You can't help but go among mad people. We're all mad here. I'm mad, you're mad. You must be mad, or you wouldn't have come here.
~Cheshire Cat

30 July 2012

They tell me this is my worst fear

This blog has been nothing but intent seriousness, focusing on the deep issues that arise in people with invisible mental illnesses.
My aim is to ultimately help people understand the strides and struggles of living this way, and in doing so I hope to include every aspect of this life. Those would include triumphs as well as pitfalls; pleasures as well as pains; highs, lows, and in-betweens; humor in response to tragedy; humor for humor's sake; and anything else that can aid in the appreciationapprehension,perceptionpercipience, conceptionvisualization, awarenessconsciousness,enlightenment, and realization of the subject.

That said, I hate to bring up another grave topic rather than focus on something light, but in the midst of yet another criminal with the label of mental illness, I can't help but focus on my worst fears.

Reading stories such as this, "Suspect In Killing And Kidnapping, Was Diagnosed With Schizophrenia," makes me wonder if the stigma of mental illness will ever cease. People always want to believe that a healthy person could never commit such a travesty; pinning it on a mental disorder is more appealing. 
Headlines like this only perpetuate the stigmas attached to mental illness: that those suffering are dangerous, unpredictable, unreliable, and unaware of their own actions. In reality, millions suffering from mental illnesses would never think that committing such an act would solve anything, and that millions of crimes are committed by those of "normal" health. 
Where is the line?

Of course, the most salient of these in the news currently are those of the Aurora, Colorado shooting tragedy. This proves it: those who are quiet and different are mentally ill and it should not be surprising that someone like this committed a horrendous act. Right?

But it should be no surprise that someone like this committed a horrendous act for another reason: those suffering mental illnesses often don't get the treatment they need.

Reading things like this always make me wonder if I could be capable of something like this. 
I have a mental illness, those with mental illnesses often commit horrible crimes, therefore, I am capable of committing a horrible crime because I have a mental illness.
Not quite valid logic (fallacies ad hominem, ad ignorantiam, etc), but it makes sense. 
"Therefore, those with mental illnesses commit tragic crimes."

If the goal of these news stories is to make me afraid that I could be capable of doing this, well, then, mission accomplished. 

Something awful happened to a very close friend of mine a few years ago. This is a very personal story and it has affected me deeply. I will not reveal any names and I will try to be as vague as possible because this has greatly affected the families of those involved.
A very close friend of mine (whose family has become very close with mine) growing up had an older brother. He was kind of a trouble-maker, and from what I remember, not very nice much of the time. That was in one context, though. I usually only saw him on the school bus, and being that he was much older than me, those memories are some of my earliest and possibly most distorted. 
I spent a lot of time with this family when I was between ten and fifteen. My friend's brother was about five or six years older than us, so we didn't have many interactions with him. I heard stories, though, from my friend and her sister. Stories about how their brother would disappear for days at a time, that he was expelled from their expensive private school for setting his locker on fire, that he got arrested for stealing this or that, etc. I remember very vividly that my friend told me that her brother "is bipolar." And she oddly seemed to be bragging about it. Who knows? We were just kids.
My memory of him was different, though. 
While I was definitely afraid of him, I saw a lot of good in him. 
One year, he took us to the state fair. Just the three of us. I thought that was really nice of him. 
Sometimes he took us and his other sisters to the park, where he'd amaze us by jumping from structure to structure, tower to tower, swings to monkey-bars, slides to balance beams. 
I thought he was absolutely insane for even thinking he could do it. But he did, and he'd bring us back unharmed. 
One memory I have of him was from the first time I went with my friend's family to visit their land up north where they were building a cabin in the middle of the woods where there were no roads and no motorized boats allowed. They took advantage of the below-zero temperatures to tow lumbar and a huge wood-burning stove over the frozen lakes via snowmobile. 
The family was used to dressing for the cold: I was not. And as the rest of the family (all 7 of them) was busy zipping their snowpants and securing their boots, my friend's brother noticed that I didn't have the proper gear and offered me his. He helped me put the long, insulated gloves on and secured them for me.
I guess having 4 little sisters (and their friends) made him a little more perceptive than most other people. 
But that is my last memory of him. Everything else I know about him is from word-of-mouth or, thanks to the internet, news articles.
The family kept quiet about their son/brother for a very long time. I knew not to ask questions. I don't know if he graduated high school or what he did after that. But I always wondered.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was hesitant to tell my friend because of her experience with her brother. I still don't know if I ever officially told her.
But 2 years later, it was thrown back into the faces of the family. 
The person that they didn't talk about had been arrested on suspicion of murder.
How could this happen to such a wholesome family? The four other children, all girls, were doing really well. My friend had been accepted to a prestigious private university, and the rest of the girls were all working hard and studying. Their family is beautiful. Each of the girls could be models: they're beautiful and athletic and really smart. Everyone respects them and their family. They don't deserve shame.
When the arrest happened, no one knew.The family's vow of silence remained strong. I found out about the arrest months later when it went to trial.
For some reason, it hit me hard. I read about the crime, the court hearings, and the sentencing. I read about the retaliation against my friend's family by the family of the victim. I was heartbroken. 
But what stood out to me the most was that his lawyers urged him to plea insanity for not being treated for bipolar disorder. But he refused. 
Would insanity be a better plea? I didn't get it. But the more I read, the more I realized that people were blaming his refusal to accept treatment on him and that he was perfectly aware that he was capable of committing murder. His awareness of needing treatment and refusing it incited scores of articles and blog entries.
"What a monster!" was the title of one such article. 
Monster? Because of his bipolar, he's a monster? And only monsters can be so heinous? 
If his bipolar made him a monster, what did mine make me? What DOES it make me?

Without revealing too many details about the crime, it's hard to express how disturbed this made me. 
I do believe that he made a mistake. He made many mistakes. He was confused and instead of doing what he should have done (which is call the police if he suspected that the victim was injured), he tried to cover up any mistakes that could be traced back to him. In his attempt to cover it up, the victim ended up freezing to death outside of her home.
While many people consider him to be a "monster," I can understand his thought process: I meet someone, she gets hurt, she might report me, I should try to make it seem as if she was never in my company, I panic, I try to drop her off at her house but can't bring her inside. I flee.
Of course no one fell for that. And his lack of emotion during the hearing didn't help, He came off as unremorseful. I think he was mad that he got caught.
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Soon after he went to trial, my friend and I met up at a new year's celebration. Of course she was stressed and upset, but at that point only I had heard of the arrest - the rest of our friends were completely unaware. I guess the stress of remaining silent for so many months was too much for my friend, and in a moment of desperation, she blurted out how upset she was. Panic showed on her face. I quickly scooped her into the bathroom of the hotel room we were in because I was sensing a break down. 
I was right, and of course curiosity arose in the other party goers, and soon the bathroom was filled with five or six girls trying to help our friend calm down.
The secret was out. Her brother is in jail (though she never said why) and he will probably be there for a very long time.
At that point I felt the need to defend myself, even though I hadn't done anything. I felt that I needed to stand up for myself and the hundreds of thousands who suffer from bipolar. 

But that feeling has fled. 
I think about it and I get upset. I feel ashamed that I have this. I feel like it is expected that I will do something horrible, but that if I do it will only perpetuate that expectation. 
I also am afraid that I might use my illness as an excuse to do something bad. I can't lie and say that I haven't thought about it; I have. Sometimes in a rage I will think, 'I could easily get in the car right now and drive through a red light causing cars to swerve around me and probably hit me. It wouldn't be my fault. I'm crazy.' I sometimes fantasize about the life I will have after that: I will probably live in a hospital, with everything brought to me and having no responsibilities. That would take care of needing a career and a family. It would be so easy.
So why don't I? 
I don't know. 
I have gone this long without getting into trouble: why would I start now? I've been making very clear progress; this would only upset those around me who have been helping me. All of their effort would have been for naught. The guilt attached to that is pretty strong. 

It is a very real fear that I may be capable of harm to myself or others. It's even worse thinking that I am unaware of this capability, and that it might arise in an unexpected scenario. 
I am afraid of this demon that might be inside of me waiting to get out. I am afraid of losing all control. I am afraid of being outside of myself. I am afraid of the illness taking over. I am afraid of my bipolar. 


  1. I think that in most instances, during legal situations, the mental disorder plea is used as an excuse. Either by the accused (guilty until proven innocent lol) or the lawyers representing them to get a more lax sentencing. I'd bet 95% who claim some sort of metal disorder don't have one.

  2. It's a toss-up for me. I have completely mixed feelings about the insanity plea, and I can't even begin to organize them.

  3. This is an incredibly honest and powerful entry.

    Like many, I feel the need to believe that severe mental illness is behind the most heinous crimes, because I cannot comprehend living in a world where people do those things for any other reason (though I do know people do). However, I never made that connection the other way where I thought that people who have mental illness will commit these offences. You make a powerful point about the fact that mental illness is less the cause then the lack of treatment.

    As per anonymous's comment, a mental health defense is used in 1% of felony trials and is only successful about 25% of the time. I have to think that the prevalence of mental health disorders in the general population is such that it is more often not used when it could be used, then used as an excuse to manipulate the system.
    I heard the 1% stat on this radio program today: