What does a person with mental illness look like? Surprisingly they look like you or me. In this case they look and act just like me. I suffer from mental illness I am diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder. Why am I telling you this you ask because it is sad how people treat people with mental illness? Sometimes you have to make a sacrifice, to drive a point home. As writer there are times when we have to be vulnerable when something truly resonates within us. When something so egregious occurs you cannot remain silent. I will say this mental illness is real and when people have mental breaks it is a cry for help it is deeper than them acting out. Sometimes they don’t know how to verbalize the battle within. And sometimes we have to be their voice, their advocate for growth and change.
The other day in our city a young woman had an episode in downtown Trenton. It was blasted all over YouTube and many found humor in her struggle. I was both saddened and cringed with embarrassment. I watched that video but I feel empathy and remorse for this young lady.
Mental illness is a serious struggle, some go years undiagnosed and untreated. For years I struggle with Bipolar Disorder. It came out in subtle ways at first I would be happy one moment and then withdrawn the next. There is an incident that comes to mind when I knew I had a problem. It was Thanksgiving and I was late for dinner. I cooked and brought my covered dish baked macaroni and cheese. Well my mother was furious that I was late and refused to eat my dish. I was furious after all that labor of love how could she do that. I began yelling and demanding that someone eats my covered dish. In frustration, I pulled a butcher knife from the drawer in the kitchen and began carving up the table yelling incessantly and just having a mental tantrum. I then became so incensed that my mother was ignoring me I threw the knife at a door and it broke in half. She then told me I had to leave.
At the time everyone thought I was upset that no one would eat my macaroni and cheese but there was an underlying issue that I had yet dealt with fermenting inside my mind. I was upset that my mother was spending time with another young lady around my age and felt like she loved her more than me. I felt slighted because growing up I always longed for my mother’s emotional affection and I resented and was jealous of the affection she was showing someone else. I did not know how to verbalize how I was feeling so I let my anger speak for me. Fortunately, days later I told my mother how I truly felt and she forgave me. I was undiagnosed and I was not in therapy to receive any medication at the time of my mental break. I was walking around emotionally overwhelmed and I did not know how to verbalize that. I was having a manic episode and was unaware how to deescalate the situation.
That of course is not a proud moment and I am blessed there was no camera involved to make that scene indelibly etched not only in my mind but the mind of strangers. It is a very frustrating and torturous state to be in. It is as if you are being tortured emotionally. You thoughts race you cannot focus and you lash out. I cannot even begin to fathom what that young woman was facing but I do know she needs our help. We don’t need to taunt and torment. We need to encourage her to seek medical attention. Her breakdown was her cry for help. I am sorry that other people were hurt in the process of her hurting but now we mustn’t turn a blind eye to mental illness in our city. This isolated incident is a reminder that mental illness left untreated can have dire consequences. Her story resonates with me and I am reminded of a time when I was crying out for help and people around me were dismissive. I will proudly say I go to therapy every week and take medicine for my bipolar disorder every day.
Now her mental illness or mine does not negate bad acts on our parts but it sure does explain a lot. I am praying for this young woman and I am praying you are too. She could be you or someone you love. Check in with loved ones talk to them see what is going on with them. Stop assuming everything is alright within. To be honest there is no guarantee or full-proof solution. Please get involved and not just when the camera is rolling.