Art* had a stroke and is in rehab. I was so upset when I heard the news. He must be so confused and afraid. I know the staff at the nursing home, they aren’t ready for Art. I prayed hard that someone understood someone as reality-compromised and unique as he. Art has schizophrenia and I know him from The Back of The Vegetable Drawer. He is one of my tribe, my army.
Art* is a musician who carries his air guitar and Walkman with him everywhere. If a CD breaks, his heart does, too. He apologizes profusely for the time he was rude to you before lunch back in fourth grade in Lindenwald Elementary School. He didn’t mean it, it was just so cold that week and they had made everyone shovel twelve feet of snow. Remember how nice Mrs. Kaminski was? She didn’t try to poison us or anything. Art* wears his camo pants, multiple layers of camo jackets and vest year round with belts and bandannas if he has to make a tourniquet. Carrying bottles of Gatorade and water in every pocket and smoking between the transportation vans, he is up for a conversation with anyone not jerk enough to feel above him. He will look out for you and warn you about anything that may be unsafe for you.
There is Bernard*, a trillionaire and the mayor of Camden. He made me his secretary and once even contemplated making me his wife and adopting my kids because we “all needed a strong man” and he could take care of us, giving us a “good home and food on the table”. His check to me was written with shaking hands due to medication side effects, on scrap paper torn from one of our worksheets at group. Bernard* knows how to dress and loves great music. We talked about Parliament, Miles Davis, Al Green, Barry White, The Bee Gees, another seventies funk and ballads. I turned him on to Jazzy Fatnastees. His red sateen tux jacket was my favorite of his jaunty wear as well as his faux alligator slide ons.
Bernard* and Art*; just two of the amazing characters, unique and lovable, real live breathing humans, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters of someone, and just like you and me. They do not disappear. I won’t let them. I will keep reminding people of my friends. I will keep bringing them back into view.
These two guys were lucky. They lived in one of our comfortable group homes with good food, a decent staff, filling, whole food, regular medicine, doctors who listen to them, case workers who take them to appointments and day groups that weren’t pointless. There was even work of a type that isn’t mindless. Our county mental health is one of the better ones, not without flaws, but superior to most. Both had stayed longer than a year at the state hospital more than once.
Fucking Maslow, as my friend B. would say
How about Jeanette*? She’s not really lovable or nice when you meet her and she’s in a full-blown episode. Most people met her then. She “became” … she was an average girl, kinda’ nervous as a kid and taken to thinking kinda’ paranoid or strange thoughts. As she got older and then became and adult, it grew worse and she went from being a nice girl with some strangeness to steadily getting more and more angry and paranoid. People didn’t want to be around her. Who can blame them? It’s hard to care about someone who’s unlovable. Finally, when she ends up hospitalized and her medication is stabilizing her, the true Jeanette comes out. Her thoughts are clearer. She laughs, is polite, asks people about themselves, dresses and brushes her hair becomingly. The side effect, sadly, makes her fall asleep and have her neck bend down. She talks about that in group but she decides she’s willing to accept it until something better happens.
There are many people like … me, for example. We hear in these advocacy sites about not wanting to tell people about being depressed or suicidal. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model we discuss motivation. In order to even get to the point of “therapy“, of discussing the deeper stuff, I need to first get the basic needs met, the physical needs. These other articles that talk about “Tell a friend that you’re sad.” or “Remove the stigma of talking about mental illness.” I wasn’t afraid of talking about being depressed. Holy shit. I knew anyone would want to jump off a fucking bridge if they had two jobs, rent due, no insurance, a sick kid, were at the ER with hives, the car was on its last leg and your boss was breathing down your neck about it with no busing in your rural town, you couldn’t call out sick, your separation was like something out of a horror flick, the electric was about to be turned off, ad nauseam … Hell, anyone would want to jump off a bridge. I was afraid to say “I’m out of money.” to the soccer mom. I was afraid for her to know I had bipolar because I was told my kids would be taken from me, and not having money would mean I would never get them back. I was afraid for someone to know the electric got turned off. I couldn’t get my medications because it was either feed the kids or get my medicines at 600-800+ dollars a month (and that was ten or more years ago). I didn’t want the guy who drives a BMW with two point five kids, a house in L.A. and an apartment in New York to know I was making too much for any government help and I made too little to be offered insurance at work that was affordable. I was still on that bottom rung of the Maslow model. I couldn’t even get to the fluffy stuff yet. I wasn’t embarrassed about having Bipolar. My embarrassment was about being poor and having no control. C/PTSD? That noise would have to wait until I had my kids safely to shore from this shipwreck of a life. Getting terrorized by an ex would was solved by boxes of stuff under a window as an alarm bell. If my case got closed at the clinic, so be it, I couldn’t miss work. I wasn’t ashamed of having depression. The shame was of being poor. My shame was being a bad parent, wife, employee … person.
Mental illnesses focus has become the lambs and the goats. There are the “good” mentally ill. They are the socially acceptable who drive a car, speak well, are articulate, perhaps even superiorly educated and can advocate for themselves. Generally well-groomed, often they get mistaken for staff at the clinic or hospital. They are witty, only say naughty words when it makes a conversation saucy and you can take them home to Mother. They have a really hard time. Life has sucked and truly has been tough. They’ve been alienated, alone, and seen the dark side of the mind. They are crawling back from a bleak place to societies arms.
Then there are the goats. We wear hoodies, dark makeup, if any, we curse, drink too much, often have revolving door jail and / or extended hospital stays. We wear long sleeves and pants to cover our scars. Often we either talk too much / too little. Sometimes our home is on the sidewalk, or a motel. The noises from the addicts and hookers outside will make us wake up screaming from PTSD nightmares a lot. Money may be a huge problem. Food banks are common place for a lot of us. Church outreach have known us and we love them for it. Many times you don’t even know it, but we are more straight arrow than you, with more years together and balancing our mental illness than anyone around us, but it doesn’t matter because you see our tattoos, hear our cursing, see our ripped jeans, see that we talk to Art*, Bernard* and Jeanette* or to ourselves and only want to talk to the lambs. Their issues are simpler to solve.
Asking for help, getting help and maintenance of care for mental health isn’t as simple as some would have you believe. It isn’t only a white-collar illness and it isn’t always cut and dry. This will bring you past a white-collar economic level if uncared for, anyway. Severity varies and people are not to be swept under the rug as if they don’t exist simply because they aren’t convenient.
Lambs and goats. You know their bleats are very similar? Different, but bleating none-the-less.
- If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,
- Sing “Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.”
- ( a kid will eat ivy too… wouldn’t you?)
*Not their real names*