I have to admit that even during writing my blog post last night, I was worried about the reaction it would bring. To say I was pleasantly surprised is a massive understatement - I was so lucky to receive messages of love and support from my family, from friends new and old, and even from my wedding photographer!
I feel very hopeful about this. I think it is necessary to get the message out there that mental illness isn't shameful, a secret to be hidden, a death sentence. When I was diagnosed it was a relief to me, because my troubles suddenly had a name and, more importantly, a treatment plan.
But that isn't the way it is for everyone. I know that bipolar disorder, along with other conditions, is a label which can imbue a life with fear. Mental illnesses, left untreated, can be terrifying to both individuals and their families. I know that when I was diagnosed, despite the great aha of relief, there was an undercurrent of dread - how can she live a normal life? Will she go in and out of hospitalizations? Will this end any concept of who she is, without her illness?
I'm very lucky, again, in that I'm a success story. Despite - and maybe a little bit, because of - my medical issues, I have a joyous life of self-reflection, bolstered by a supportive family, a loving husband, and an emerging career as a writer. I have access to healthcare. I have doctors who understand me.
If only we could make that true for everyone! Meeting so many people in group who had long histories of hospitals and mistreatment, of family abandonment and abuse, of struggles with self medication, made me realize even more that healthcare in this country isn't what it should be. Fortunately, therapeutic programs do exist. But what can a person with a mental illness do without health insurance or the money to pay for fair, accurate treatment?
I see so many comments online in response to health care articles and blog posts, asserting that other people's health issues are their issues, and those people should deal with them (if only we could get rid of this "bootstraps" nonsense!). I think, what a sad world it is, where we are bad neighbors, where we keep our heads down, afraid to look people in the eye, living in a place of otherness. And why, why should we fight against fair treatment for all? Why should we reject health care solutions just because we think they don't apply to us?
If I didn't have health insurance - if I hadn't been covered by my parents until the age of twenty six - my medication would have set me back by thousands of dollars a month.
This is the world we live in. We should make it a better place - a place where everyone can have the loving support which I am so lucky to enjoy, where health care is available to everyone. I hate to mention the obvious and the incredibly painful, but maybe, if we as a country were more aware of mental illness and appropriate, accessible care, we wouldn't let young men storm into school buildings. We could prevent death - death by suicide, death by overdose, death by a mother's irresponsibly stored collection of firearms.
Mental illness doesn't equal violence. But mental illness, left untreated because of poor access to health care, can destroy a life. Can destroy others' lives.
In the end, I know that I have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for a health care bill which provided me with the insurance to pay for therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatment. I am thankful for my mother and stepfather, who figured out that I needed help and found it for me. I am thankful for my husband, who knew me before I was diagnosed and still loved me, still loves me. I am thankful for my group of friends - coworkers, former teachers, people I barely know, who took the time to read my post and give me their support. I am thankful for a group of women and men who taught me how not to be ashamed.
Thank you. And now, let's give everyone the same support system.
Let's be better neighbors.