A response to President Barak Obama

A few days ago The Balanced Mind posted a link on twitter to the presidential proclamation on mental health awareness month. I read the short proclamation, it sounds like a fantastic promotion of mental health. President Obama was clear and concise as always, talking about those that need help but don’t seek it, mentioning the national suicide hotline, specifying that getting help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. All of the words sound great, but it felt empty to me.

Why would it feel empty to someone who advocates daily for mental illness? This proclamation was made on April 30, 2013. Two weeks earlier, on April 17, the president had this to say about mental illness: “But the fact is most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun. There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this.” The transcript can be found on the white house website and video can be seen from C-Span.

The statement made on April 17 made me really angry. Not because I feel those with severe mental illness have any business owning a gun, but because I really hate being lumped in with criminals. In my perfect world people with severe mental illness would not have guns, but not because they might be a danger to others. There are lots of reliable sources that indicate the opposite, some are listed here from the University of Washington School of Social Work, and still others are listed in this paper from World Psychiatry on the NIH website. I feel that people with severe mental illness, including myself, have no business owning a gun because of the danger they present to themselves. As someone living with an “invisible disability”, as well as being a cutter in recovery, I know better than most how split second decisions can be devastating. While I’ve not had any serious issues there have been times I took too many pills, unintentionally, to relieve anxiety and ended up being monitored overnight in the ER. I have made the decision to cut and dealt with pain and itching for weeks because of one poor choice. I’ve seen people inpatient that have made split second decisions and wound up with horrific frost bite, or just awoke from a coma. This is why I don’t want people with severe mental illness to have guns, that split second decision is more likely to be fatal with access to a gun.

What people with mental health issues need is the support that was shown in the April 30 proclamation, not the comparison to criminals from the April 17 statement. I wish I could easily forget the words President Obama spoke. Those are the only words I’ve heard him speak that incited anger from me. Conversations I had with people afterwards showed that America might not even understand which illnesses qualify as severe mental illness. It was a rash statement that made people think of mental disabilities like cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, as well as bipolar and schizophrenia. A few people told me I should not be offended because the president clearly didn’t mean me, I’m not handicapped. The fact of the matter is he did mean me. I sometimes explain my illness to people as “full on crazy” to make sure people understand how serious my issues can be: hallucinations, delusions, paranoia…I would love to take the kind words of encouragement from the National Mental Health Awareness month at face value, but right now it feels tainted.

Taking it one day at a time

Today was a rough one for my mental health. I took a walk with Edgar which was absolutely wonderful. We stopped at Taco Bell and scared half of the high schoolers that were there for lunch. The other half were completely excited by him. We then went to the grocery store where I got sweet talked into ordering the weekend Detroit Free Press. There is very little memory of the conversation that lead up to that purchase. It was a decent price, I got a 25$ gift card for the store and I guess they have coupons that will hopefully make that purchase worth it. Unfortunately, the purchase is a bad sign for my mental health.

I don’t think things are going really wrong, but there are other signs that need to be watched too. I have trouble sleeping, I’m uncomfortable…back pain, strange feeling joints, obsessing over some random tidbit from the day. Today there was a conversation with Dave and Debbie about personal responsibility, it made me remember the previous conversation about Dave’s dad and how he regretted not taking care of his father. He believes that even if you are told to evacuate you shouldn’t be responsible for the cost of rescuing you. Right now they don’t charge for that, but I think they should.

I’m a little scattered and I’m having some other thoughts I’m not willing to admit to on the internet yet. As a result I’m cutting this post a little short.

Who is ultimately responsible?

I have a really low tolerance for a lack of personal accountability in the friends I keep. Part of this is how much I expect of myself, part of it is just how I see the world. There is very few things that will make me feel worse about myself than someone feeling like they let me down, my illness is my responsibility and no one else’s. Terry would disagree, he shoulders a lot of the responsibility of keeping me on the path to being healthy. In fact, he manipulates my actions in a way that I often don’t see or realize. I’d like to think that these times of manipulation are getting less and less frequent, but I don’t know it’s happening so there’s no way for me to answer that.

Anyway, this post is getting off topic. I watched Silver Linings Playbook yesterday, it was good but being the person in Pat’s position I preferred the book. The director and screen writer took the same approach The Notebook did in going from print to screen. There is so much internal dialogue that cannot be properly conveyed; they chose to focus on the people around Pat rather than his own story line. Both pieces are really important and I hope people choose to experience both. Since watching the movie I have experienced a little bit of “who is talking to who” paranoia. It’s not unusual for me to randomly worry about who is discussing and planning my life without talking to me, that’s probably why I so often have chosen to learn things the hard way and not listen to those that know what they’re talking about. It was really interesting to see how the characters in the movie plotted “for” Pat, while I saw it as “against” Pat, it worked out for the best. I knew it did, I read the book but I still took offense to their horrible plotting.

At dinner last night I mentioned how Terry’s grandma sometimes tells stories about his grandfather that upset him. He was bipolar and undiagnosed/untreated for a long time. Terry remembers the man who lived with him and played checkers and chess on hot summer days, his grandma remembers the man who had unpredictable mood swings. They are not the same person. When I mentioned that last night at the dinner table Debbie talked about the process of getting his medication, and ultimately his health, in order. Dave started to look a little sad, I guess Terry’s biological mom had gotten the medication in order years before that, right before she died. He expressed regret that he hadn’t kept up checking on his dad, resulting in the slip. In my mind this is the scene: Terry’s mother was killed with her sister in a tragic, unexpected, and horrifying accident that made national news and changed police chase policy. Dave had two small children to watch for, in addition to caring for himself, in the wake of that awful incident that should have never happened. I don’t know how much he knew about how his dad’s meds were being regulated, at dinner last night he kept saying “it would have taken 5 minutes a day to check in”, but his dad was together. Dave was not his dad’s only child, and if the medications were being regulated properly there were doctors involved. Here’s how I feel about this situation: it was not Dave’s responsibility to care for his dad at that time. The doctor’s should have been more on top of their game, Dave’s siblings should have stepped in and taken over those 5 minutes of conversation, and the ultimate responsibility should have been with Dave’s dad to ask for help when he didn’t understand what was happening.

After dinner I read an article on Healthy Place that said with mental illness you don’t get lasagna. They’re right. We don’t treat this the same way we treat cancer, or pregnancy, or diabetes. I am so lucky to have such an amazing family. My mom read all kinds of books, my aunt is a pharmacist and has helped me out a number of times with medication education. Sometimes its scary, but if I need someone to tell me to get help I have a support system that works really well. I am ultimately responsible for my health, I still feel that way, but I’m really grateful for all my family and friends for being on my life journey with me.