Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The stigma of mental illness...when I least expect it.

A man with some sort of mental illness attends a meeting I go to. Sometimes he talks too long, or he talks about things that aren't pertinent to our program...grudges, arguments, he said, she said. I have room for these sorts of missteps in my world. There are a lot of newcomers who come barreling into these rooms in all sorts of misery and pain with no diagnosable mental infirmity who make many of the same missteps.

Last week this gentleman rambled for a bit, the meeting ending time came and went. Everyone nervously looked at each other, but nobody said anything....so when he took a breath, I gently said, "Its time for the meeting to end, but I would love to talk to you more afterward. Would that be ok with you?" So we closed the meeting and he bee-lined it over to me and it took maybe 3 minutes of my life to listen to him and to share some of what I have learned in my program about having the freedom to make choices that work for us. He thanked me and was on his way.

The part of this whole interaction that bothered me was that after he left, a person who is looked up to and respected, stopped me and said, "You are so good. I always look at him and wonder what he's doing here. What is he coming to our meeting for?" Then she *shuddered.*

Well Shit.

I said, "I think he is hoping to get better at doing life, just like all of us when we first walked through the door." Then I smiled and got my stuff and started to leave.

My sponsor says, "We are a group of people who are not well."

We are....that is what brought us all together. We were afraid, angry, sullen, depressed, acting crazy, trying to control the uncontrollable, doing the same things over and over again and hoping it would turn  out differently....and left to our own devices, we very easily could have become diagnosable! I never want to forget where I have come from and where I still sometimes find myself waffling!

A couple of nights ago I visited someone I love very much in a locked psychiatric facility. Secret codes to be let in, locked doors with escorts, screaming patients, patients with no awareness of personal space.....and then there was my sweet friend who I was there to see. Who even in that place, in his compromised state, was protective and called me to him in the middle of the chaos at the door of people trying to get out and staff members holding them back. He ushered us into a conference room where we could visit in peace. So many things about this experience broke my heart. My friend who I love so much being so sick. The other patients.... each had started out as someone's sweet precious baby at one time. Seeing strangers waiting in the waiting room to be allowed in to see their family member....I was just so aware that each person sitting there, and many were men, husbands, boyfriends, brothers....sat there carrying their own pain. Their own sad memories, their own hope that their loved one will get better, their own fears and broken hearts. And then the kindness of the very underpaid staff members....who were ruffled by nothing and responded with smiles and kindness.

I think my capability to judge another person as less than me has been stripped away. Not because I am good or pure or extra kind....not at all. I think its because if the truth be told, I have had to face my own limitations. My own lack of abilities to manage, to be on the edge of "losing it" in my grief and my fear. I know that there is not that definitive of a marker that divides me from them.

I think of the depressions, the ECT before it was a humane treatment, the myriad of medications, the behaviors, the hospitalizations, the addictions.... that I watched play themselves out in my immediate family. All in good people, people who at the core of themselves were loving and kind, but who were also so sick. How can I, how dare I, assume that I am better than any of those patients or my meeting friend or the delusional homeless lady I see sitting in the park. I think, if I am going to be honest, the line that separates us is very  thin.

"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you."
                                                                                        John 15:12



SoberMomWrites said...

This is beautiful. There was a time in my life where I felt myself above others. Because I had risen above the dysfunction that was my family, I thought that somehow I was "better".

Man plans, God laughs.

First came the depression and the realization that the line you so beaufifully describe is indeed, very thin. That I was no better than any other person on the planet. I just happen to have a good job and good health insurance which provides me access to good health providers. Without it? I shudder to think where I'd be.

Then came the next equalizer...my alcoholism...which proved to me, once again, that we are all human, all deserving of each other's love and all deserving of His love.

What a lovely, lovely post.


Birdie said...

The line is thin indeed. Just today I was at a meeting with two newcomers and shared just how close I was to being hospitalized. But for the grace of God that was my bottom. I am a grateful member of Al Anon.

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful piece and so true. It is a very thin line. I needed to hear this as there is a gentleman in my group meeting that has a habit of sharing for very long periods of time - going off on non pertinent topics. His son is using marijuana and we are a group of parents of heroin addicts. Needless to say, I've let him get under my skin. But as you so gently pointed out...who am I to judge? He is hurting, we are all hurting and this meeting is our safe place to share.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your daughter. I know so well the sadness involved with relapse.

Thank you again for this lovely post, It really spoke to me.

Patty D said...

So moving Annette. I am thanking God right now with a full heart for steering me to your beautiful words today. This is just what I needed to hear at this very moment. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Though it makes us feel good when we are nice to those with disadvantages or disabilities, we should not do so at the expense of the others at the meeting who may be there appropriately because they need help.

It is good that everyone is loving towards him, but please don't let him monopolize your meeting. That would be depriving someone else of the help they are desperate for. It also does him no good.

Ms. Meany-pants