acitivist, advocacy, Advocate, bipolar, Blogging, community, culture, homeless, institutions, involuntary treatment, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, prison, psych wards, psychology, schizophrenia, streets, writers, writing
The mental health community is actually quite small. I see the same names turn up over and over again on various mental health websites. In my estimation there are less than one hundred popular authors and bloggers who seem to be all over the place. Then there are ten thousand or more people who follow these popular writers and each other.
I like to read what other people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are saying. And I noticed a few things; many of the authors and bloggers are much younger than me – some are in their twenties and many are in their early thirties. I will be fifty next month.
I believe all of these writers have important things to say and that each one can contribute to the conversation about mental illness in a beneficial way. I have noticed a difference between most of them and me though, and that is many of them are far more negative and angry than I am. They also tend to focus the details of their writing solely on themselves and not look at the bigger picture of institutions, prisons, community care, involuntary treatments, etc.
I don’t know why these younger representatives for mental illness seem so angry. I’m not angry that I have paranoid schizophrenia. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, or to look at my life stories, and say, “You are amazing.” I’m not amazing. I am living the best life I can live with a mental illness, and I believe most people with a mental illness are striving to do the same thing. What good does it do to complain, to look for sympathy, to be angry (unless that anger pushes you to act by writing letters, calling senators, and representatives, corporations and anyone else who has the power to change the treatment of the mentally ill)?
I think a certain amount of acceptance, grace and gratefulness comes when you have lived with a mental illness for over two decades, and survived. By the time you are fifty you realize that terrible things can happen to you – psychosis, living in the street, living in a state hospital, losing everything, going to prison, being denied treatment. If those things are not currently happening to you, then you can feel grateful in a way that is both heartbreaking and a huge relief. When I think of mental illness, I think of how much worse my situation could be, and how I want to change the worst conditions for the people who are experiencing them.
I’ve noticed these younger writers have an edge to them – they have no problem using slang and swear words, and they are frequently dissatisfied with one thing or another. I have read many excellent writers among this group, and I know they have the potential to contribute thousands of articles and essays over the life of their careers. I can only hope they will look deep inside and see their ties to the less fortunate and turn their personal anger into anger for the benefit of others.
There are times when I feel I have more in common with people in the streets shouting at voices only they can hear than people sitting behind a computer typing how tough it is at the doctor’s office, at the hospital, or at the grocery store. If you ever get the feeling I am trying to convince you that my life is “just too hard.” Please tell me to take a walk downtown and see the people sleeping on the streets or to open a newspaper and read the headlines.
I’m not amazing. I’m lucky, and at fifty, I want to use that luck to change the world for others who have never had luck or had luck and lost it.
I can’t hold thanksgiving and anger in my heart at the same time.