Monday, December 15, 2008

When intervention is not enough....

I watch this show, Intervention, even though the people who are featured on it regularly annoy me. Tonight this horribly bad alcoholic, sex addict woman is featured and she is really beyond the pale. She is so pathetic I hardly think that her life could possibly be saved from all the damage she is constantly doing to it. The thing is, I know a lot of alcoholics and drug addicts. It's odd, really, because I have neither of those problems myself, but I am related to people who do and I am friends with people who do and I lived with a guy who did for years. And it's sad to see people suffer from addiction and realize that you can't help them, that they have to help themselves and that, often, they won't help themselves because they don't feel capable of doing so or something.

I have to admit, in a way I would really rather have an addiction than a mental illness. At least, with addiction, there are meetings to go to where you can talk to lots of other people who share your problem, in every city in every part of the United States and many parts of the world. There really aren't a lot of meetings for people coping with mental illnesses. There is one NAMI consumer support group meeting a week in Pinellas County, which is where I live. In contrast, there are several AA meetings and NA meetings and Al-Anon meetings every day in Pinellas County. I know people who have developed a camaraderie in the twelve step groups that gives them a whole new way of life. And, obviously, an addiction is something that - unlike a mental illness - is a behavior that can be stopped. I cannot simply choose to stop being delusional or hearing voices. I try to. All the time. I constantly argue with these abnormalities in my mind, in order to defeat them. But they are not a choice. They are not a drug or a drink I picked up on my own.

I do know a bit about addiction from my past life in an eating disorder. My entire world revolved around anorexia for a number of years. Everything I did, every thought that ran through my head, every book I read, every behavior I exhibited, was all related to weight control and weight loss and self-hatred, and the fear of fat. Now that I actually AM fat, for real, it's amazing to me that I have not killed myself for it, considering that if, a few years ago, I had weighed as much as I weight right now, I would likely have sought out death with a passion, just because I would have despised my body so much. But after I developed psychosis, the eating disorder (and the associated self injury/ cutting disorder) was less of a priority in my head. It was not the biggest demon in the room anymore.

And unlike the eating disorder, which is a behavior-related problem, psychosis is not a behavior. I take all the credit for the years my life revolved around anorexia and cutting, and I also take the credit for getting past those addictions and not doing them anymore. I think that it is possible for most people with addictions to get past them, if they really want to do so. A lot of people may think that this is not true, but I would argue that it is true. Unlike addictions, however, serious mental illnesses are not about making a choice every day. You make a choice to starve yourself, to cut yourself, to drink yourself under the table, to snort your life up your nose or shoot death into your arm. You make that choice, and it is your own responsibility.

I think some people who have not experienced serious mental illnesses assume that they are about choice, too. These people assume that if you really wanted to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" you could be "normal" again. People have said things like this to me in the past. I think this is a commonly held misconception about mental health. A disease is not the same as an addiction. I don't really know why people with addictions are put on the mental health wards of hospitals even when they don't have any mental illness other than their addiction, but that is what happens where I live, for some reason. The last time I was in the hospital, most of the people there were there for detoxing. I thought this was strange, but I heard htat it had something to do with insurance coverage. Regardless, I also think that many people with addictions have undiagnosed mental health problems, but that is not the point of this post.

I guess my point was that it's kind of interesting many people openly talk about the addictions that they have, or that some family member or friend of theirs has, and these addictions are the focus of numerous television reality shows where people go to rehab and solve their problems, ostensibly. Mental health is not discussed this openly, by either mentally ill people or people related to mentally ill people. It's not the focus of any reality TV shows that I have ever heard of. There's no Schizophrenia house with cameras (and for obvious reasons, that is probably a good thing! I am not sure I'd watch that show myself). In fact, from the way the public acts towards mental illness, the amount of stigma that exists, that shortage of resources and the ever-present SHAME that everyone seems to have about their mental health problems, one might think these problems are rare. They are far from rare, in fact, as you probably know. Two percent of the population has Schizophrenia. The population of the U.S. is approximately 300 million people. Two percent of 300 million is a lot of people (I am not a fan of math). But there's no TV show, and there's also no cure, nor even much hope that one is going to be invented any time soon. There are drugs which are band aids put on oozing, open sores. And that's all there are, in many cases.

I myself am rapidly losing faith in the abilities of any medications to really help me, at this point. I know that they have helped to some extent. It's the extent that is the issue. You cannot swallow a pill and be better forever, most of the time. Maybe it works that way for some people who are lucky, blessed, whatever. But for most people I know, living with a mental illness is a daily battle and it can get quite fatiguing.

I feel quite fatigued these days. Tomorrow, I go back on Risperdal injections. I will let you know how it works out.

I also want to add that I did not mean to undermine or underestimate the serious nature of addictions or the difficulty people have in coping with them. I fully understand that many people have to combat addictions every day for their entire lives. The thing is, everybody knows about that. Everybody has heard about AA. You go to 90 meetings in 90 days after you come out of detox. This is common knowledge. The need for the meetings is common knowledge. Everybody knows an alcoholic or a drug addict or both. Or many. How many people are AWARE that they know someone with Schizophrenia?? There are not a lot of meetings for that, yet, it is a psychological issue as much as it is a neurological one. The battleground is the human mind - just like with an addiction. Just like with an addiction, I have to use my mind to combat my problem, which is a disease that is based in my neurons and not a substance that I purposely put into my own mouth.

This bothers me. The lack of knowlege, I mean, bothers me. The lack of awareness, the lack of appreciation for the gravity of the situation, the lack of meetings, the lack of common knowledge, the lack of people talking about it, all this bothers me. It is strange to me that I am more ashamed of people knowing I have Schizophrenia than many recovered crack addicts are afraid of disclosing their problem. Strange.


  1. Hi Jen,

    It bothers me too that there are so few support groups for severe mental illness. And it is starting to bother me on facebook. I want to be open about my illness. I don't want to be controlled by a shame that I shouldn't have. But the only way to do that is to be open. So I'm practicing openness in my blog, on facebook, and to the few people I have contact with. So far, it's been okay. No one has attacked me for it out of fear or distaste or whatever. So I've been fortunate.

    I also lived with an addict. In retrospect I can say he was definitely mentally ill and his addiction just made that all the worse. I think living the life of an addict is living a life that actually cultivates the seeds of mental illness through repetition, so I have trouble separating them from each other. But you are right, addicts have, on the whole, much better social services in the form of all kinds of support groups. Even where I live I can get to an AA meeting if I wanted to.

    All I can do is hope more individuals come forward and start support groups of their own, which is what I must do in 2009.


  2. It really irks me that the "problem of the year" seems to always get the attention and the funding but other problems are almost totally ignored. I suppose a lot of it comes down to what television producers think will pull in ratings and the illnesses that politicians support because they think it will give them votes. The less glamorous problems are swept under the carpet.

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