I am seriously mentally ill. Seriously mentally ill people constitute only a small percentage of the population and is a designation reserved for the worst illnesses. The definitions differ, but the serious mental illnesses diagnosis usually includes schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.
I guess I’m especially blessed as I’ve earned two SMI diagnoses – bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorder. There may be another screw or two that someone might diagnose, I won’t quibble. Earn the diagnoses I did, with trauma that dates back to early childhood and genes with truck-sized holes in them.
I’d like to share the things that have worked for me in life and those that haven’t, in the hope that this roadmap will prove helpful to those who follow similar paths in the future. Most of my life has been a great and positive ride, and this blog will reflect that. Some of my life has been dealing with the divorces, estranged family relationships, lost jobs and lost dreams that come with mental illness, and this blog will not hide from that side either.
Fighting the good fight to be “normal”, I did not seek psychiatric treatment until the age of 40, by which time any inborn natural circuit breakers were completely worn out. This started a period of over 10 years searching for relief from traditional medicine, only to find out that the cure was too often worse than the illness.
Psychiatric drugs tend to treat the symptoms other people want suppressed while leaving the patient suffering from both the emotional load of the disorder and side-effects of medication that are often worse than the underlying illness.
OK, this is big moment. AZ Desert Rat anonymity no more. New Google searches will connect Gerald Gaines and the term “formal mental patient.” That’s not going to look good. Google “formal mental patient mass murder” next week and I’ll come up because of this blog along with the likes of:
I bring up my former hospitalization to establish my credentials as someone with a serious illness. I do not have issues “just like anyone else.” I have an illness that results in more than 10% of its sufferers committing suicide, with a life expectancy that is 20 years below average, with equally unpleasant co-morbid diseases directly related to the illness as well as others caused by the side effects of the powerful but poorly targeted drugs available today. Where the only solution to the illness is sometimes to put you in a facility where your minute-to-minute behavior can be controlled.
As you can see from the above Google search you’ll get an idea of the crowd I’m grouped with, to say the least not the friends your mother hoped you’d bring home. Counter to the apparent danger to society of someone once hospitalized, the real truth is that it is the patient who faces great danger from society.
The misperception is common– it’s true that most mass murders are committed by seriously mentally ill people, but the vast majority of seriously mentally ill people are not violent. There is no efficient way to stop a dozen mass murders by hospitalizing, imprisoning or drugging millions of people. Not to mention the civil rights issue of treating 99.9% of people who will always be innocent as if they were the .1% who will become violent.
I am only one person – but I believe I speak for many who cannot find a voice. I am many things, not just a patient of a psychiatrist. But by being a mental patient, I am defined by society that way, no matter what else I’ve been born with or achieved in my life. That label has defined me since the moment it became true – former mental patient.
Where would I like things to go? Drugs that help the patient’s needs would be welcome. Being able to consider hospitalization without the fear of stigmatization, especially given the limitations of treatment alternatives other than hospitalization, would be welcome. Being a father, husband, worker, volunteer and all the other roles in life as someone who has an illness, not someone who is that illness, that would be welcome.