Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Making the Turn: Mental Illness and Seeking Understanding and Solution #NAMI (Updated 6/11/14)

I am announcing a turn today. We know life leads us into making many turns. For a change, we might wish for a straight line.

The turn I am on now could last for awhile. I doubt that I could imagine a more difficult problem to work on. Please click on this link. It takes you to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

What you will immediately see is that 60 million of your countrymen suffer from mental illness. 60 million.

Doesn't seem possible, does it? I can barely conceive of a room full of a couple hundred people, let alone a few thousand. In DC, I once found myself in the middle of a few hundred thousand, a million. But, no one was counting.

What most of us know of mental illness is, We don't want to know anything. We want to pretend that it does not exist.

It does. You would be horrified to know that upwards of 50% (or more) of the people, who reside in prisons are mentally ill. Read Pete Earley's Crazy: A Father's Journey Through America's Mental Health Madness. Consider that the research was done a short 8 years ago, as you read the segment on his walk through a prison block in Miami-Dade.

Through no fault of their own. Maybe their illness had a genetic component, was alcohol or drug-induced, a blow to the head, maybe not. A direct cause linked to a cure will likely not be known in this century or maybe the next. We're talking the brain here. Billions of neurons, connected and not.

It is pure fantasy, and ego, to think that human intelligence will solve this problem anytime soon. Not an excuse for not trying. In the meantime, there is much to do.

I am currently enrolled in NAMI's Family-to-Family Program. Class 9: Relative Groups and Self-Care is this week's session. After completing all 12 sessions, which is as comprehensive as possible, I will have taken one small step above ignorance.

I know and accept that my learning has only begun. I am on a very long journey that will be full of twists and turns, none of which I can anticipate, just as when riding the roller coaster at Disney's Space Mountain, in the dark.

What I have come to realize is that I have known about mental illness for most of my life. It has been right in front of my face. Only I did not see it, feel it, do anything about it.

I simply sat on the sidelines. Went along through life as if my own personal achievement was all that was required. My destiny was to satisfy society's expectations. Performance outcomes: Class rank, GPA, degree, finishing place, tax bracket, square footage, car make, score ... All completely normal and a part of human evolution.

What I knew of mental illness is what most of you know. What our mass media reports. That's not much at all and mostly wrong. Because, in a sound bite, all we are told is what we want to hear in 20 seconds or less from an expert, a politician, a victim or the script read by someone who looks at us, straight in the TV eye, convincingly, and then moves on to the next topic.

Let me demonstrate.

People are senselessly killed by a person. The person was quiet. Kept to themselves. Thought to be kind. Was on medications. Committed an evil act. People are very sad, then outraged. Public servants emerge to tell a story than ends with "Never again."

(Ed. 5/27/14: See this morning's Drudge Report Headlines about Santa Barbara. Experts trotting out on networks. Radio talk shows venting.)

We are left to think ... all we have to do is rid society of all implements of causing harm, enforce every hint or sign of the possibility of inflicting harm and all will be solved. More prisons, more money.

Mentally ill people are harmful. They kill people.

Really.

60 million potential killers are out there?

If you personally suffer, if you are a family member, you know the image is false. You know the story told over short, emotionally-charged sentences is false. You know that the idea of people experiencing different realities is much more than a faddish, cliche-ish, New Age, Einstein-like statement. If I write the word anxiety ... you know what it means and feels like, in spades.

Mental illness: Is this not a societal stigma of nearly insurmountable stature?

(Cue catchy TV commercial on mental health that plays between news segments ... your favorite reality or scripted show.)

You know me here as an ardent believer in independence, freedom, individuality. But someone who also knows that we cannot make our way alone through this world and hope to leave behind anything of value to succeeding generations.

I just happen to think, and believe, that large, centralized solutions don't work for very long.

I started this as an announcement of my conviction. I believe that there is an understanding to bring. Solutions not yet imagined. A meaningful life for those who suffer to know. And, many people already labor on these topics. I will simply be joining them.

Joy. Yes, I will be living life with exactly the same joy. And, yes, I will be more of a pain until I start to see breakthroughs, and then I will still be a pain!

Coming out. We do it on so many fronts. Sex, I used to think was private and no one's business. It's not TV, it's Sex Tube. That's life. Change. Human nature. I get it.

It may seem impossible to you that mental illness would be a positive. The contrarian in me seeks evidence. Beethoven, Michael Angelo, Lincoln.

Not known for their mental illnesses, were they?

All humans have some value. I grant you that murder is murder, extortion, cheating, lying happen, and people are behind them.

And, we have our vested interests. I have mine. And, it's to those who suffer from brain disorders, those who suffer around it, see the value that they have to offer, to realize it.

My first step is simply to start understanding, then open communication. Perhaps we could start by inventing a new vocabulary that eliminates words that paralyze action. We could start with word stigma. Mental illness, even, including my use of it here.

In the future, I hope to look at other living options, like cohousing, for example, as opportunities to bring out the value that I know, and we all know, is there. Imagine a place where you live, work, learn, receive care. The moment you think it is not possible ... remember that we once had company towns in America. The successors? Google, Apple, Facebook campuses ... something we call Tech.

My journey has begun.


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