News yesterday(actually couple weeks ago but only decided to publish this now) came of the death of Carrie Fisher, known for her role in Star Wars as Princess Leia. She was also known for her struggle with Bipolar disorder, which has put mental illness in the spotlight. Being praised as a “mental health warrior.” , her story highlights mental illness and gives sympathy to its cause. Unfortunately, there are downsides:
Firstly, when media focuses on famous individuals with mental illness in society, such as scientists, actors/actresses, mathematicians etc. as the poster children for mental illness, I believe this often creates an effect of shame. Shame upon others with mental illness, who do not achieve what such individuals have done.
Severe mental illness is a disability, a real disability, that leads to homelessness, joblessness, and sometimes death, yet we refuse to acknowledge the real struggles of individuals who do not lead lives of fame, ‘success’, education, or work.
I am reminded of the case of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with schizophrenia who was beaten to death in Fullerton, CA by Police which was caught on video. His story was briefly mentioned in the media, yet his story is a typical case of severe mental illness which is ignored: homelessness and victimization by others.
The greatest lessons of mental illness, don’t come from the P.H.D. candidates, the famous Actresses, artists, scientists, mathematicians, who struggle with mental illness, in my view, but rather come from those who do not do any of those things; those who are kicked out of their homes, who end up in jail and prison on worthless charges, who are so disabled they are unable to work or go to school.
To have Schizophrenia, is to be alone, for no one knows your delusions and world except you. Disconnected from others, from yourself, from reality, to have schizophrenia is to be lost in a world of nothingness, a world manufactured by misfirings of the brain. I know this because I’ve lived with Schizophrenia for 11 years.
Most people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder do not achieve P.H.D.s., M.A.s, or probably even Bachelors, but this doesn’t mean they are any less accomplished than those who do.
To live and fight an illness, or even to succumb to its thorns, is a battle in itself, that no one knows except us.
The lesson is that we should accept people as they are, and not judge them based upon work experience, education, social circles, religious practice, or odd behavior, demeanor, inability to speak, paranoia, lack of hygiene and grooming, lack of affect, inappropriate social skills, strange statements, incoherent logic, inability to relate to others, inability to be around others, inability to handle stress, or many more symptoms and problems relating to mental illness.
Tolerating people’s behavior, understanding that the outer does not always reflect the inner, that behavior doesn’t by definition reflect character, and appreciating them for being them, is the real lesson of mental illness.
If we understood this lesson of mental illness, then maybe we could have more tolerance, not just for the mentally ill, but for everyone.