Sunday, April 29, 2012

I had a dream.

It's just after 6:30 AM, but I am writing a post at this unfortunately early hour for a reason. I wanted to tell you about a dream I just had. I am not talking about racism, but I am talking about discrimination. And I had a dream where the discrimination that exists about mental illness was easily erased by educating people.

In my dream, a person at my job was fired because of doing something that clearly indicated he was psychotic. The person was said to have a mental illness, and the fact that he had stolen someone's car (yeah, I can relate to such things), and that he had contacted the President of the United States (something I'm pretty glad I never did when I was psychotic which is probably why I've never been to Guantanamo), led him to be fired. There were rumors going around at work that he was "crazy", and that it was a good thing he was fired. I then told someone at my job, "I have a mental illness myself. I used to be really humiliated about it, but I'm not now, and I can tell you I have it without being ashamed because I understand what it means. It does not mean that there is a defect in my character or a flaw in my intelligence. It means there is a problem with my neurotransmitters".

After telling this information to one person at work (who actually was a person who works with me in real life), I then went to a meeting at work where someone who was (in the dream) one of my coworkers (who looked exactly like Jordan Catalano from that TV show in the 90's called My So Called Life - and my work place would be a lot more visually pleasing if that guy actually worked with me but no such luck), brought up the topic of mental illness at work again. This guy said that he had a sister who was "suicidal". And he wanted to know if anybody at work had any advice on this. Obviously (since this was a dream), I raised my hand and said, "I have something to say!". I then told all of my coworkers and my boss' boss that I had a mental illness myself. I also told them, "I used to be really humiliated about it and I wouldn't tell you this fact then, because people think it means there is a defect in your character or a flaw in your intelligence if you have a mental illness. But that's not what it means. It means there is a problem with the neurotransmitters in your brain related to mental illness". I said as well, "I volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and one of the statistics that I learned there was that one in every four people may have a mental illness. It's a great organization which might be helpful to you".

I then went on to encourage the Jordan Catalano coworker by telling him it was quite possible his sister did not have a serious mental illness that would require lifelong treatment; she might just have a temporary episode of Major Depression. I said that depression is so common, "antidepressants are prescribed more frequently now than most other types of drugs." Oddly, at this point in the conversation, for some reason Dr. Drew appeared in the room. He gave a comment about how antidepressants are so overprescribed that it is a problem. (*I don't know if the real Dr. Drew would actually say this, but I have weird things happen in my dreams as you can tell). I then made an (odd) joke about a person being prescribed enough antidepressant medication that they could fly, which made my coworkers laugh. (It's funny how jokes like that are only amusing in your dreams and not at all logical when you wake up). But the good part was, my boss' boss smiled at me, and my coworkers accepted me as having a mental illness. They didn't shame me for it or look aghast. They understood. And they accepted me the way I am.

I went on to volunteer to speak at any churches my coworkers attend to educate people about mental illness! And (probably because that was shocking to my own self), I then woke up.

So, in my dream, I came out about having a mental illness. I know having a mental illness isn't the same thing as being gay, but I've come to think that the term "coming out" makes a lot of sense in the mental illness context, which is probably why I've read many posts on blogs and Facebook groups where people use this term. For example, having a mental illness doesn't legally prevent you from marrying the person of your choice, like being gay can. But it can prevent you from marrying the person of your choice because, as soon as that person finds out you have a mental illness, they may not want to marry you! Ignorance is very prevalent in our society. Also, having a mental illness makes you prone to discrimination in your workplace if you come out, much like being gay will do, even though discrimination is technically not legal. Having a mental illness makes people think you're "different", much like being gay might. And it leads to internalized discrimination (shame), much like being gay, particularly if the person with the illness doesn't understand what it means to have a mental illness.

In short, we're not freaks of nature. And neither are gay people. But we get treated like we are. When people find out about our illness. Like I told my mom the other day, "everybody who's a serial killer in horror movies
 has Schizophrenia and has just escaped from a mental hospital". It's quite common for us to be misrepresented as something that most of us are not (violent).

So, it was quite wonderful in my dream to be universally accepted and understood as the person who I really am, problems and all, by everybody in my workplace. This is also why it was A DREAM. Because in real life, for me, that would never happen. I know because that is exactly NOT what happened when people in my last workplace found out about my illness. They treated me like garbage, and talked about me. That workplace was a nonprofit agency for people with developmental disabilities, yet my coworkers had no understanding of mental illness, or, if they did, they pretended like they didn't.
I was not universally understood or accepted. I then quit my job even though I had no other job to turn to. I couldn't handle being there with the people knowing, and treating me like they did. The only reason I had even told anyone in the workplace was that, while I was in the psychiatric ward for my last hospital stay, a coworker who was very nosy had gone to the hospital to "visit" me, and came back to tell everybody at work, including my boss and human resources, that I had not actually been in a hospital at all, since the hospitals are legally not allowed to tell someone you're in a psych ward so they had told her I was not there. She then went on to have the police sent to my apartment "to check up on me" because she supposedly didn't know why I hadn't been coming to work. So I had to tell my boss and the human resources manager, and this coworker who was extremely nosy, that I had been on the psychiatric ward. And that was when everybody started treating me like garbage.

That was real life, not a dream, of course. In dreams, life can be so much more wonderful than it ever really is. You can have a dream, like Martin Luther King Jr. did, that rampant discrimination has disappeared and been replaced with logic, reason, understanding, and even love. That was the kind of dream I had. People accepted and understood me.  My ability to do my job  was not questioned either. They understood that having a mental illness didn't mean I was no longer going to be good at my job.

But there is no Jordan Catalano or Dr. Drew in my workplace. And the people at my workplace are not this understanding. I have a coworker who knows I'm going to school for social work and frequently makes insulting comments about how I must be writing another paper about "the crazy people". I told him finally, one day, "I don't know what you mean by that." He said, "Well that's what you're going to school for, right? To work with crazy people?" I told him that this was a very insulting thing for him to say about people and that "having a mental illness is just a disease process, it doesn't mean a person is 'crazy'". He was shocked by this comment I had the audacity to make. And that was real life. Not a dream.

So I know that in real life, if I decided to waltz into work one day and announce to everyone that I had a serious mental illness called Schizoaffective Disorder, they would not be universally understanding and kind about it. Which is exactly why I'm never going to do that. But in my dream, they were universally kind and understanding about it. They didn't discriminate. I came out about having a mental illness, and no one looked down on me for it. I was still respected. They even still laughed at my jokes. But life is not a dream.

That was a great dream though! I had a dream that everybody with a mental illness was respected and understood. If only real life were more like dreams.

I will add that, in one of my classes, which was an online class where nobody ever saw what I looked like, at the end of this semester, I disclosed about having an illness in a comment to someone in a message board. I had done my class presentation on the results of deinstitutionalization (focusing on the negative results), and this classmate responded in the comments by telling everyone that she had a friend who was mentally ill and recently had to be committed to a hospital under the Baker Act. I couldn't keep silent, in the face of that disclosure on her part. This same classmate was gay and had told the whole class that too. I thought she was a brave person. So I responded by telling her that mental illness can involve recovery and that I am in recovery myself and doing very well. It was the end of the class, and I'm never going to see these people so I didn't care what anyone thought about it. I told her about NAMI, and about one in four having a mental illness, and about where she could go for help for her friend. This seemed like the only thing to do. I couldn't just pretend like I didn't relate to her. That would have been cruel. So I disclosed, and I didn't care what anyone thought. If only I could do that all the time, offline, then life would feel a lot more freeing. If only life imitated dreams. Maybe someday. There is always hope.


  1. I love dreams like that where the world is a better place. It gives me hope.

  2. Hi Jen,

    I believe the people in my town know that I suffer from schizophrenia because I basically told my brother, who had lots of friends he hung out with at the bars, that he was free to tell people about me. Being a recluse, I didn't come in contact with anyone but my brother and our mutual friend, so I didn't have the opportunity to disclose. I think it was a relief to him to be able to explain my withdrawn behavior and to be able to get some support for himself. I've never regretted letting him out me. People seem to accept me at the bank, post office, pharmacy, etc... No one has been unpleasant, but then I've done very little to disturb other people too.

    As for writing about my illness online, I have done that most of the places I go to. It helps me to do it even if it is a bit awkward. I see it as doing my part to fight the pervasive stigma against mental illness. That and I don't want to be ashamed. The main thing I want is to accept myself as I am.

    So glad that you had a great dream. Who knows, maybe someday it will become a reality?

    Kate : )

  3. I actually came out to the whole congregation at my church and everyone has been very kind and supportive. I'm not sure it would be like that in a work environment. My church is very active in community service activities, which I think is great, but I can't keep up with all that. Once I told everyone about my Schizo-affective and explained a bit what that was everyone was great and there was no more guilt about missing all the service projects. One guy came up after I told everyone and said that he has it to but has never had the nerve to say anything. I feel like, at least at church, it's a safe place.


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