Every time some tragic event happens like the one in Tucson last week, it makes me sad. So sad. Not only for those who lost their lives or are fighting for them at this very second. Not only for the mommies and daddies who are grieving lost children. Not only for those who will never again be able to hug the someone they love most in the world. But sad, too, for the senselessness of it all. I've thought to myself in times like these, "What could possibly possess someone to do such a thing?" And that's just it. They are possessed. Possessed by demons either real (scary, I know) or in their heads.
During the discussions about this latest tragedy in Tucson, the subject of mental illness has come up. The thing about mental illness is if you've never experienced it, you can't comprehend it. And even if you've been through it with a loved one but haven't lived it yourself, you can't fully understand. The words "mental illness" sound so scary. That's how they describe those people in institutions or wandering the streets muttering to themselves. Not someone like me. A wife and mom and daughter and sister and teacher and Christian. How could I have suffered from "mental illness?" But if you look at the definition of mental illness you find this:
any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual's normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma; any of various psychiatric disorders or diseases, usually characterized by impairment of thought, mood, or behavior.
Abnormal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning? Check. Environmental factors? Check. Impairment of thought, mood or behavior? Check. And yes, it was scary. Scary in my head. Scary to deal with the symptoms. Scary to see how it affected those in my life. Scary to admit the problem. Scary for those going through it with me. Just scary. Throughout my troubles I never ever in a million years thought of hurting anyone else. But I am fully aware that my brain was not working the way it should. I had other thoughts that were not "normal" and know all too well that when you are completely out of control of your thinking, anything can happen. Does being mentally ill mean you aren't held responsible for your behavior? No. Does it mean you can do whatever you want without consequences? Certainly not. But really, I can't help but feel sympathy for anyone who suffers with mental illness, either temporary and curable, or chronic and harder to control.
The senseless part of it is that there is help. It's just that it's so hard to recognize and then admit that there's a problem that you need help with. And so often I think that those around someone who needs help are afraid to say anything. "I think you have a mental illness." Yikes. I don't want to be the one to say that to someone. I know there are other ways to say it. More loving ways. More helpful ways. And I hope that all those who know someone suffering with mental illness will have the courage, and the kindness, to help them in whatever way they can.
I am grateful every day, every single day, that I'm better. My struggles with anxiety, panic disorder, and depression were the hardest days of my life. And surely ones I never want to repeat. But I am also grateful for the hard won understanding for those who also struggle in this way. I don't claim to know anything beyond what I lived. But what I lived gives me a tiny glimpse into the minds of those with mental illness. I no longer judge. I no longer shake my head in disbelief. I'm just sad. Sad for them, those who love them, and those who are forever changed because of them. And I hope and pray that someday anyone who suffers in this way can get help without shame or fear...or insurance.