I’ve always liked that old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but over the past several years, living with clinical depression and seeing other people struggling with mental illness, I find myself wondering why, when a child is grown, they so often have to go it alone.
Most babies are loved, tenderly cared for, given all they need to get a good start in life. If a child was left alone, crying on the street people would rush to help her. There would be an uproar over such treatment – a rush to ensure the child is kept from further harm.
But that rush to help, that unconditional support system just isn’t there for so many adults who can, at times, find themselves as helpless as children.
I spent about three years on a wait list to see a psychiatrist. When I did finally get an appointment I was kept waiting for 45 minutes before the doctor came to get me from the waiting room. I knew he hadn’t had another patient with him so I was getting a little frustrated sitting there. When he finally did take me into his office I saw on his computer a website for booking vacations. He took a seat. I took a seat. Then he looked at me and said, “So, what can I do for you?” It felt exactly as if he was asking me if I wanted fries with my burger.
What could he do for me? Wasn’t he supposed to tell me that? Wasn’t he supposed to at least ask how I was doing?
I said, “That’s a strange question.” He gave a little laugh and then asked what had been going on with me.
At the time I was entrenched in my depression and had been for years. I was desperate for help. I thought finally I was seeing a professional who would listen to me, help me. So I started telling him how I’d been feeling, started crying.
He offered no sympathy, no compassion, no sense of emotional connection at all. He asked questions aimed only at pinpointing how my depression was manifesting itself physically and whether I was bipolar. He concluded I am not bipolar, wrote me a prescription, told me if I missed two appointments in a row he wouldn’t see me again and that was it. It took less than 15 minutes.
I never went back. I did fill the prescription and felt the medication helped quite a bit but I went to my regular doctor to have it prescribed by him.
How many other people went through what I went through with that doctor? How many like him are out there now making people like me feel like we’re nothing but interruptions in their vacation planning? But shove enough of us through their offices and they can book some pretty sweet trips right?
I didn’t want to see a psychiatrist because I wanted a new prescription. I wanted, I desperately needed to speak to someone about what was happening inside my head. I needed someone to help guide me through the mess that had become my thinking. I needed to tell someone who was trained to help people like me how horribly dark my existence had become, how trapped I had been in a cold, desolate prison that no one else could see. I was screaming, shrieking inside for help because all I wanted to do was die and end my agony but I had a child who deserved a healthy mother.
It takes a village to raise a child but what happens to that child when they’re grown but still need that nurturing, that knowledge that help is there if they need it?
Well, when it comes to myself and others like me, frankly, we are often just abandoned. We are told to buck up, get over it, keep busy, do something to take your mind off of it.
We are told no to talk about it. Society implies that mental illness is something unacceptable, survival of the fittest and all that.
I read something today that really shook me. Dr. Ingrid S. Herrera-Yee who works with the U.S. military for the National Alliance on Mental Illness was quoted in a story on the CNN website as saying, “Most people know there is a stigma attached to mental health. It’s easier to say you have cancer than, ‘I have clinical depression,’ or an anxiety disorder. People don’t say that.”
In other words, it’s easier to struggle with or die from cancer than to try to reach out for help to live with mental illness.
If I had a facial deformity and got plastic surgery to correct it would I be doing it because I was uncomfortable looking at myself, or because other people are uncomfortable looking at me? Are people with mental illness supposed to keep our mouths shut because it’s better for us or it’s easier for everybody else because today’s society values beauty and success no matter how shallow or vacuous those commodities are?
It’s easier not to look at a homeless person on the street than it is to wonder if they’re okay, if they have enough food to eat, medicine if they’re sick, a warm place to sleep at night. It’s easier to tell ourselves that that person is an adult, they’ve made their choices and they have to live with them.
It’s easier to just stay away from people with mental illness than it is to stop and sit down with a friend or family member who is struggling and ask “What can I do to help?” Even though that, just those few moments taken could be all that person needs to start feeling better.
I often wonder if I talk too much about my depression or my alcoholism, if in writing this blog I’m ruining any chance I have of ever working in a newsroom again. But when I was out there drinking and hating myself, if I had heard even one person talking about how they’d recovered I may have sought out AA long before I did. I would at least have known, long before I did, that I wasn’t a useless piece of garbage that didn’t deserve to live.
We’re not garbage, those of us who are broken. We have souls as surely as those who can claim the sanest of minds and the most whole of bodies.
How can we take any measure of pride in our society when we so easily cast off our most vulnerable members?
All those poets and painters, anguished and torn but still human, still worthy of the lives they were given, still worthy of the love of the village.