Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mental Illness and Loneliness

I don’t believe that anyone is as intimately acquainted with the pain of loneliness as the mentally ill man or woman is. The mentally ill are stigmatized, marginalized, reduced, ridiculed, rebuffed, rejected, and feared. One of the worst insults a “normal” human being can inflict on another “normal” human being is to call him or her “crazy”. The very word sends shockwaves across the lobes of your brain, doesn’t it? But what is life really like for the mentally ill? They are our modern day lepers—pushed to the side by ostricization and cruelty—they are left to wither and waste. When they attempt to voice opinions or concerns to others they suddenly become all the more “crazy” and, like the straw that broke the camel’s back, a floodgate or ridicule and shame gapes open to drown them whole. 

Simple daily routines become foreign to the mentally ill. Sometimes, holed in a room with only despair to keep them company, they will forsake showers, hot meals, and hygiene. All these things represent a struggle to live which they feel they are losing day by day. In most cases the human touch or the human voice could rouse their spirits from the dust. But who would dare to interfere with the skewered mechanics of a broken mind? Who would dare to come into their lives bearing unconditional love and support through richer or for poorer?

I believe that as a society we have forgotten how to love. The other day I saw a post about an elderly woman who was obviously in the grips of mental illness. Instead of stopping to help her poster simply joked about her serious condition. Within thirty minutes there was a chain of snarky replies each commenting personally on the elderly woman. It was suggested that the poster call the police on the woman out of desperation. Jokes and medications and hallucinations were followed by harsh “LOL” posting unremarkably. The elderly woman was yet another nameless victim of stigma and had a red badge of shame sashayed onto her chest not because she had dared to sin but because she had dared to suffer.

What would have happened if she would have been having a heart attack upon the steps of her apartment? Would someone cynically bemoan the socially acceptable hilarity of the situation under these circumstances? No, of course not! Physical suffering is real suffering. Mental suffering is comic relief. Once again society is eager to fill in and punctuate the laugh tracks to stranger’s mental calamities and horrendous fears. I have seen no illness met with such disrespect as mental illness. I have seen no one shunned as harshly as the mentally ill. Not only does the public leave them to die a painful demise, but it ensures the demise will be impacted with jagged bouts of loneliness by warning the rest of society not to cohabitate or mingle with the mentally ill. The mentally ill are not given to marriage easily. This both depends upon the severity of the mental illness and a “normal” person’s capacity to integrate himself or herself with the world of a mentally ill person. Most happy singles are unwilling to accommodate for any kind of flaw in a potential suitor—this goes without saying for the mentally ill.

Like lepers, they are left to anxiously, hopelessly pace the spaces between the “normal” society and the ill society. They are forced to the fringes and boundaries of the real world and left to depend upon God or death to bring them to their ultimate resolution. I have even heard it suggested that mental illness is a sin because it is sickness and sickness is a direct departure from God because it is a denial of His power. Is diabetes a denial of the Lord’s power? How about cancer? That must be reserved for the most serious of sinners, yes? 

I once heard the clever quote that mental illness effects “one out of one” persons. I find that this seems to be eternally true. It is a unique hell all of its own with a capacity for one. The suffering of the mind soon becomes the sickness of the soul and the longing of the flesh. The mentally ill long for companionship as a man smoldering in hell prays for a drop of water. As the room for love is stretched thinner and thinner, the things of this world become transient for the mentally ill. Why comb the hair that will never be stroked? Why bathe and perfume the body that will never be touched? Why rinse the mouth that will never be kissed? Why adorn the body that is crippled by the mind? And why leave the space that is feels like the only safety for the sufferer?

It is a complex dilemma. Some mentally ill are abusive. Some “normal” people are abusive. Some “normal” people are scared of spiders. Some mentally ill are scared are car trips away from home. Where does society draw the line? Who is loveable and who is not? Does not every man and woman deserve love? Does mental illness hamper desire and right to the pursuit of happiness and freedom? To many people, this question is answered by how much they can withstand. For me it is answered by the size of my own heart.

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