I'm not the mother of a mentally ill child. I'm not the child of a mentally ill parent. I'm not the wife of a mentally ill husband. I am, however, mentally ill. I have a story too. And it's nothing like Adam Lanza's.
My story is neither violent nor sensational, but I think it's worth telling. Not because it's particularly unique or extraordinary, but because it isn't. My story matches that of the vast majority of millions of Americans living with mental illness. My story is so typical and ordinary it shouldn't need to be told. But because so few of us with mental illnesses can share our stories without fear of losing our jobs, our credibility and our support systems, I've chosen to share mine. (As a well-fed, self-employed writer with a ridiculously supportive family and just enough credibility not to care, I've got little to lose. Solely in this regard is my experience at all exceptional.)
I've heard countless accounts of family members who've struggled to deal with people like me, to help us, to cope with us, to survive us. My heart goes out to all of them. But their stories aren't the only ones that deserve telling.
Like so many others I've encountered in support groups and psychiatric hospitals, I've fought depression, mania, delusions, hallucinations and self-destructive impulses for over half my life. I've done my best to win the battle. I've taken a wide array of psychotropic medications. I've spoken with psychiatrists, therapists, social workers, family members, friends and God Himself. Still, my fight is far from over, and I don't expect it ever will be.
My illness, bipolar disorder, has no known cure. Medications can greatly improve the course and severity of the disease, but again, there is no cure. It is chronic and degenerative. Unfortunately, such is the case with most serious mental illnesses at present.
Despite this fact, I've never killed or violently assaulted anyone. In fact, the only person I've ever tried to kill or severely injure is myself. Again, in this respect at least, I am staggeringly ordinary.
Discounting for substance abuse, those of us living with mental illness are no more likely to commit violent crimes than our so-called "normal" counterparts. In fact, we are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than we are to be the perpetrators.
So why is mental illness an issue that only seems to attract public attention when an allegedly mentally ill individual commits a horrific crime? And why does the public immediately assume that anyone who commits a senseless act of violence must be mentally ill? I can't say. But I can tell my story. I can show that it's the rule, rather than the exception. And I can hope that someone will listen.
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