Mental health care… This is a topic close to my heart. Being a somewhat stable bipolar person, I just have to have it, but many people just don’t. With tragedies happening everyday it’s something that really needs to be addressed. Those who suffer any kind of mental illness need affordable and competent health care but insurance companies and the payment policies work against the very people who fight desperately to overcome their disabilities. Why? It’s a good question and I don’t know if there is a truly GOOD answer to be found. There were more deaths by suicide in the Military this year than there were deaths by combat. And the suicide of 15 year old Amanda Todd remains fresh in the minds of many.
But suicide isn’t the only issue at stake with those who suffer mental illness, there are those who, for whatever reason, just spiral and become a harm to not only themselves but others as well. There is the story from Missouri where the mother of three killed her daughters before killing herself. Or the mentally ill man found not guilty by reasons of insanity after killing two men with a hatchet in Seattle. And then the tragedies in both Sandy Hook, CT and Aurora, CO, men who suffered and commited the unthinkable. And then the beating death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, CA. A schizophrenic man who was killed by six police man.
I have been at the bottom of my own illness, Axis 1 Bipolar Disorder. I was diagnosed in 2005, after years of being misdiagnosised and mismedicated. I’ve been in the mental health system since 1985 when I was only 12. In school I had trouble concentrating because of crippling anxiety, I had a hard time maintaining relationships because I would be extroverted at times and behave erratically and then at other points I would miss weeks of school because I was too afraid of going to school or just couldn’t get out of bed. My senior year of school I missed 91 days of a 180 day school year. Doctor’s notes were my best friend. I have harmed myself by means of drug abuse, cutting and hitting myself until I bruised myself far worse than anyone else could have beat me. As I got older I would swing from working 2 jobs and going to college for 21 units to being so ill that I would miss classes, just as I did as a child, weeks on end. I have always suffered from terrible insomnia and as I got older it only got worse. It wasn’t unusual for me to go days without sleep, causing my body to crash and making me delusional. Even today I rely on Ambien a few times a week to get some sleep at night.
In 2005 I had my first true crisis. I woke up one day after having a semester of emotional trouble to mind crippling anxiety. I believed that I was dying and that my birth control was sending messages to the government. I went to a mental health clinic where they diagnosed me as being depressed and gave me Zoloft. Two days later I woke in the night convinced I either had to kill myself or my boyfriend. I was out of control and despite all my boyfriend’s attempts to settle me I couldn’t come back down to earth. The clinic wouldn’t see me again because I had failed to see the County Mental Health Services as I had been directed to. Weeks later I had quit school, refused to leave the house and my doctor and social worker would just ask me over and over if I wanted to end up on disability. They couldn’t understand that it wasn’t that I wouldn’t do the things they wanted me to do. I mentally wasn’t capable.
I went in and out of health care until I was diagnosed. From there I got a psychiatrist who didn’t agree with the previous diagnosis because I couldn’t come out of my depression and she medicated me with Risperdal, 20 mg a day, Zoloft and Adderall. Adderall is a great medication for someone suffering Bipolar (this is sarcasm). I was cutting so badly I was visiting the Emergency room and I developed an obsession so severe that I began to stalk a member of the group counseling session I was forced to attend. My mood was fluctuating so badly that I would suffer from debilitating crying fits to moments of such euphoria that I couldn’t sit still. I found myself in the Psych Ward twice in August 2007.
Things were horrible for the next three years, I couldn’t leave the house to go anywhere but doctor’s appointments and my husband had to attend those appointments with me. I couldn’t speak to strangers and my fear of people in general meant that I could barely handle being in the same space as another person. It all crescendoed in August of 2010 when I decided that for my birthday, October 9th, I would kill myself. The cutting got worse, I was cutting more than 20 times a day. The beginning of September I entered the hospital and my first day there I attempted to slit my wrist with a plastic knife. I was desperate to just not be sick anymore.
I spent three weeks in Thalians Hospital in Los Angeles. I spent time in isolation and had a “baby sitter” because I was a risk to myself. It was rough and when I got out of the hospital I was terrified of myself. I went to work with my husband because I believed I would kill myself if I were left alone. Things were so bad that I was taking 18 pills of all differnt medications a day just to manage. It took months to even out and start to function, but when I did it was finally better for the first time in years.
The last two years have been relatively good. I have my good times and my bad times. I know that I HAVE to take my meds because if I don’t I can’t survive without them, and I WANT to live. It was the middle of last year that I had the epiphany that quite possibly for the first time in my life, I liked myself. I have a psychiatrist I see every 2-3 weeks and a psychologist that I see every week and because being ill is so hard on my marriage my husband and I attend marriage counseling. I know what to look for in my own behaviors and symptoms and what to do before it gets bad. It’s been a real battle for me. Everyday I fight just to get myself to deal and everytime I have to leave the house I actually have to make myself do it because I still feel anxious and frightened by people. The whole saying of “faking ’til you make it” is a motto that I live by now.
So when I see these stories on the news of these people who lose the fight. Who don’t stay medicated. Who fail to get the care they need, whether it is their own choice or for lack of opportunity, my heart feels a kinship. I read the stories and I know what it is like to lose it. I almost lost it all. When I see the heartbreak, I can’t help but think, that could be me. I could be that person who gives up or let’s go. I could wreak that damage.
Health care in America is at a catastrophic state. It is almost normal for those who are ill to be at not just the mental disadvantage, but to also be at the disadvantage of politics and beauracracy. Insurance companies instead of doctors are determining what is necessary care and what is the responsibilty of the patient. Doctor’s visits and medication is so expensive and many patients take 4-5 different medications to get by. If you want to know how bad just look at the headlines. Help those who can’t help themselves and help those who try to get what they need. Write your congressmen and senators and tell them that something MUST be done. People can’t rely on the goodness of companies to do what is right, we unfortunately need legislature to help those in need. How many more tragedies do we have to face? And isn’t losing one more person to something that can be managed a misfortune?