Tuesday’s column, “Mental illness – my life’s blessing, not curse,” produced quite a response from readers, and I would like to turn today’s column over to them.
Many people are affected by mental illnesses – as many as 60,000 people at any given time in McHenry County. Accepting the disease, much less seeking treatment for it, is a watershed event in anyone’s life. The stigma that mental illnesses exist under is daunting. It loses its power when exposed to the light of day. Treatment is available, and most often it works.
People with mental illnesses can and do suffer. It can often take time and patience, but hope for recovery is real, and in fact, is expected.
Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the writers.
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Roberta: “We are desperately trying to find help for our son. He is 26 years old and was diagnosed as bipolar. He owns his own home for the past 1 1/2 years but has been unable to work since December because of anxiety and problems with medications. We need someone who can tell us what help he might be able to receive. He has been receiving short-term disability, but that will be running out soon, and we don’t know when he will be able to work. We contacted the Department of Human Services, but they wouldn’t give us any information until we filled out an application, and then he would receive a interview. We have filled out the form and are waiting for the interview. Any information would be greatly appreciated.”
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Judy: “I really want to be one of the success stories. I am having a lot of difficulty finding work, but have been feeling good for three months now. No more looming depression.”
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Elaine: “I wrote you sometime ago when I was having problems with my son. ... I am so glad that the paper is publishing articles on mental illness. My son, who is in the mental health program through the court system, has finally returned to being the son I knew. I, myself, went through a year of distress, anxiety, never knowing from moment to moment with my son. “
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Dave: “... We met around the time of your illness onset while we were serving together for United Way of McHenry County. We did not speak a great deal about your illness at the time, but even then, you shared some of your story with me. ... I recall I embraced the story, knowing full well then there were few of us out there willing to even talk about the illness.
“I know of this bipolar illness, too, through the life challenges my younger brother faces and has faced for 40 years now. I can recall how difficult it was to diagnose the illness back in the 1970s and how terrifying it was to experience it up close. As his only caregiver, I was freaked out to say the least – my wife, too. But we managed to get him through it and along the road to living in recovery. My brother turns 50 this year. It has been hard and he, too, lost everything along the journey. Today, he lives on disability and works a few hours a week, but gets along well.”
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Don: “About 12 years ago I left a job as store director because I just didn’t care anymore. My doctor told me I was depressed and gave me antidepressants. For the next few years I went through a succession of anxiety-filled periods of mania and depression. ... My doctor suspected that something more than depression was up and suggested that I see a psychiatrist. I resisted, mostly because I wasn’t ready to admit I had mental illness. We men just need to stop whining, pick ourselves up, and get on with life. Right? Give me my drugs, and I’ll make myself better.
“Finally, my marriage and financing were crashing around me, as I became more and more isolated from family and friends. ... Fast-forward three years: My psychiatrist left the practice I went to, so they assigned me to a new doctor. I went because I was in bad shape. He said, ‘You’re bipolar. Why aren’t you on a mood stabilizer?’ I, of course, responded, ‘Duh, what’s a mood stabilizer?’ That was five months ago. I had found the light. It’s like a headache I didn’t know I had for 15 years lifted. ...
“I have recently applied and been admitted to a master’s program in educating adults. I am looking for a way to pay it forward as an advocate like yourself.”
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Franklin: “... As a person with mental illnesses, I can relate to your struggles, and pain and sorrows. I feel we are brothers in arms, fighting the struggles day by day, sometimes hour by hour, even minute by minute . I have a slew of mental illnesses ... If it was not for the Veterans Administration helping me – not only to recognize and treat the problems, and the underlying symptoms of the problems – I would not be here. I would be residing at the (Castle) for the mentally insane in Elgin. I have a dual diagnosis, alcoholism and drug abuse, which after 20 years of trying to take care of my diseases, the hard and fast road were incendiary, like napalm. ... I deserve to be treated as all humans, just with a few defects. As the famous song by The Beatles said, ‘I am you and you are me, and we are all together.’ End of story.”
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.