Mental illness means more than guidance counselors and therapists.
It means more than tuning out the impassioned monologues of homeless men on Manhattan streets.
It means more than an excuse to cop a prescription for Xanax or Ritalin, and it means more than homicidal defendants pleading insanity in court.
Mental illness means more than the scars on my wrists.
It means more than weekly visits to my pharmacist.
It means more than playlists made up of Radiohead songs, and it means more than not being able to get out of bed.
Mental illness was my adolescent dissolution into a collage of medicinal answers to chemical problems. It is the prevailing antithesis of any motivation I ever seem to build up. It is the party planner preparing an unwilling celebration of my unyielding emptiness.
It is not the public collection of organized scars on my wrists. It is, however, the pressure to wear an impractical amount of bracelets every day for fear that yet another person will point them out. It is my tendency to see pencil sharpeners as reminders of nights spent with bottles of isopropyl and cotton balls. It is a boy carefully running his fingers across the embodiment of my desperation to feel, and it is the shiver down my spine whenever I remember this rare acceptance for all that I am.
It is not the shelf in my bathroom devoted to my psychiatric medications. It is, however, the pain of not knowing which parts of me are real and which parts are the pills. It is the lowest point I’ve ever existed at preceded by a single day of my forgetting to take my Prozac. It is the concern in the nurse’s face when I’m asked to list my daily medications at doctor’s appointments, and it is my inability to function without this bath of chemicals that my liver is drowning in.
Mental illness is my perpetual failure to understand my schizophrenic mother. It is the poisonous cocktail of confusion and harrowing pain that came from her mixing her disease in with a splash of alcoholism and a sprinkling of drug abuse. Mental illness is my mother’s ability to fully convince herself that she never used drugs because that reality frees her of responsibility for being a horrible parent to all of her 6 children. Mental illness is my rightful anger at her for making poor choices turning into an inability to accept that it is the schizophrenia’s fault, not hers, that she feels no regret.
Mental illness does not mean being “crazy.”
It does not mean otherwise inexplicably lazy behavior. It never implies any responsibility of those affected for the symptoms they exhibit. It is not something to be trivialized – it means just as much as any debilitating physical illness does. Mental illness means learning to cope and to live a life that is not defined by adversity.