Reprinted from "Stigma" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(6), p. 17
Mental illness is very common. It's a quiet disease, however. Physically, the disability often remains unseen. It's an affliction within one's heart, mind and soul.
You must not stereotype us as 'crazy people'; you must understand that we have an illness. We must learn more about these devastating conditions. Let's not forget, mental illness plagues millions of people throughout the world. We don't deserve to be frowned upon or considered unimportant members of society.
Many of us who are afflicted with mental illness try very hard to hide ourselves from the general public, so that we are not recognized as having a disability. We don't want other people to know that we're not 'normal.' We have worn masks throughout our lives, and know which face to put on in which circumstances. We are so clever that our deception is usually never detected. Our illness and struggle is kept secret.
Fighting the ailment can leave one confused and exhausted. Physical ailments arise from the continual battle within one's self. The battle becomes unbearable, and the 'combatant' can become too weak to continue the fight.
Subconsciously, we cry for help through our actions, because often we are unable to ask for help on our own. These actions are an automatic response to our own mental pain. There is no thought or planning; our minds no longer have control. We can usually remember our actions, but are certainly not in control of them. We are also usually unable to explain our actions, because we really don't understand them ourselves. Many people with mental illness are substance abusers—including me. We try to clear or remove the anguish by any means possible. The most common substances, in descending order, are coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, and prescription and illicit drugs. Unfortunately, many of these substances can greatly interfere with a solid treatment program.
I have respect for people with multiple sclerosis, AIDS and other medical ailments. Why should I not be respected for my medical ailment? Attitude towards the mentally ill must change—not just for our sake, but for the sake of all those who come into contact with us. Society must learn to accept the mentally ill for who they are. Education is a key to becoming a better person and to learning about others. A little understanding will go a long way to removing the stigmas and fears associated with mental illness.
I once volunteered my services to a local charity. They knew I had a mental illness. They treated me as if I was mentally incompetent. I was given useless tasks of no importance. Even though I previously had a career in the army, where I used equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, they believed I wasn't capable of the simplest tasks, such as gardening—I most certainly can pick up a shovel. They talked slowly to me, and I was never left unsupervised. This treatment made me feel inept and belittled.
I have met an incredible man, however, who has the power and authority to inform the public of life with mental illness. Vern Faulkner is the editor of the Esquimalt News. He listened to my story and felt that the topic of mental illness was important enough to do a two-part series. He examined the political, structural and emotional aspects of mental illness. He then ran the stories1, which were later picked up by other sister papers. He made a substantial effort on the behalf of the mentally ill to inform and educate the public about this ailment, and has recently been nominated for a journalism award for his efforts. He made a weighty contribution toward removing the stigma of mental illness. I have the deepest respect for him, and he also treated me with respect.
In my entire life, Vern Faulkner is the only person who has treated me as a normal human being. I have been ridiculed, belittled and abandoned by friends and family. I have been accused of being lazy and of being a useless bum who should get off his butt and work. The public needs more education to help prevent the stereotyping of us as useless and lazy people. With the proper support and medical intervention, we are capable of taking care of our families, running households, working in the public sector and accomplishing our dreams and goals just like 'normal' people. We can do all of that and still have time to be tortured by an illness on top of it all!
Although my illness has caused severe challenges, my wife and her family are also incredible. They have stood by me, never wavering for a single minute. My wife has had many reasons to leave me, but her love and support has made me survive. Her incredible courage to withstand some terrible situations and to still stand by my side is remarkable.
All I want is to live a happy normal life, free from prejudice. People with mental illness want the respect that many 'normal' people take for granted. Everyone has their own 'bottom line.' I ask that you respect mine.
About the author
Patrick's first 12 years of life were normal and happy; then his world came crashing down. He lives in Victoria, with a diagnosis of manic depression
- For his series on mental health, Vern Faulkner of the Esquimalt News won the Best Feature Series award (4,000 to 12,449 circulation division) in the Canadian Community Newspapers Association's Best Newspapers Competition on June 6, 2005. He was also first runner-up in the Best Feature Photo category for a photo used in this same series.