My name is Erika. I am 21 years old and I have bipolar disorder. I take Lithium daily to help control my moods. Recently my whole life was turned upside down. A few weeks back my great-pepere, who is 93, went to the emergency room. The doctor found that he had three blocked arteries and his organs were failing. The doctors did all they could to make him comfortable. They could not operate on him because of his age, so my aunt took him home to care for him. It was very hard for my great-memere to see him in that condition. They had been married for over sixty years. On Sunday, April 26, 2009, my great-memere had a massive stroke and was left brain dead. It was her wish not to be on life support. So again, my aunt stepped in and set up another hospital bed in her house, and brought my great-memere home to care for her. On Friday, May 1, 2009, my great-pepere died, and on Sunday, May 03, 2009, my great-memere died.
Before I moved into this new group home, I lived with my pepere and memere because my mother, who also suffers from bipolar disorder, could not take care of me. Now, I feel so alone. I am feeling bad about myself and feel like I am losing control. I told my boyfriend, whom I love very much, that he should go and find someone else because I am not a good person and who would want a girlfriend that has to take pills all the time. Now I think I lost him forever. Why is my life so horrible? Why am I so stupid? Why am I alive?
Erika is not alone in feeling this way. These questions and similar others are asked everyday by those suffering from mood disorders. Bipolar (manic depressive) disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia are just a few of the medical conditions, referred to as mental illness, that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. They are biologically based brain disorders that do not characterize a person’s intelligence, nor are they wished away through will power. They are real mental illnesses affecting 1 in 17 or 1 in 5 American families.
Unfortunately, Erika and the other millions that suffer from mood disorders are stigmatized as not being normal. They are afraid to tell people of their illnesses because society places them in categories of indifference: crazy, mental, insane, or psycho -among others. As a result, less than one-third of adults receive any medical treatment for their illness. They do not want to be ostracized or labeled as “mental patients.” Rae Unzicker, a strong advocate for mental health, profoundly elicits this message in her poem, To Be a Mental Patient, she writes,”To be a mental patient is never to be taken seriously” Rae goes on to say, “to be a mental patient is to be a statistic, to not die, even if you want to — and not cry, and not hurt, and not be scared, and not be angry, and not be vulnerable, and not to laugh to loud — because, if you do, you only prove that you are a mental patient even if you are not,” finally Rae says, “and so you become a no-thing, in a no-world, and you are not”.
For those who suffer from mood disorders and do not seek medical attention the results can be devastating. Beyond failed relationships, loss of employment, homelessness, and substance abuse- suicide is the major precursor. They feel there is no hope, no reason to go on. They would rather take their own life than be “labeled” by society. What a way of thinking; to feel that what you are portrayed as means more than your own life.
Erika tried to stop taking Lithium but her mood escalated then deescalated rapidly. She is bound by the medication; it is part of her life. She faces everyday with struggles and is apprehensive when building relationships. For Erika society is viewed as a cruel and unwelcoming place. Her compassionate heart and caring demeanor go unseen by far too many. Besides her family, the only creatures that she feels complete comfort with are animals; they do not judge her, nor do they care that she takes medication.
For the other sufferers who do not take medication or participate in psychotherapy, they need to know that there are kind people in the world that are willing to help. There are people who understand and many who are or have been, at some point in their life, on medication. There are many programs available to offer help and support. Society is slowly trying to change the stigmatization related to mental illness, but there is still a long way to go. I will continue to fight and advocate for these changes and be the voices of the scared and unspoken. Throughout my studies in psychology, I will help as many as I can to understand that they are wonderful and deserving people. Society must include all mankind as one including those who watch life pass by through a window on the outside looking in.