As I’ve said before on this website, I am a member of Stamp Out Stigma. It’s a speakers’ bureau dedicated to putting a human face on mental illness, and countering negative stereotypes that stigmatize those who deal with their disease.
Today we spoke at a training for a crisis line. The work that these organizations do is incredible; even though I have bipolar disorder, dealing with the pain of others in my community can be overwhelming. Just because I can understand doesn’t mean I can handle other people’s desperation. I am glad there is something I can help them with, because I can’t do what they do. It would be a serious threat to my present stability.
What our conversation eventually led to is how those in crisis can feel trapped when looking for help. What is important to know is that overcoming the fear of stigma and seeking professional help is only the first step in treatment. There is the fear of powerful, sometimes dangerous medication. Therapy is now commonplace, but it can still be a point of alienation. And when you ‘come out’ to family or friends about what you go through, you have to educate each one – because what mental illness is and is not are just not taught or discussed about.
So when someone calls a crisis line, it may not come from a lack of resources. Yes, a person may not know where or how to get help, but they may also fear the help they get. Unmedicated you can end up in crisis, but also after months or years of trying treatment and finding it only partially effective.
A friend of mine was diagnosed as bipolar not that long ago. She was older than me, so she got the news 12 years later in life than I did. She, like me, feared the side-effects and power of the medication. Ultimately it took a crisis to remove that psychological barrier and embrace treatment.
In the end, it’s a series of difficult choices. Mental illness evolves, and people are at different points in the process of understanding, denial, anger, and acceptance. Crisis can be necessary for transition, but not everyone lives through a crisis. That’s why crisis lines and trained staff is so important. The way forward is blocked by a sense of desperation and isolation, both physical and psychological.
Mental illness is a maze, but sometimes you need to bust through some walls to get out. My crisis in 2012 led to me hitting a brick wall – a massive increase in antipsychotic dosage that slowed me down to a crawl. But with that collision the chaos stopped, and a new, better life could be put together from the pieces.
Sometimes you gotta hit a wall. And there need to be people to make sure you get out safe on the other side.