My name is Kat. I am 24 years old, and I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was 19. I started experiencing symptoms of mental illness in childhood. I have lived through over 12 years of depression, anger, mania, and fear. My family has lived through moments of kicking, screaming, and crying. No, I am not at risk for committing serious violence, nor have I ever been.
Yes, I have Bipolar Disorder, but I also have a pretty normal life. I have a job, a husband, three pets, a blog, and an apartment. I have interests, like hockey and punk rock and reading and trying new foods. I am sensitive, caring, even to the point where I care more about others than myself. I have cut myself, but I would never do that to another person. I have hated myself, but never really hated anyone else. I have pushed and yelled at my family in my lifetime but I am not crazy, I do not need to be treated like a defective or a fool. I should not be mocked, I am only human. I bleed and smile just like the rest of you. And yes, I feel immense guilt for the disorder I have. Maybe it’s because of the stigma projected upon me, maybe it’s the money it takes and the stress it causes, maybe it’s the negative thoughts I tell myself because of the disorder. I may have faults but all I want in my life is peace.
Mentally ill does not equal violence. It appears though, that individuals with illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder are given a bad reputation, as if we are constantly out of control, can’t reason, and are inherently violent. This is not the case. I have never fired a gun, I have never gotten into a fist fight and I have never thought about murdering another creature. I was so neurotic about violence at one point that I yelled at first graders for crushing ants, trying to educate them about karma.
Yes, I have been what someone might consider out of control–yelling, saying things I don’t mean, and even pushing my sister and my mom during my high school days. None of us are perfect. I’m sure some of you have never pushed your family, but I have. I may not be a criminal, but I still have emotional issues. I work on them every day and even to the point that I am obsessing about it because I want so bad to improve for myself and my family.
There is immense guilt involved in having a mental illness like Bipolar Disorder. I don’t believe any of us, after a few moments of contemplation, feels righteous for the things we’ve said or done to our closest loved ones. While being psychotic might make you do something like kill someone, people with mental illness are not always psychotic, might never be psychotic in their lifetime, and even if they are, most moments of psychosis, at least in Bipolar Disorder, do not involve violence. When I was psychotic a couple of years ago I was feeling delusional about my job and family and was experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations. However, never during that time did I think of anything violent.
We magnify mental illness when something bad happens, but we don’t talk about it when things are going routinely, in everyday moments where either the mental illness has not become apparent or when the mental illness is being treated. This is precisely the moment when we should be talking about it in the interest of prevention and awareness. We can do this in two ways: One way we do this is by talking about mental health and mental illness in our schools, our houses of worship, our communities, our social circles–before a violent event like a shooting happens. The fear of appearing awkward needs to end. We need to be arming our parents and spouses and caregivers with resources to spot mental disturbances and to know where to go to treat them. We need an improved health care system to allow access to these resources. We need more social workers, more counselors, more people in the community to provide help to parents who are scared of their aggressive children or spouses who spot something wrong with their husband or wife.
There are people all around you who suffer from mental illness–they are your accountant, your mailman, your brother-in-law, your book club friend. Let’s be open minded about mental illness and realize that A)The mentally ill are prevalent and non-violent in our communities and B)We need to support them just as equally as we support those with cancer or diabetes or heart issues. This is in the best interest of everyone, and I mean everyone, in our community.
We should not be afraid of the mentally ill around us, just as we should not think that every elementary school will be shot up in an act of violence. Let us not forget our common sense when we think about mental health and the acts of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter.
May God Bless each and every one of the precious victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.