I am convinced that mental illness permeates my family. There are no diagnosis – no testimonials of counselors or case workers. There is fear. Fear of venturing to ask any questions. Fear of unknown possibilities. Fear of helpless damnation. Families keep secrets because families are ashamed. And that, my friends, is the problem.
Ignorance abounds. Mythology of mental illness as something weak, self-imposed, prevents any consideration of seeking help. One of the elders in my immediate family probably suffers from some “simple schizophrenia.” She will sit at the kitchen table, seemingly participating in the round table discussion. You know the kind – topics change every ten minutes. Topics range from fishing to religion to politics to board games. The simple schizophrenic sits quietly for twenty or thirty minutes and then jumps in with a comment on a topic of thirty minutes past. Her brain has been in a loop. She seems to be processing – but in reality she has lost contact with others.
One of the old ladies had driven everyone nuts for years. We gossip. “What is wrong with her?” “She is a bitch.” “Is she stupid or something?” “She is just mean and uncaring.” “She is selfish.” We pass judgement – but no one offers to help. “Help” might mean medical attention and since her arm is not broken then medical attention is not required. That seems to be the logic. The reality is that the family denies without question any possibility of mental illness.
The ‘bitch’ has not held a job in forty two years. She has busied herself with meticulously recording every minute of the CNN coverage of O. J. Simpson’s trial. She recorded the entire Gulf War of the early 1990’s. No one has ever seen her tapes. Her house is clean – with furniture covered with plastic. She has never invited anyone over for dinner. She never hosts any family get together. Her basement is packed with everything she ever owned – including every cabbage patch doll every made. She cleans and hoards. She has no friends beyond her immediate family. She is consumed with suspicion about other people’s motives. Her’s is a sad and wasted life. She was once beautiful, perhaps even glamorous. Her appreciation of music was once heralded as potential great talent. She has not changed her hair style since 1964. She has never seen a dentist – with the tragic result of never openly smiling or laughing. She does not trust physicians, “They don’t know anything.”
Civilization is entering an era of greater understanding of mental illness – tragically too late for many of the old folks of my family. Odd behavior has been dismissed as just odd behavior.
On this day in December of 2011 I sit and ponder what might have been. Wasted lives could have been productive lives. What can I say other than ignorance and closed mindedness are the root of horrendous evil.
Mental illness is directly related to poverty – and they are both Weapons of Mass Destruction.