Mental illness looks different on each person. What I do know is that chronic mental illness sucks. Mental health educators are right to emphasize that treatment and recovery are possible.
Yes. However, some people are like my brother and seem to be resistant to many forms of treatment. His most recent treatment of electroconvulsive therapy did not help because he was one of the unfortunate 20 percent that receive no benefit from it. But he gave it a try because chronic mental Illness feels like torture.
Today there is no cure for severe mental illness. And we don’t hear a lot of talk about seeking a cure, nothing near the international campaigns to end cancer or fight HIV/AIDS. Why is mental illness the ugly step child? Have we given up hope that brain diseases are curable?
There’s such complexity among the various types of mental illness that we really cannot get very far addressing the topic generally. That’s why stories matter. Individual experiences of mood and brain disorders teach us. We can learn from the young woman who is dealing with an eating disorder and we can learn from my brother’s chronic severe depression.
Last night while dining with my husband, I saw a person who looked just like my brother. I squinted my eyes, watching him walk down the sidewalk alone, putting on a navy blue jacket over a grey t-shirt. He was smoking a stubby cigarette in the drizzling rain.
For a moment I imagined jumping up and inviting him to join us for dinner. I restrained myself for two reasons: one, my husband would think I was crazy and two, the stranger in the navy blue jacket would think I was crazy. Within a couple of minutes the man was gone. And my husband said, “Hey, didn’t that guy look like your brother?”
My brother is more than a person with a chronic severe brain disease. He’s a great, smart guy who loves to ride motorcycles, eat Mexican food, walk on beach with his mom, go to the movies, and attend church with his family. He’s a fun-loving uncle and loyal big brother. And I often see him, though now I live far from him.
I see him looking up from the lonely pit.
I see him walking down the street in the rain.
I see him riding his motorcycle down a sun splashed road.
I see him cured and set free.