I’m sorry mental illness isn’t hot

Sorry Nicholas Sparks, not every illness looks cute.

Mary Mangual, Editor-in-Chief

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Sometime after I got treatment, there was an episode of Sixty Minutes that told the story of a girl with an eating disorder who, right after release from the hospital, just laid down and died of heart failure. The show was investigating the inadequate treatment given to mental health patients. The girl was one of the stories in which the patient was sent back to life without being fully treated. Then there were the insurance companies that made mental health treatment seem like a luxury, as if people chose to be sick for the glamour of it. I had thought that seeing someone would make it feel like a real thing, like it wasn’t just my fault. But once my worries began to settle back to what others thought, which, surprisingly, hadn’t felt like the main issue for many months, I became defensive. There were implications that I was crazy, selfish, dramatic and weak. I think there’s a spectrum of sexy and unpalatable sins. One can be weak and selfish and still be a little hot and tragic for it. Dark and brooding. There’s a degree of insanity too that is flattering, but once it transforms the victim from a pitiful, impish creature into a wretch with tendencies we like to think are inhuman, it completely damns. It’s hard to find worth in someone who puts the virtue of the entire species under debate. It’s easier to revoke the respect they are owed by human birth by accepting the idea that they were never really human at all. I’ve been back at a normal weight for a while now, but, out of shame, I hate to attach any of my diagnoses with my identity.

Before I moved, I had a lot of close friends. We bonded in the shared impression that we were different from our peers. At the time we thought that the difference was our lack of concern for social status. One of the girls rode the bus with me every day, another was my storytelling buddy. Right after I moved, I stayed in contact pretty well. But then as high school gained speed we called and texted less and less. There were three years where I just figured they had moved on and didn’t communicate. A few months ago, as I slowly tried to regain the connections I knew I couldn’t bear to lose, that undefined difference came into focus. First I talked to the storyteller, who had always been the most bright and happy. Sometimes people seem like angels but in the end, I don’t think an angel’s what we need. They’re already above everything. Sometimes we don’t need perfection, we need someone growing the same way we are. Now sometimes she calls me at three and four in the morning, because the right time has no notion of normal rhythm. She says she has a hard time waking up in the morning, and every bit of help she gets makes her feel like, because she has been given tools, it’s really her fault. When she hangs up, everything is dark. The sky outside. The world where she can’t afford treatment even though she deserves it so much more than I do.

Even though all of my friends go to different schools now, she still sees my bus friend at the soccer field because their brothers play at the same time. Once when I texted her she was with my other friend and after I found that my bus buddy wasn’t mad at me for falling off of the face of the earth, we spent a night talking for hours. At first, her story picked up where it had left off. She still took every art class she could. I knew from Facebook that her skill had become inexplicable, but she didn’t assume the status of a genius, rather she was even more humble than she had been before. Her fluctuations between religious compulsion and religious conflict had stilled, and the girl who once fretted after bible study barely went to church. Her sense of humor was still young as mine and she still had the thoughtful voice that responded to my dull relays with uncanny insights. After an hour or so the last three years melted like a bad dream and I had her back in my life as someone with whom I could be honest. I was saddened by the way she asked if she could tell me something, as if she couldn’t bother me. Maybe she wouldn’t have, if someone hadn’t cut her off before. Even though it pulled her out of school and landed her in hospitalization, no one ever really talks about it anymore than for the unavoidable. Normal people pretend it’s not there, while it seems that the only ones willing to face reality are the other people disabled by it. It’s not so bad, she said. She just doesn’t think about how her best friends are mental health patients. Myself included.

We talked until her mother made her go to bed. As I went down to the kitchen, I gave my mom the gist of it. After I was sick, I was done hiding everything ugly. If the world was offended by my enjoyment of food, literature, social events and debate, then it could suck a cactus. When I had devoted myself to perfection and self-denial I gave myself away bit by bit until I was paying in IOU’s. I had to believe I was worth something. Even though I did nothing for the resources I used. Even though I had the audacity to feel pain while others had “real problems.” Even though I got help most people didn’t, and still had bad days. Even though I wasn’t the pretty kind of sick where one sits in a hospital bed, bright eyes and fairy-like in spite of everything, preaching about the love of God. Even when I was reminded of all those things. My mother asked what medications she was on, as if the conversation had become excited around the topic and we had immediately exchanged medical experiences. I answered sarcastically. In the kitchen, I got a glass of water and took out an array of pill bottles. In their insistence that I “own my condition” my parents made me memorize the names and functions of each of my medications. Three pills for the depression. One with a particularly disturbing purpose. Another fat one to mediate the face-scratching. I used to take more, big pills, little pills, a syrup designed to make me eat. Chemicals people tend to confuse with something that alters who people are, that writes them off as attention-seekers, anomalies, invalids, idiots, and lunatics. Trained to see in an economic perspective, we look at people in terms of their potential output rather than worthy by the miracle of incarnation. I hear lots of machinery analogies to describe mental illness, but any movement for those people needs to end the idea that people are simply machines. Machines can be quantified and understood, people are beyond that. By assigning people such expectations we limit our ability to understand what really is versus the simplified reality we create. People are worth infinity. Take the “even though” and eat it.


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5 Responses to “I’m sorry mental illness isn’t hot”

  1. Dr. Pandya on April 21st, 2016 4:11 pm

    Fantastic and frank article. We need more people to speak about issues like these. Great job!


  2. Kayley Boan on April 26th, 2016 7:28 pm

    Wow! This was such a good story and super well written!


  3. Ana Garrigues on May 5th, 2016 1:33 am

    Wow! I cold never have said it as well as this well written story! My prayers do indeed go out to all who indeed have these situations and issues! Awesome article!


  4. Madeline Beck on May 5th, 2016 1:11 pm

    Absolutely incredible. Once again Mary your insight and writing ability has produced the words that so many fail to say. Beautiful.


  5. Rose Fogarty on May 10th, 2016 7:27 pm

    My wonderful Mary, your beautiful writing and honesty always amaze me. Thank you for the insight that those of us striving to understand need.


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