The Reality of Mental Illness and the War against the Poor
I try to be as open as possible about my disorder. The lingering stigma associated with a mental health condition in our culture is merely fed and made stronger by trying to conceal it from others. What so few really understand is that there is a gradient of what we in the mental health system (I also now work in the system on a consumer-staffed phone line) call both "disorder" and "recovery".
I personally think that my disorder has been with me from childhood, present but undiagnosed, and it did not prevent me from stable participation in society for half a century, until now. It is important to understand such things, and not to respond to mental disorder in oneself or in others with irrational fear.
For the last two years I have been struggling with the fact that my condition has become more troublesome and, finally, openly diagnosed. Three things made this happen, I lost a job in the recession at an age (50) when it is hard to find another, lost my health insurance in consequence, and two other latent medical conditions which both mimic and reinforce mental disorder, Type II diabetes and hypothyroidism, caught up with me in these same two years as a result of advancing age.
The inner experience of the disorder is, for me, the key evidence that the condition has always been latent. I have an iron and unshakable intellect, zoned in the direction of order and organization, a mind that functions in permanent outline form, constantly separating the world into topics and subtopics, major and minor items in a hierarchy. Obsessively so, in fact. And I have noted over the years both that this particular form of intellect is not very common and that most very intelligent people whom I know have minds that do not usually function precisely in this way. Nothing ever disturbs this "outlining" process. It is like some nautical instrument aboard a sailing vessel, a barometer or a GPS, which functions independently of whether the seas are choppy or still, recording data impartially in a calm or in a gale.
My childhood and youth was full of uncontrollable emotional storms, and I think that my intellect developed as it did to compensate for and manage this fact. The evidence is clear and unequivocal, these days, that such uncontrollable emotional affects, far beyond the incidents which elicit them, are due to biochemical imbalances in the brain. And my inner experience of bipolar disorder is one of a rock solid intellect trying to sail my brain and body in an unrelenting emotional gale.
The medicines help, but even these, as they wax and wane in the body, and as their power to damp down the biochemical imbalances expands or contracts, create independent interior changes of mood for which my intellect is constantly compensating. Medicated, I experience my brain and body like someone who drives different company cars every day, with each change of make, model, and year altering the acceleration, the speeds at which the gears change, and the precise location of many of the peripheral controls.
It's a good thing my intellect is stable. I really need it. As an unemployed and/or underemployed mental health client I have had to fight a constant guerilla war with the social service agencies in my town and my state. I am a paradigm case of how the frilling away of the social service safety net under 25 years of mostly Republican rule has been an undeclared war on the old, the sick, and the poor.
I subsisted these past two years, with a serious mental health condition, unable to see a medical psychiatrist who could properly diagnose and prescribe for it. I started out with health insurance, the kind called COBRA where, on unemployment (which is HALF your former salary in my generous Republican state) I had to pay the ENTIRE cost of the insurance which my employer carried. That's right, on COBRA both my premiums AND my employer's contribution suddenly became my sole responsibility on half of what I had been making.
How did I manage to carry it? By running up thousands of dollars in debt on my credit cards, as well as using the left over money from a home improvement second mortgage, while I was searching for work until (having been completely unsuccessful, probably in part due to my undiagnosed and worsening mental condition) the unemployment ran out and I defaulted on both the cards and the mortgage.
Did having health insurance help me? Not a bit. Every private psychiatrist in my town stopped taking private insurance long ago. They now do strictly a cash-and-carry business at $125.00 a session. My entire weekly unemployment check was about $125.00. And then I lost it.
That left me with the social service agencies in the public mental health system. And also the social service agencies that deal with the fact that you can't pay your utilities and you can't afford to buy food while your house in forclosure and you can't afford a lawyer to fight for it.
If I had tried to commit suicide, or lost my wits and started taking my clothes off in a public street and howling at the moon, I could have, finally, seen a shrink--after having been incarcerated for some time, and then booted out on the street fully medicated, but a homeless wreck, whose meds would shortly run out. Then back to crisis center for more incarceration, another round of medication, and another bout on the streets.
I am not exaggerating. On my phone line work I deal with such cases routinely.
By clinging as much as I could to my intellect, I have managed to avoid this. My home is gone, I rent from the man I sold it to, and I have managed to obtain part-time work while I hide from my other creditors (I still don't have enough cash flow to even bankrupt cleanly.) And by persistently demanding care, over and over, I finally managed to get it.
I had to lose one counselor to funding cutoffs, change care agencies, and pull every social service bureaucrat I met into the fight. And I had to cope with the fact that my feelings and my body from day to day, and sometimes from hour to hour, would be an unceasing roller coaster ride from utter exhaustion and suicidal despair to manic motor-mouth wittiness with a high as complete as anything on crack cocaine or crystal meth. But it has finally happened.
I write this blog because it helps relieve the pressure of constant emotional pitch-and-toss in my private life. And I write on politics because I KNOW from personal experience that my political adversaries, whether they admit it or not, are part of a deliberate and calculated war on folks such as I. A war which they cannot win, but which I and my fellow targets can completely lose.
And a war which, in the end, will turn this country into a spiritually bankrupt desert.