GULFPORT, MS (COMMENTARY) | Imagine if you will, your laying down to go to sleep one uneventful night with your whole life all in order—your home-life, employment, family, friends, and even religious affiliation—and then the next time your eyes open, without explanation, you find yourself in an unfamiliar dark world of confusion just trying to get home. In short, this is what happened to me.
I would be diagnosed with Bipolar/Mixed Disorder and Multiple Personality Disorder. The year was—I think it was—2001. As far as I was concern, the words that were coming out of the medical providers mouth had to be wrong! Had to be about somebody else! I cried so hard, “This can’t be! This must be a dream! Just a bad dream! This can’t really be happening to me! For God’s sake, I am a Christian! A child of God! I can’t be demonically possessed!”
You see, that’s what I believed, that such spirits could only be of the devil. I didn’t understand that this journey that I was about to take would introduce me to a people that were suffering every day as they lived among us without a voice. No doubt, I wasn’t prepared for this trip. Neither did I want to take it. Prior to becoming ill, I worked as a legal support professional—as a paralegal to be specific—for prominent South Mississippi Law Firms, and I was good at my job. Damned good at my job! I was required, however, by court order to participate in weekly out-patient visits at the local mental health facility to avoid the desired commitment that my family sought. So much for my employment!
Being anxious to get things back to normal, I asked my psychiatrist in one visit early on, “How long will I be ill? When can I go back to work?” and he responded, “This is your life. You may get better but you’ll never be well again.” I stormed out of his office like a crazy lady saying, “You don’t know the God that I serve. I will get well.” Some time there after my then-psychologist confirmed his findings in separate session saying to me, “I never tell any of my patients not to go back to work but” she said, “I’m telling you, you need to go and file for social security because you’ll never work again.” “You’re wrong!” I cried, “I’m not a recipient. I will work again!”
I’d give myself five years, five years to be back on my feet. I was determined that I would prove them wrong. That I would be the exception to the rule. That I would return to the work place full-time, as paralegal. During that time span of one year, I denied the obvious. Having experienced so many episodes and close calls with suicide, I finally had to concede, “I just might be ill.” At some point I attempted to embrace the change but as you can imagine with the diagnosis being what it was, there were days when I resisted and then days when I embraced it all. It took nearly ten (10) years for me to settle down and adjust finally to the change. So to some degree, my doctor was right. My world had been altered and while I took a few short term temporary assignments with varying law firms across the Southern Region of the Country—in Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida—I never returned full-time to become gainfully employed again.
I became rather engaged in community volunteerism. When I couldn’t even pay my own bills, I found myself talking to people who talked to themselves while walking along the roadway and even giving cash to those who took refuge beneath bridges and in the woods. I found joy in working with neighborhood at-risk children and community non-profits. I had time and I did these things in great number one at a time simply because it was there that I found still meaning for my own life. Through all of this, my eyes were open, opened indeed, to the poor services the mentally ill received. They were opened to the conflict experienced between medical providers and mentally ill providers. They were opened to the lack of advocacy for mentally ill.
My eyes were opened to the poor care mental health patients received simply by sitting and waiting for my own physician’s visits. I did observe how little time psychiatrists who work in public clinics were actually able to spend with each client. There was, therefore, no way such providers could be familiar enough with patients to discern when they were in their right mind, besides themselves or in an altered state of mind during the limited 15-minute visit per 90-days. It should be noted, however, that most psychiatrist who worked in these clinics rustled patients in and out in less than 5-minutes at times—I timed them on one particular day.
My eyes were opened to the conflict mental health patients endured between their mental health providers and primary care physicians. You see, it was my experience, that once primary care providers knew I was diagnosed with a mental disorder, it became impossible for me to communicate adequately physical complaints. With every complaint that I presented with, the primary care provider would say, “This is something you need to discuss with your psychiatrist.” Likewise, when I’d communicate the same thing to the psychiatrist, he would say, “This is a physical illness and you need to discuss it with your primary care provider.” And even though I made great efforts to get both providers to communicate with each other, never once did either provider pick up the phone to call the other—this happened repeatedly. For a long time, I stopped going to either and when I engaged a new health care provider, I conveniently omitted that little fact about mental illness in my history for this reason.
My eyes were opened to the varying care that a person received with regard to prescriptions from medical providers and mental health providers. If the aforementioned wasn’t frustrating enough, you would-be-normals should know there are times when medications stops working and there is a need therefore for some mild adjustments. In the world of mental health care, however, if a patient’s medication requires tweaking, the mentally ill is most often required to put his/her life on hold for 14-days or more so that they can go into an in-patient care facility—unlike someone who’d have a cold or cancer. They’d receive a prescription and/or the much needed medication would be called in to the pharmacy.
My eyes were opened to the deathlessness of would-be-normals, caregivers, mental health professionals, and the like who failed to understand what the mentally ill who refuse to take medication were saying. Have you ever heard some one say, “She don’t like taking her medication?” or “He won’t take his medication?” Have you ever wondered why? It goes back to that limited 15-minute to 90-day office visit that mental health providers have with each patient—and most often less than that.
Psychiatrists prescribe medication to patients and then they stop listening because they don’t have time to deal with a patient who complains, “I don’t like the way it makes me feel, it makes me sleepy, it gives me trimmers, it messes with my thinking, it makes me hard to focus on things, my thoughts are always racing, my brain won’t shut off.” Like unto children in the same situation, mentally ill patients need mental health providers to slow down and start listening—and advocates (family, friends, personal care provider) to pay attention to them and speak for them. Otherwise, they’ll never get the help they need.
When my eyes opened to this darkened place, I observed that my feet were actually planted in two different worlds. You see I am functionally disabled. I am fortunate because I was be born to this world of darkness—I have known both, realism and escapism. I, therefore, understand what duty and ethics mean, and I can identify that which is lacking in the care the mentally ill receive. I have, therefore, on so many occasions become the voice of my disorder explaining to anyone who would listen the benefits and casualty that comes with it.
As such, I feel it necessary that I rise once more to advocate even now for the mentally ill who are currently being used as a scapegoat goat in this national discussion of gun reform. I encourage all law makers—President Barack Obama, Vice-president Joe Biden, the Senate and the House of Representatives—to carefully consider the rights of all American Citizens in this discussion.