Imagine: you are 22. You are in college, going after your big career. You have a fiancé. You are making a little money on the side while you finish up college. Your whole life is ahead of you. Then, quite unexpectedly, you start hearing voices. You can’t concentrate. The voices make you irritable. Your grades slip. Your fiancé and boss know something is wrong but you feel like you can’t tell anyone. You lose your job and are kicked out of school for poor grades. Your fiancé talks you into seeing a counselor. You have your whole life ahead of you – with schizophrenia.
Imagine: you are 44. You are hard working, married, you go to church and pay your taxes. You consider yourself to be healthy. You are a “productive member of society”. Then during a routine check-up, doctors find something is wrong with your heart. You’ve got 36 hours to get your affairs in order. As the aesthetician puts the mask on your face you know you’ll either wake up, or you won’t. You’ve made your peace with God. It all goes dark. Three months later you’re awake and laying in a bed on a plane flying high over Germany. It looks very much like a bedroom, but you are sure the room you lay in is aboard a 747 somewhere over Berlin. The familiar face of your spouse appears at your bedside. Your spouse reminds you, once again, you are not in a plane but in a recovery hospital in the United States; that complications of the surgery have effected part of your brain. Though your spouse delivers the news with patience, you can tell it has been said before – probably many times before. You are delusional and as such will not be able to return to work. Good news though: disability will let you keep the house.
Imagine: you are 66. You’ve been married for 43 years. You are proudly retired from the military. You have seen the world. You are enjoying the twilight of your life with your devoted spouse. Lately you have been edgy and irritable. You get confused easily and insist your wife stole your keys and is hiding your wallet just to confuse you. Where you used to argue only seldom, it seems to happen almost daily now. Your spouse cries a lot. You’re not entirely sure why. People don’t seem to come around much anymore. Where is your son, Joseph? How come he has not come to visit? Your spouse tries to explain that he died some years back. You don’t believe it. Why would your spouse say such a cruel thing? To prove them wrong you pick up the phone and dial Joseph’s number. An unfamiliar voice answers “You’ve got the wrong number”. Your spouse speaks of dementia but it’s just non-sense. You feel fine.
People with mental illness do not want to have a mental illness. They did not plan on it. Just as YOU do not plan on having a mental illness. But they have it. That’s the hand they were dealt. Because of the stigma of mental illness, they hide it as best they can. But they know they are different. Even when they are faking normal, they fear that you will not understand; that you will dismiss them as “crazy”. But for you, “crazy” might be a heartbeat away. Unsettling, isn’t it? Did you feel that indignation rise up? That “No! It’ll never happen to me” feeling? I hope you can turn THAT feeling into compassion and understanding for those suffering with a mental illness. If you are a family member of someone with a mental illness – THEY NEED YOU. Social support is one of the biggest predictors of how things will end for your friend or family member with mental illness. I know. It’s challenging. That is one of the reasons that the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) of Utah offers a class called Family to Family, which teaches friends and family members of people suffering from mental illness about the illness and how you can support them. You can find out more about the free Family to Family class and the answer to many other questions at www.namiut.org or call them at 801-323-9900.
Since this is the time of year when suicides are on the rise, I offer you the following:
University of Utah’s crisis line: 801-583-2500
Valley Mental Health crisis line: 801-261-1442 or toll free 800-537-8739
800-SUICIDE or 800-784-2433
Imagine, John Lennon’s musical prayer of hope invites us to “live as one” this includes people with mental illness. I hope someday you’ll join us.
Licensed Professional Counselor