers on the phone a couple of times a week. We were talking yesterday, and while we were on the phone, he found three letters from me that totaled over thirty pages. I wrote the letters in 1993.
He started to read them to me, and I had to ask him to stop. I could not listen to the words of my younger self, it was too uncomfortable. I was passionate. I was opinionated. I was dramatic. I was philosophical. I had dreams.
In one of the letters I was critical of popular culture and especially what was passing as art on television. I ranted and raved about the sex and violence and how they were used to sell and put into shows gratuitously instead of as a part of the actual story.
I also criticized people for not caring enough about the environment, or other people, and in particular children.
Today, I live very much outside the habits of the mainstream, but I don’t write letters about it. I am not vocal about it. I’m not trying to explain my causes to anyone. I make choices that I can live with that I think are environmentally sound, better for animals and the planet, and better for people we share the planet with. I am not on a crusade. I am silently living my life in a way that makes it easier to look myself in the mirror. I’m not waving a banner about it.
Not being able to listen to the words of my younger self without feeling more than mildly uncomfortable made me think of something that has been bothering me lately.
The loudest and most active voices for the mentally ill are young people who have been diagnosed less than five years. I think it is great that young people want to get involved and change the dialogue and possibly the perception of an illness they suffer from. Stigma is big. Stigma is a hindrance to acceptance and care. Care is pitiful in many states. Prison is not a place to house and treat the mentally ill and neither are the streets. Changes need to be made, and I am all for the people who can make that happen.
On the one hand I applaud the efforts of the young, but I don’t want young people to take over and be THE VOICE of mental illness. There needs to be some balance between the newly diagnosed (five years or less) and the veterans of the illness who have been living with their illness for two, three or four decades. We need the voice of wisdom and experience to go along with passion and enthusiasm and high hopes and dreams.
I feel like the scales are tipped a little bit toward the young right now, because young people are so successful at getting heard and getting noticed and generating a following and a campaign on social media. I hope that they will seek out those with years and years and years of experience to balance out their ideas though.
Those older voices remember big asylums that dotted the country side. We remember when most of the people being treated there were released to the streets. We remember the politics and arguments for and against it. We are not too far removed from insulin shock therapy, lobotomies, and straightjackets.
When the young are fighting for something, the older people can say, we have traveled that road as a country before. We can also look at what works in our own lives those things that make us the best and most functional neighbors, teachers, writers, professors, architects, football players, parents, and friends.
Those of us who are older have a wealth of successes and failures built up that only time can give. We need a balance between the current voices and the experienced voices so that others may witness a story that is true, long lasting and the best for all. It can be done. I believe it, because we have easy access to one another through tools like social media. We actually have a better chance than ever of making it happen. Let’s do it! GO!