Rarely what there will be then

When the final drop
is wrested from the hell-scorched
bowels of an earth clinging
to what it has, and which
we mortal, animate souls
should have never approached
the sinking sensation of
society,
frenzied in what there is
now, and rarely
what there will be then
will rise from their stupor
and see that despite
previous reports
we cannot eat sand
and sun-blasted stone

One missed paycheck from mental health crisis

A new piece in The Atlantic examines the relationship between mental health and long-term unemployment. As they point out, it is a chicken-and-egg problem- does long-term unemployment cause more mental health problems, or are long periods without work a symptoms of existing illness?

That’s a tough relationship to investigate, but it does relate to issue that people with mental illness can have- a much lower tolerance for stress and loss. Losing a job is hard for everyone, but it can trigger a serious episode for someone living day-to-day with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Even two years of constant stability have not created any kind of illusion. I am still walking on eggshells. A very stressful set of situations, a few days without access to medication, these things can be the difference between being in recovery and being in crisis.

This piece also brings up another component of mental illness- economic hardship impedes growth and recovery. It’s not just those that work losing their job. Millions living with a diagnosis are on disability or otherwise living on a fixed income. The squeeze is bringing plenty of people to the brink, but mental illness just adds a whole set of other complications.

Every stressor that exists has its own extra, sinister side. And in an America that’s in year eight of a recession with no broad recovery for the most vulnerable, the stressors are many, multiplying, and always just a few wrong turns away.

Crisis: sometimes you gotta hit a brick wall

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.