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Losin' my mind

art by Amber Osterhout
Our local paper is launching a series on mental health issues.    I applaud this, and hope that the series will bear good discussion, enlightenment and encouragement.

Victorian newspapers would not use the word "cancer".  Fifty years ago, one would not admit he or she was homosexual in public.  Many of our ancestors changed the spelling of their names or changed their names completely to avoid ethnic stereotypes.  This has all changed.

But to live with mental illness is still a stigma.

I know, because I'm the mother of a mentally ill daughter.

If my child had a physical disease, my church would hold a spaghetti dinner to help us pay for medical bills.  People would want to be updated on her health and status.  Offers of help would be forthcoming from neighbors.  Instead, no one talks about it.  In fact, they studiously avoid the topic all together.

Living with mental illness is like having a tornado in  your living room.  You don't know which way it's going, how much destruction you're going to find when you open the door on your way in from work, or what, if anything, has been destroyed or damaged.  You live in a constant state of alertness, never knowing when you'll need to act.

The most frustrating thing for me is that our mental health system is set up so that one must follow pre-ordained steps in gaining access to help, and those steps must not be skipped, jumped or otherwise vaulted over.  Imagine, if you will, taking your child to an ER, and she is bleeding profusely from every orifice.  The doctor then tells you he must first use band-aids.  That is the necessary first step.  It is the only thing he is allowed to do.  If the band-aids don't work, then he will try applying pressure, but if and only if the band-aids aren't working.  By the way, he is the only judge of the band-aids not working.  If you, as the parent, yell,  "Hey, these aren't working", you will be ignored, since you are not the expert in treating this type of problem.  And so it goes, with your child bleeding to death in front of you, as the steps are rigorously followed.

It is a bad system.

Dear husband and I have been standing in the ER room for almost two years, desperately trying to get someone to stop the bleeding.  We "think" we may have help on the horizon, but it remains to be seen.  Like everything else with mental illness (and, by the way, illnesses like cancer and MS and Parkinson's and diabetes), the future is unpredictable.  For now, all we can do is pray that our daughter is safe, we are safe, and that we can move forward.


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