Leah Farmer

Personal perspectives on faith, literature, and life.

One view of mental illness…

I feel sad..about a lot of things.

I feel sad about those darling children and brave adults who were killed last week. I feel sad that people are responding with so much anger instead of trying to figure out how to have a peaceful discourse. I feel sad for the parents of children with mental disorders who are terrified that their children might do something like the young men in Newtown or Aurora. I feel sad for the generations of children who have been desensitized to violence through video games, movies, etc. and who have been robbed of a good education system and access to excellent health care. And I feel sad as I listen to the vitriol on all sides of this debate and the lack of understanding of mental illness that feels so pervasive in our culture at the end of this long day.

Look…I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. I’m a Christian, a liberal, a feminist, and so many other labels..some that I use and some that others like to attach to me. I’m also someone that would be classified as “mentally ill” if we started some sort of national registry to track mental illness.

I have PTSD and in 1980 the American Psychiatric Association added this disorder to the 3rd edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

I am also a fully functional citizen. I pay my taxes. Donate time and money to good causes. I try to do good in my community and attempt to be a leader in both my professional and person lives. I don’t want to own a gun. I have no intention of owning one. (And lest you get distracted…I also don’t want to take away your right to own one.) I do not pose a threat to you or your children. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel angry, hyper-vigilant, or anxious when my PTSD is acting up.

I tell you all of this because some of the comments about mentally ill people thrown around today hurt me. They never had before. I guess I haven’t thought of myself as sick in quite a while…but it’s a very different story when you start to imagine a world where you would be labeled or recorded or tracked as a mentally ill person. That feels VERY different than just being a person who is dealing with her trauma and attempting to live a life that leaves society better than she found it.

So…a couple of comments:

  • You can’t talk about how we need better mental health care, screening or monitoring and then in the next breath bitch about the Affordable Care Act or the evils universal health care. You cannot have it both ways. Not everyone…make that hardly anyone…has the kind of amazing health care I have from my employer and even they are limited in how much mental health they will cover.
  • Stop talking about people with mental illness like they are OTHER, outside of your sphere, or as if you don’t know them. You know them. They are in your family and might be your children, parents, siblings, or best friends.
  • Mental illness is not always genetic. More genetic research should be done and will be helpful…but some of us got our mental illness when our minds found ways to protect us from trauma and tragedy that we otherwise could not handle. That does not mean we are weak. It means we’ve seen things or experienced things that you can’t even begin to imagine happening to you. PTSD, some forms of schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, etc…these are ways that the human brain will protect people so that they can function on some level…some better…some worse. If you need a reality check, I’d willingly describe what it feels like to turn inward in an attempt to block out things that are too frightening for a 5 year old little girl to be mentally present for even if she can’t escape physically. But buckle up…it’s not a story for the faint of heart.
  • In a conversation about arming teachers, I asked what happens if the teachers have mental illness. One person responded that not only should they not be armed but that maybe they shouldn’t be teachers. OUCH. Yes…there are some mental disorders that cause a person to be non-functioning. And then there are people like me and others (including many former service men and women) that are fully functioning participants in society. If we want to teach should we be banned? If so, will someone please make a list of the jobs we can have? Mental illness is not that simple. Just sayin’
  • Mental illness is not “one size fits all”…not even at the individual level. I am not a threat. But at one point I was. I remember a time, about 10 years ago, when I was scared enough that I would hurt myself or others that I sought help. I was fortunate. I had a best friend that I could tell my darkest thoughts to and she rallied around me to help me get what I needed. Not everyone has that. So whatever solution we come up with..and we do need one when it comes to the availability of healthcare and the creation of some regulation about acquiring weaponry…has to involve people who really understand mental illness in its many forms. Furthermore we should all be willing to submit without shame to whatever testing necessary for “THEM”…meaning the mentally ill…in order to assure safety for all.

I’m not delusional (well at least not anymore! KIDDING!). I know this conversation is not cut and dry. It isn’t going to end today or tomorrow or even next year. We are nation that loves our guns…and I get that…even though I don’t entirely GET that.

I’m asking that we stop and think. That we change the social discourse to one of collaboration and finding a middle ground. That we give up our need to be right and are more interested in relationship and community.

I don’t have all the answers. But I can do one small thing and give you a face to see in your minds eye the next time you start to be flippant about mental illness. There are people…dear ones…behind those words. People you love. People you respect. People who have sacrificed for you. People who would take a bullet for you and do anything to protect one of your beloved children.

Let’s keep talking!!

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