Originally published on 19:39:06 2015-01-27
I didn’t know the kid, this was the first time reading his full story and yet I was crying over his death. Zac Pogliano wasn’t a superstar, he struggled to get through his life with schizophrenia and his mother walked right along side him. But I knew him instinctively because he is one of my people.
I don’t know how he died but it’s too soon. I know him without knowing him. He could be one of my friends. Like Art* who was afraid of his blood pressure medicine so he had a stroke, almost dying, which placed him in a nursing home. He felt it was poison and sometimes the hallucinations and voices said horrible things to him. He’s my age and had lived this for many years. He lost so much of his life. Malcom*, the nineteen year old in and out of The Back of the Vegetable Drawer , sometimes talked to me about his adventures on the streets of Atlantic City. Such a sweet faced young man who sometimes comes to group in his jammies. It’s too soon. Schizo-affective Disorder took his life too soon, too. He should be dating girls, complaining about school, oversleeping and dashing for the bus and staying up way too late on the weekends. Instead he is going on and off medications, in and out of county jail, in and out of the state hospital, on and off drugs, getting robbed by pretty girls and boys who take advantage of him and homeless because he leaves his parents house in the middle of the night.
It could be my S.A., physically in so much pain, emotionally ravaged by fears, depression, compulsions and a mental illness that won’t allow him a way out of any of it, telling him every moment to die. Any respite is short-lived and each time, it gets shorter. His psychic pain is veritably palatable and the wish to reach in and stroke the wound is overwhelming to me. He’s thirty-three and almost debilitated though it’s just begun to leak out to others besides me in the last two years. It’s too soon. He should be having babies, playing gigs, talking about how his girl shops too much or arguing about how music today isn’t music at all because he’s a music snob. Life should be on fire and he should be known for his musical genius. It not only stole his joy, it stole his health and his will to live.
God forbid it be E., my sparkling, spit-fire, who for eight years has walked the walk. At ten years old she was suicidal with auditory and visual hallucinations. That’s too soon. She’s suffered abuse, both physical and emotional. She’s struggled and “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!” It’s too soon. She’s eighteen now, diagnosed with Bipolar NOS and PTSD, she walks the line and has done well. God, though, the crap that flies around.
It’s not fair.
After I came home from a stint at the hospital, I remember reading this story about Zac’s involvement with a wonderful police officer, holding my breath while reading it and getting teary all the while. Please read it:
He and his mother told their story publicly, advocating to break down the barriers, the stigma, of mental illness. I can only hope to have one sliver of their grace.
Those of us with debilitating mental illness die earlier than the rest of the population. Did you know that fact? Yeah, about twenty-five years earlier than other adults with thirty to forty percent of those deaths being from suicide. How about this tidbit; death by suicide is more prevalent than murder in our country. It’s the tenth leading cause of death nationally across the board and is the third leading cause of death for people in their teens to mid twenties. Most of these people who commit suicide will be found to have at least one mental illness.
While people with schizophrenia are a little more likely than the rest of the population to strike out physically, on the whole, we mentally ill are three to seven time more likely ( some say twenty-five percent in total ) to be the victims of crimes in our own homes (robbery, violence, being exploited, etc). The key to most with mental health issues, committing violence is fear of violence or a violence trigger (abuse, victimization) and substance abuse of any kind. These triggers, however, are consistent with the rest of society, mentally ill or not, though with the mentally ill they are slightly higher in number ( about one percent in total ) due to heightened fear, violent situations or cognitive, reality perception impairment. Domestic abuse statistics for mentally ill women, depending on the illness, generally run anywhere from forty percent to sixty percent having a history of physical violence perpetrated against them. Males statistics are lower, and harder to find, so I wonder if that isn’t because, over all, people with mental illness are not likely to report crimes against them and men, generally, in society, do not report crimes of abuse.
So, we die earlier, with about a third of us expiring at our own hands. What happens to the other two-thirds of us? The cycle of mental illness bites its own neck causing or perpetuating physical illnesses or dangerous situations, then, like a child worrying a wound, S.M.I.’s do not allow the physical illnesses to heal or get help to heal, or we get sub par care due to stigma, an inability to communicate or have good advocacy.
Paranoia can keep us from getting the help we need or from taking medication. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can make us not trust the content or cleanliness of the bottles. With Bipolar disorder, we have a well documented issue of non-compliance with our medication regime and missing or longing for our mania (which we all know the full range of actions that can come once we’re manic, rom sexual, to grandiosity, to delusional, to combative, to simply inability to sleep and forced speech). Rejection or denial of a diagnosis will stymie any progress and leave it dead in the water. An inability to even know we are ill, (anosognosia) is a hurdle many of us never are able to overcome and will often destroy us or kill us. Depression can tell us “What’s the use in trying?” Side effects alone can make the medication repulsive, and after trying many, a lot of us give up. Fear of going to jail, losing our jobs or family if people know we have a diagnosis, often keep us from asking for or seeking help. I was afraid, being blackmailed that I would be committed, my three children sent to separate homes and would never be allowed to see each other again. I did what ever I was told to do. I watched my medication be thrown out into the woods, was called a legal drug addict then asked if I was taking my meds when that person was angry with me, was called names all in my own home. People often perpetuate the idea that it’s illegal to have a mental illness. People of color are less likely to get or have access to treatment for financial and social reasons. The stigma alone among our peers will often keep us from thinking it’s something that should be addressed or as important. (“Pull yourself together. I get sad and stressed out too. Stop talking to yourself.“) As our illnesses progress, we often become poor or homeless which leaves us in high crime areas and physically in harm’s way, easily exploited. Sexually acting out opens up many dangers. We are more likely to smoke, drink, use drugs to self medicate and so forth.
Often, because of our impaired reality perception, we refuse all care (medication, placement, treatment facilities). We end up in the judicial system which is a different ball of wax and can run the gamut of possibilities, from temporary involuntary placement in a hospital to frightening situations involving serious risk of committing harm or being harmed from altered perception, (Altercations with unaware, uneducated police, and other members of the judicial system, jail time with people who do not understand our behaviors.)
Our medications are necessary, but we have to find the right combination and have a good prescriber. They used to blame the patient for the weight gain saying “You have to make wise choices, the medication only increases hunger. You have to exercise.” and so on. This is true, however, now, they are starting to see and admit, some medications are giving us diabetes, and metabolic disorders, that they need to be checked closely. Try those babies on. Those give you a plethora of health combinations to die from slowly or quickly, from heart attacks to strokes to losing limbs one at a time.
Hep C is rampant among those of us with serious mental health disorders, about twenty percent are infected and we are four times more likely to have HIV and be unaware of it. Respiratory disease is a steadfast illness, probably because of the high prevalence of smokers and the, often, squalor many of us live with and in.
Some of us are the lucky few. We can advocate for ourselves, or we have a person who loves us and gives up most if their lives for us. That’s what this does, you know? It steals lives sometimes. E., My Love, myself …we have people who love us. We have roofs over our heads, the ability to be aware, now, of our surroundings, generally. We have access to doctors, safety and food. The earlier the intervention, like in E.’s case, the better and brighter the odds are for the future.
I didn’t know Zac, but some of Zac’s walk is familiar. My friends, my loved ones and I live it. It’s too soon. It’s not fair.
The Lambs and the Goats of Mental Illness Today (proper link coming soon to this post). I’m not going to let them forget us. We aren’t the definition most people have for us, we aren’t the stigma. We are Zac, Malcolm*, Art*, E., Christal and many others. We live, think, feel, breathe, have eye color, fingerprints and have opinions, personalities, lives and value.
It may be too soon but it can’t be too late. It doesn’t have to be too late.
Please help end stigma. Become involved in the laws and legal system involving mental health, the mentally ill and behavioral health in your area and the country in general. It doesn’t have to be too late for any one even if it’s too soon for all of us.