This is a long one. I’m sorry. But something that I feel so personally and passionately about can’t be discussed in a few words. Please bear with me, because I feel like this NEEDS to be said, and NEEDS to be read and discussed.
I shouldn’t have to say why this is a prevalent topic right now. I won’t link any of the news articles about the recent tragedy, as I refuse to let the major outlets covering get traffic from me. I’m rather disgusted with how the media has portrayed all of this very sad moment in history. I could rant about it forever, but instead, I’ll turn to the real issue I’d like to address: mental health.
Now, this is an area I have some distinct first-hand experience with. I always sort of “knew” my emotions didn’t function the way others did. My freshman year of college, it manifested and sort of solidified. I was no longer “a little different.” I was, as I jokingly refer to myself to add some levity to my own plight, “batshit crazy.” Over a six-month period, I heard about nine different diagnoses, until finally all medically-trained parties involved agreed: bipolar disorder. Later confirmed as bipolar disorder, Type I rapid-cycling.
I did what I was supposed to do. I went to counseling. I accepted whatever new meds they shoved my way. Some time during the two-year period of testing different medications, I became addicted to Klonopin. I failed college classes because of it. I almost dropped out. I was begged by my then-boyfriend, and others, to try and get away from it. I kicked it, and then made the decision with my psychiatrist to go the path of “unmedicated.” I would rather feel REALLY GREAT or REALLY NOT-GREAT, than not feel anything at all, which was the state I was in for most of my tenure as a prescription-taker.
For bipolars, this is risky. But, my doctors and I agreed that college was not the stage in my life for all the prescription-related turbulence.
Now, a few years and many more life lessons later, I’m doing well. I’ve aired a lot of grievances, confronted a lot of demons, and have really worked to be a happier, healthier Kelly. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been downright hard. It’s hard knowing that, by no fault of your own, you have to work harder than average people just to lead a “normal” life. It’s hard knowing that some people may choose not to have close relationships with you because of the extra work that may be required. It’s hard knowing that there are things you’ll never be able to do, like adopt a child. It’s hard knowing that for just about every good mood you have, there will probably be a “bounce back” that will send you into a foul one. It’s hard walking the tightrope of self-regulation needed to be an unmedicated bipolar. It’s hard knowing that if the wrong ignorant person finds out about your condition, they’ll call you “psycho” or “crazy” or compare you to negative pop culture stereotypes. It’s hard knowing that for all the money spent and work invested on my part, my country as a whole doesn’t have much understanding of mental disorders and health.
Most of all, it’s hard to get help.
I was lucky; my undergraduate college offered free therapy services to students, and the wellness staff was gracious enough to work alongside the psychiatrist they referred to me. Between that, and being on my step-dad’s insurance, my cost of care was minimized. At the same time, I paid for all of my co-pays and all of the prescription costs that insurance didn’t cover. I didn’t ask my parents for monetary help. Even expedited, it took a minimum of a week to get in to see a psychiatrist. And, again, I was lucky; my insurance allowed me to see private practices with doctors that specialized in mood disorders like bipolar, and also had additional insight into my side-effect of eating disorders.
Had I been forced to deal with public, governmentally-funded doctors and hospitals, the wait probably would have been much longer. Generally, these facilities are understaffed, also. And the number of these could-be affordable public mental health facilities continues to shrink as funding seems to get harder and harder to come by. So, here we stand between a rock and a hard place. Private care is expensive and sometimes hard to get access to, and public care is underfunded and sometimes even harder to get access to.
I’m lucky. Blessed. If I had to be dealt this hand, at least I’m surrounded by supportive and encouraging people with the availability and means to help me along my rocky path of wellbeing. Even in my case, a high-functioning bipolar with a college degree, and promising career, and a somewhat normal social life, I’ve managed to alienate and burden many people near to me. I know people worry about me, and it eats me up inside like acid dissolving the sleek luster of well-finished wood.
I’m self-sufficient. I’m driven. I’m a bleeding heart who hates to be a burden. All of these have led me to find my path to wellbeing and charge at it with little regard for how hard it will be. I have to be healthy, that’s the only option. Not everyone is blessed enough to have this resolve. Not everyone can spread out their support-seeking out like this, and not everyone can “tough it out.” Not everyone has a disorder that well-studied and “common.”
And when that happens, you have caretakers, parents and siblings and friends and more, trying to hold life itself together while their mentally-atypical loved one manages to shake the foundations of their world on a regular basis. These people do more than I could ever explain, and they come in many shapes and forms. They could be a mother choosing to send their child to a special school. They could be a friend who finds excuses to talk, chat, text, or visit because they’re worried about what their loved one might do unsupervised. Their lives often contain moments, hours, days, even weeks of a special kind of hell reserved for those good souls who are kind enough to let their world revolve around someone else’s disorder. (If you want to read a poignant, heartfelt essay about a mother’s life while caring for a son with a less-than-understood disorder, please see here. Please, if you read ANYTHING this week, let it be this.)
So, let’s talk about mental health.
Let’s talk about it because I, for one, would like to see more people get the help they need, when they need it. I would like to see fewer caretakers stretched beyond their limits trying to be whatever it is that their loved one needs. I would like to see fewer tragedies about people hurting themselves, and others, because there was a gap in “the system” that limited their treatment opportunities.
Let’s talk about mental health, because no parent should ever have to bury their child…especially not because of something that could have been caught and treated.
I want to amend this by saying, I have a wonderful life. It’s not ideal or “normal” by any means, but I have so much to thank God for. While I wish I didn’t feel the need to write about this, and I wish that no events had happened to spur this, I felt like it needed to be shared. If you made it down here, thank you. Thank you for taking the time, and reading. And thank you to all of the people who make my life so wonderful, despite the fact that I can be difficult or needy or inconsistent. Thank you.