The topic of mental illness came up again with the latest large-scale hate crime against women to make national news. It’s a nice easy narrative for George Sodini to be a psycho, to be crazy, to be mentally ill because then we don’t have to understand him. We don’t have to relate, because we’re not like that.
Thing is, we’ll never know if Sodini was mentally ill or not. We can’t tell from what he left behind, and he’s no longer around to ask. The things he wrote aren’t all that unhinged; he just took the workaday hatred of black people and women that is everywhere in our society and picked up a gun and went hunting.
And the mentally ill means violent narrative is false anyway. Mental illness correlates with an increased risk of being a victim of violent crime, not of committing it.
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating because there’s so much silence and stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness. I’ve had kind of a lot of experience with mental illness and the mental health professions. Some of it may be triggering.
I have taken (in no particular order) Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Serzone, Xanax, Ativan, Risperdal. I’ve self-medicated with alcohol a lot and smoked cannabis and taken LSD when I could get it. I have been diagnosed, at various times, with clinical depression, bipolar type I disorder, bipolar type II disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, gender dysphoria disorder, depressive psychosis, and paranoia. I strongly suspect that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which would explain a lot of my symptoms, behaviors, and difficulties. I have spent time in private and public psychiatric hospitals and spent years in weekly or twice-weekly therapy. I have damaged myself in ways ranging from very small — pulling on my hair repeatedly — to very serious — shooting myself in the left hand between the third and fourth metacarpal bones. I still have PTSD-like symptoms from the last and from growing up in an abusive environment, though episodes of it get farther apart as time passes. I have had suicidal thoughts that became elaborate plans. There were times that the only thing keeping me alive was someone needed to feed the cat. I am not alive for big important reasons; I am alive for small stupid reasons. I am alive because I didn’t want whoever found me to suffer the trauma of it. I have suffered delusions and intrusive thoughts and I have always had minor hallucinations (words printed on a page are red instead of black, patterns on a floor or wall shift while I look at them). I often have trouble understanding people when they talk and try to pass it off as being hard of hearing. I’m not; I hear fine. I have trouble processing auditory information and especially picking conversation out of background noise.
You’d think I was dangerous. I’m not. Really. I’m not even dangerous to me. Damaging myself — like it is for so many people who self-harm — is a way to stay alive, to cope with trauma. I have better ways to cope now and I don’t do that any more, but sometimes when I’ve had a really hard day and I hurt a lot and the noise in my head is very bad I remember how comforting it was to draw a blade across my arm, to feel the skin part, to see the blood well up, and how it made the noise go away for a while. Maybe it makes me crazy, but that is a warm fond memory for me. And it is what I needed to do when I needed to do it. I have the same memories about smoking, and I don’t do that these days either.
I’m much better now than I was. There are long periods where I don’t need psychiatric meds at all. But I am not cured and I never will be. I will always have mental illness in my life, just as I will always have fibromyalgia and physical pain. I’m back on an SNRI now and it’s helping and that’s good, because I could feel the old illness patterns coming back. Things have been bad lately with the economy. But I’ll be okay. I know how to cope with the bad things in ways that aren’t so drastic. There are people I can ask for help. I’m not alone.
Even if I am crazy.