“When you are crazy you learn to keep quiet.”― Philip K. Dick, VALIS
I remember waking up crazy. It was a summer morning in the late Seventies or early Eighties. I know it was the summer because I didn’t have to go to school that day… maybe it wasn’t summer, maybe a weekend day. Sometimes you just don’t know if you are loopy. Probably a good thing on the day you realize you are going insane.
You do realize, I didn’t just wake up and say “Well Don, you are insane…around the bend, looney, as crazy as an outhouse mouse.” I had to get used to it, ease into it, take my time realizing I was looney-tunes.
I know now my deep slide didn’t just happen overnight. But this wasn’t now, this was then. Then, I just thought I awoke one day with a mind like a broken kaleidoscope. All the pieces were there, they just didn’t fit together anymore. Now, I realize it occurred slowly over time until one day it was “Wham-oh, Change-oh” I have gone off the deep end.
I was functioning despite my madness. There was such a stigma during this time. You didn’t even whisper you were having problems. People were still being locked away in asylums. Electroshock Therapy was still used. Remember “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?” There was the proof.
No one could know I was crazy. No one could know all I wanted to do was lower the blinds and draw the covers over my head…forever. There was no one I could talk to…well, there were plenty of people I could have talked to if I had been willing to tell them my secret. The stigma! “Hey Bud, how are you doing?” “Well. My television seems to have lost its vertical hold, can you help me?”
All I wanted to do was sleep…except when I tried to sleep, I couldn’t. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t focus. When I was awake I was like a Mexican Jumping Bean. I didn’t want to be awake.
Depressed, anxious, sad, melancholy…more than just a “bit blue”, I was suicidal. That’s when I knew. I had a great life, why was I contemplating removing myself from it. I had a great job, a home, a wife…a wife I was driving away…drove away.
I hated the questions I asked myself. “Am I depressed because my marriage is bad or is my marriage bad because I’m depressed?” Well, that certainly worked itself out now didn’t it? Any question beginning with “Why?” drove me even crazier. Can a crazy person be driven crazy?
I didn’t want to be around people. The more people the more anxious I was. I remember putting on my happy face as I met my classes later in the year. Every minute was like fingernails on the chalkboard. I lived for my planning period.
I lost weight, I had no energy. I was worthless, lower than whale poop in the deepest trench in the Pacific Ocean. I wanted to die. Worse, I worried someone might find out.
One evening I sat on the foot of my bed. A tiny 32 caliber pistol in my hand. I remember the oily feel of the weapon. I remember emptying it, reloading, spinning the chamber. I remember the fear I felt realizing what I was contemplating. I called my doctor the next day. Stigma be damned!
I talked, cried a bit. I answered a questionnaire and he talked with me at length. Blood work and more talk. Clinical Depression. A chemical imbalance in the brain. We’re going to try Elavil, “better living through chemistry”, and therapy. I also decided to tell someone. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. No one showed up with a white jacket with belts.
It has been over forty years and I still have bouts of depression. I’m not cured but I’m off of the drugs. Every time I begin to slide I worry I might stay there. I still become unfocused, my mind wanders but one thing I can concentrate on. “I know what it is. I know I can climb out of the valley.” Knowledge is power.
I know I’m not alone. There are others just like me, and I know it is a disease just like any other. It is not something we asked for, it just is. It is not something that would go away if we were built of sterner stuff. Yeah, some idiot told me that and suggested it was a weakness in character.
I don’t worry about stigma, I don’t worry about people knowing because I tell all who will listen. Stigma kills people and there should be no stigma.
Today is World Mental Health Day, an international day for global mental health education, awareness, and advocacy against social stigma. The one day of the year that we set aside to make people aware mental health.
The other three hundred and sixty-four, we kind of ignore it…unless there is a school shooting. On those days we spin platitudes expressing our concern over mental health to deflect from discussing gun violence until a couple of days or weeks pass and something new has taken over the news.
We don’t talk enough about mental health and the stigma that causes people to die. Nationally, the suicide rate increased 25.4% from 1999 to 2016, with increases occurring in every state, save for Nevada. In 2018, there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts and more than 48,000 deaths by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Firearms were involved in half of all suicides, and there were more than twice as many deaths by suicide than by homicide during the same period. In 2020, suicides decreased by five percent to a bit less than 45,000.
Men are over three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than women. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have the highest rate of suicide. Older adults have higher rates than younger adults, LGBTQ adults and youth are more likely to commit suicide than hetero counterparts. Veterans are one and a half times more likely to commit suicide than nonveterans.
So, on World Mental Health Day let us all pledge to destigmatize mental health. Let’s pledge to be a friend to the bullied, to accept LGBTQs as first and foremost, as people and call out bullies. Let’s cut out a couple of Tomahawk missiles and provide the mental health services our veterans need. Above all, let’s try empathy, something we once had but seems to be in short supply.
The national suicide helpline number is 800-273-8255. Use it! The number is manned twenty-four hours a day.
Don Miller’s new release, “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” maybe purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3NeUQc6vEYiJm1P_3pB-pn0LHPonVrvst95cfhs4HxF5jNjIkwp6mO2q0